My Burundian Slumber Party

by Jess Cropsey

I’ve always thought that staying for a longer period of time (including an overnight) at a Burundian’s home would be a really interesting and enlightening experience, but it’s also something I haven’t pursued because the thought of doing it with my children seemed like more than I could handle.  Well, I finally plucked up the courage to make it happen and left the kids behind!  Readers, you may remember a post I did about a wonderful Burundian woman named Thérèse who has become my friend.  Given the history of our friendship and the proximity of her home (not too close and not too far), I asked if she would be willing to welcome me into her home for an overnight visit.  She was very surprised but also quite pleased.  

She asked me to arrive around 5:30PM, about an hour before dark.  (Later I was told that was so people wouldn’t know that I was spending the night there.)  It’s about a 30 minute walk, but John kindly gave me a ride most of the way.  Really, any excuse to ride on the motorcycle is a good one.  I requested an early drop-off at an isolated spot so I wouldn’t make a spectacle dismounting the motorcycle in my skirt!  

I brought a backpack with some bare essentials — a change of clothes, some purified drinking water, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, a cell phone, a notebook and pen for taking notes, and some food to offer as a gift to my hostess.  

We spent several hours in the evening cooking supper and I was reminded how time-consuming it is to prepare a meal.  It takes several hours to heat water and cook over a charcoal or wood stove — two hours just for the peas.  

She let me help from time to time and complimented me at how good I was at peeling potatoes.  :-)  While we cooked, we talked (mostly in French, but I learned some new Kirundi words too) and I asked a lot of questions.  During a lull time, she invited me in the living room to watch some TV (and no, most Burundians do not have a TV).      

Around 8:30, everything was ready and it was delicious -- meat (a special treat), potatoes, peas with a tomato-based sauce, and pâte (a dough cooked with manioc/cassava flour).  We ate with our fingers which proved difficult for me when I got to the peas!  We didn’t drink anything at dinner.  I wondered if this was intentional to avoid night-time trips to the outhouse at the back of her property.  

I discovered that when someone has a stranger or visitor spending the night in their home, you must inform the “chief” of the neighborhood (for security reasons).  Thérèse sent her niece to tell him and he came to the house later in the evening with two other assistants.  In fact, during my short stay, she had lots of people coming and going.  She's a busy lady!      

We slept in her son’s room (who happened to be away for the weekend).  Many Burundians use mats on the floor, but Thérèse has beds with mattresses.  We each had our own double bed, so it was quite spacious.  I admit it was difficult going to sleep in a different place.  

In the morning, she made chapatis (like a tortilla) and tea for breakfast.  More visitors came -- a brother-in-law with bananas from her land, three ladies whom she hires to farm her fields, the "chief" and his assistants collecting food for the poor in their area.  I wish I had more pictures to share, but I wanted to just be there.  Before I left, she told me that "it was a miracle" that I stayed at her house and she extended an invitation to come again (but next time with my kids).  I'm thankful for this woman and her tremendous generosity and patience with me as I slowly learn more about her culture.                


Rebekah said...

Jess, I love that you did this!!! Way to go at making making it happen!!

Joanne Beckman said...

Love this story and that you are developing a real-life relationship with this woman. Thanks Jess.

Laurie Cutter said...

I spent my first ten years in Burundi, but never had the chance to attend a slumber party at a Burundian's home. Fun!