Last night we had the new HAU medical school dean and his family over for dinner. It was a fun evening to get to know some new friends and continue to practice my social French! As typical of such evenings, the conversation eventually turned to differences between American and Burundian cultures. Our friends were going to their family home upcountry to present their six month old son to the family and give everyone a chance to meet the baby. He remarked that Burundians have many different celebrations, and we agreed...and mentioned that, in fact, most of those celebrations are totally different than ones we celebrate in America. I was reflecting on all the opportunities that we've been given these past nine years to enter in to the lives of our friends, colleagues, and employees here--we are definitely the strange and the strangers here and to be invited in to these (typically) family parties has been a privilege and unique cultural window that we are very grateful for. And, Burundians are very good at celebrating! The parties are quite different than American parties (normally there is a lot of sitting and drinking Fantas, then speeches and prayers, followed by an occasional meal), and involve some waiting (we are always "early"), a lot of minimal understanding of what is going on (Kirundi), but at the end a general sense of happiness that we were able to participate in these special moments.
|Peace and Alain's new baby, Nineza (it is good)|
For example, one unique ceremony that almost everyone celebrates here in Burundi is the "Baby on the Back" ceremony. When a newborn baby is old enough, typically around one month of age, the new parents will invite their families and friends to a party where, after the eating and drinking and speeches and prayer, the family will place the baby on the new mom's back for the first time. Burundian moms almost always carry their babies on their backs, leaving their hands and heads free for other work and transport, and are practically wizards at using a towel or blanket to secure their baby well. I tried it once with rather poor results...thankfully I caught Toby before he hit the ground! We were able to attend a ceremony like that last weekend, in fact, and my favorite part was watching the joyful singing and parading around the pavilion once the baby was successfully well secured on the mom's back. A celebration of life, to be sure.
Another ceremony that many of us have attended is something called a "dote." Weddings are commonplace and easy to understand for us, but the dote is something different. It's classically more of an engagement party in which the family of the bride to be and the family of the groom to be meet, sometimes months before and sometimes days before the wedding, and agree on the dowry or bride price to be paid. I have heard that by the time of the dote these details have all been decided upon ahead of time, and everyone is going through the motions in a good natured "haggling" sort of way, until finally the bride is ushered in and presented to there groom and his family. Also in years past, there were actual cows exchanged, but now apparently you can just provide a monetary equivalent to the value of the cows. The last dote I attended was a little over a year ago, and it was a joy for me to celebrate the upcoming wedding of one of my amazing and talented generalist physicians at Kibuye.
|Christiane and Methode|
Finally, to complete the circle of life, the last unique ceremony that we've been able to be a part of is something called the "Levée de Deuil". Literally translated, this is the "end of mourning." After someone dies, there is a funeral and a period of mourning, sometimes a few days and sometimes a few weeks, depending on factors like the age of the person. At the end of that mourning period, family and friends gather to celebrate the life of the person who died as a sense of closure and remembrance. Eric actually attended one the first few months we were here in Kibuye, and wrote a blog about it here. I think it's a really sweet sentiment actually, and our friends were particularly surprised to hear that nothing like this is celebrated in American culture.
In addition to the above three, there are many other opportunities to celebrate together with our Burundian friends. Sometimes it's as simple as saying goodbye to a colleague who's leaving the hospital for more training, and we share drinks and prayers. Sometimes it's a medical school graduation or a thesis project finally completed; a new doctor launched into society. Last year we were able to attend the baptism of our former nanny's daughter, which was very special. In all these things, we remember the value of sharing these times together in community, like the verse in Romans 12: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Again, we are grateful to be included in these moments, and have learned much from our Burundian brothers and sisters.