May Day

Incognito as ever
On the first of May  - which in many parts of the world is Labour Day / Labor Day / Workers Day / Fete du Travaille  (and in other parts of the world is merely 3 days before Star Wars Day “May the Fourth be with you”), some of us took part in some local festivities. Here in Burundi it’s a national holiday - one of the 12 or so during the year - but outside of Religious holidays (Easter, Christmas, All-Saints day) and various patriotic national holidays (independence day, unity day, 3 separate memorial days for 3 different assassinated presidents) it’s only May 1 and Jan 1 that are left. So it’s apparently a fairly big deal.

We gathered about 13 of us into the Land Cruiser - and headed for the ‘capital’ town of our district. It’s just a short drive away - even shorter if you take the back way - but I was instructed that driving a Land Cruiser full of people on the goat path was not recommended (it can be done….trust me).

Being a rather significant institution in our district - the Hospital was at the head of the whole thing.

 Part of the reason that we were going was that two of the girls had practiced a dance routine with some of the girls from the local school that sits just between our houses and the hospital.
...and for some reason, I forgot to wear my shirt.   Next time. 

The details - of course - were rather sketchy. What exactly they were doing, what they were supposed to wear, when we were to go, where we should be etc -  were all details that were only to be unveiled at the appropriate time. For us, as guests in a foreign land, that time seems to often be “just after something has happened.” Whenever these kinds of ceremonial events take place, it seems to often be difficult to navigate the expectations, protocol, assumptions that surround any kind of thing.

Last week when our team was having a discussion on cultural intelligence, the example came up that Canadians apparently have one of the lowest scores in the world for ‘power distance’ - meaning we are not comfortable with the fact that there is a large distance in hierarchy between those at the top and those at the bottom.

Personally, I feel like I am probably even dragging the collective score for other Canadians down - so suffice it to say that living in a place where protocol, respect for positions, authoritarian style of leadership, deference to one’s superiors, elders etc - is not something that I find easy to navigate.

Clearly some people knew how to get a better view - and this was before everything had even started.
So after the 'parade' part was done - and the kids marched in with the kids from our local school, and everyone marched past the platform and gave their respects to the local dignitaries who were there (which quickly included the contingent from the hospital) - the event itself started. 

One of the staple parts of any Burundian event of note it seems is always The Drummers. Burundi has a long and proud tradition of drumming - in fact Burundian drumming is recognized on the  UNESCO list of  "Intangible Cultural Heritage".  For comparison - that's alongside French Gastronomy, Turkish Storytelling etc. (neither US nor Canada has any).  And they are so amazing to hear and watch. 

Everyone wants to see the Drummers!

Once things got going the Kibuye school girls (including Matea & Anna) got up to dance. It, of course, was a bit of a spectacle that they were up there with the other girls.
 I speak essentially ZERO Kirundi - but there is one word that I recognize as it's shouted at/to me dozens of times a day: Muzungu.  Pretty much what I could understand was that the announcer (who seems to be ever present and constantly shouting into a microphone at these kinds of events) kept saying something like "Wow -look at Kibuye School  -they even have Muzungus with them!"

So apparently the fascination with others culture goes both ways

Pretty soon after the girls were finished dancing we realized that we should probably get back as it was a school day for our kids, and it was well past lunch, and it looked like this thing could go on for hours.

 Unfortunately, SOME of us had been seated in places of honor, right in the front row of the stage - and the kids were standing at the back of the platform. But - since we can move around without ever attracting any attention - we simply snuck off to the side- and I'm quite sure not one person even noticed. 

So that is apparently what a Fete du Travaille celebration is like.  Or perhaps not. Maybe that was a total anomaly - or maybe its exactly what everyone in the country experienced. One more experience that we had - showing that we really have no idea what goes on all around us every day.

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