Administrative Affairs & Lessons Learned

 By Carlan Wendler

“You need a [insert French title of a document you have never heard of here] in order to do that.”

“There is no power, so the computer / printer needed for your document cannot work.”

“The person with the key [to the electrical closet] is not here.”

My expectations to get four errands done in a morning in town, either Bujumbura or Gitega, are frequently tempered by such realities. Sometimes what one can get done in a day is substantially less than what was hoped. This prompts three major reflections on my part. 

First, I am a slave to “productivity.” Or perhaps a better way to describe it is that I idolize getting things checked off my list. Progress. That feeling of moving forward, resolving difficulties, building momentum towards big goals. That is what I love. And though we perceive time as linear, moving from Creation to New Creation, it is false to think of it as a straight line. Maybe it is more like a tapestry, warp & woof, bends & knots coming together to reveal a scene no single thread could ever comprehend. 

Progress sometimes looks like pavement & multistory buildings.

The Burundians I encountered during this last round of administrative errands did not appear to live under such expectations. In fact, they didn’t seem to mind when we were ushered to the front of the line (grimace, sorry everybody). And that is the second observation, the incredible grace & patience of these gentle folk. I know it may be fraught to generalize, especially with such a superficial sampling (hearts may be hard though facial expressions soft), but the flexibility and resiliency of Burundians stands out in my experience as a particularly strong feature of this culture. They are teaching me a lot.

Sometimes we get ushered to the front of the line, only to find that the person we need isn’t available.

Others have written more and better [African Friends & Money Matters] about the priority of relationship over transaction in many African cultures. This has unexpected impact when it seems like one party is seeking to extend the interaction as long as possible while the other is desperate to leave and accomplish another task. Yet at the same time, it means that knowing the right person opens doors…or finds keys, turns on the power, and gets you that form that you need in an instant. Within 15 minutes of finding out that we needed that “Attestation de résidence,” Jason had printed and signed them for us, texted us a photo, and left the physical copies with a secretary who could give them to a house helper who rode on his motorcycle to deliver them to Gitega (30 min drive). We had them before the bankers went home for the day and all ended well…it might also have had something to do with the fact that the banker’s supervisor graduated from the local high school.

So at the end of the day, I think I got a lot more than three out of four errands completed from that trip to Gitega; I got God’s personalized reminder that succeeding in life, progress in maturity, is so much more about the relationships we form & develop along the way than the boxes we get to check. Thank you Burundi!

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