Lessons Learnt from a Kibuye Stove

 (from Eric)

Back in 2012, when we were packing up our first container to ship to Burundi for our team, we though it would be good to invest in some high quality appliances, not knowing what would be available in country.  We found a vendor that sold 220v/50hz appliances for overseas military families, and bought fridges, microwaves, and washing machines.  We also bought stoves, mostly gas (knowing that electricity could often be out), but some electric (knowing gas tanks could be hard to find sometimes).

We're still using those appliances.  The fridge...well, the fridge would be a whole other story.  But I was reflecting on the story of the stove this morning and I thought I'd share the saga, both as a glimpse of daily Burundian life as well as a microcosm for our life work here.

Part the First: Insulation and Open Flames

One of the first problems with the stove had to do with the drawer that opens beneath the oven.  Since it is a gas stove, this is the broiler (not an extra storage space like the electric ovens I grew up with).  One of the bolts was too tight or warped or something.  This made it hard to open, and the extra force required to open it, over time, loosened other bolts.  These loosened bolts ripped the door in half, exposing sheets of yellow insulation.  Maybe that's not that big of deal next to a big open burner, but it made me uncomfortable.  We tried a lot of little fixes without success.

One day, pondering the broken apparatus, I realized that a couple of well-placed bolts directly through the metal casing could solve the problem.  Only I didn't know how to drill through metal.  I tried it out with a metal bit from the team workshop, but with no success.  I went and found Jason.  He showed me the right drill bits to use, and generally pointed me in the right direction.  The resulting fix (see yellow arrow below for the externally visible part) has been durable for several years now, and our pizzas are the better for it.

Lesson the First:  Things fall apart, and there aren't a lot of professionals to call.  This means that we are called to stretch ourselves, and do new things.  Thankfully our teammates have a diversity of talents and can help guide us.  And sometimes, it works out really well.

Part the Second: Electric Ignitions and Omar the Canadian Muslim Missionary

Around the same time as the above story, our electric ignition stopped working.  The little "battery level" light stopped working, and a new battery didn't solve it.  I pulled the stove out from the wall, took off the back, and traced the wiring through the whole stove.  It all seemed to point to a box in the back.  I wasn't sure what to do.

At that time, our team had encountered Omar.  Omar grew up in an ethnically Indian community in Zambia, then moved to Canada.  He became a very talented A/C repairman and then studied Islamic theology in England prior to moving to Burundi to work with the Islamic community in Bujumbura.  He maintained a job repairing air-conditioners (and other appliances) to support his family.  He came up to Kibuye to repair some things, and we had become friends.  In fact, during the heart of the Covid pandemic, his family moved up to nearby Gitega in order to have Rachel deliver their baby.  To say thanks to the team, they had a big Halal feast of some really awesome grilled meat.

We asked Omar to take a look at the electric ignition.  His diagnosis: no easy way to repair that here in Burundi.  So we use matches to light the stove.  No big deal.  Lighting the oven below is a different story, with many episodes of dropping my match as the flames come rushing towards my face.  Rachel's a lot better at lighting the oven than me, so that's her job if she's around.

Lesson the Second: We get creative in our attempts to fix things.  We examine all the possibilities, and sometimes it's still broken.  That's just how it is for now.  It's not great, but we limp on.

Part the Third: New Burners of Unknown Provenance

While Omar was checking out our stove, he looked at the burners.  He expressed his concern at their corrosion and build-up.  We said that we had also noted them burning a bit akimbo sometimes.  What do we do?  Omar said they needed to replaced, and that he could order them from a guy he knew.  Okay.

We left for the US for several months in 2021.  We came back and heard that Omar and his family had returned to Toronto.  We were sad to not get to say good-bye.  We completely forgot about the burners.  Most of them worked pretty well.  Good enough (see Part the Second).

Yesterday, I came home and found brand new shiny burners in our stove!  They burn like the brand new stove that they are.  Rachel, what happened!?  It seems that, after over 2 years, Omar's friend came through with his order, and they were sent to Kibuye with some other stuff, already paid for, apparently.

Lesson the Third:  Sometimes broken things stay that way for a long time, despite all our efforts.  We might even forget about the possibility of improvement.  Then, all of a sudden, after years of dormancy, an unexpected solution comes about, reminding us that the world around us is a swirling sea of everyday grace.


The Pleasing Aroma (International Women's Day)

by Julie Banks

International Women’s Day is an enthusiastically celebrated day here in Burundi. On March 8th, women come together in their individual communities and share a Fanta, a meal, and some laughs. We join in the festivities with the hospital staff each year, which is so fun. 

One particular way Burundian women celebrate Women’s Day is by making dresses and skirts from the same fabric. I wrote about it last year, so feel free to read that blog for more fun details on the matching dresses! 

This year we gathered at the hospital canteen, shared a meal, and celebrated not only women’s rights in Burundi, but also the way God has uniquely designed women with a purpose in His kingdom.

I shared the story of how Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus) poured oil on Jesus’ head and feet and wiped the run-off oil with her hair. When she poured this oil it signaled to Jesus that she understood who he was, and what he was going to do. This was an anointing of Jesus, the King. The perfumed oil was also reserved for burial, and she understood that he was going to die for them. While some men balked at the idea of “wasting” this expensive perfume, Jesus praised her and promised that her story would be included any time the Gospel was preached.  The Bible says that when she poured out this perfume, the fragrance filled the whole house. The whole house smelled like Jesus, the King. And when Mary wiped the perfume with her hair, his fragrance was now on her, a part of her. Her hair was right under her nose, so she carried this aroma with her as a reminder that she is part of Him, and He is a part of her. And anywhere she went, she carried this fragrance of Jesus the Savior King with her.

I encouraged the women that as daughters of the King, we carry this fragrance with us. 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 says that Christ “uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” To remind them that we are to God this beautiful aroma, I let them use my perfume at the end of the party. We wrapped up the afternoon with dancing, singing, and passing around perfume!

Burundian women are amazing, strong, and beautiful. Thank you for your continued prayer and support for these ladies.


Zigama Mama, final product

by Rachel
Eric and I have really appreciated everyone's support for our research/quality improvement project at Kibuye these past few years. Many of you remember the other blog posts that I wrote to introduce the progam (here and here).

Well, as of February 28, 2023, our journal article was finally accepted for publication in the "Frontiers in Global Womens Health" journal. You can read the article here. Even if you can't read all the medical lingo/jargon, the heart of the paper is this: There are a lot of barriers to good health care in Burundi. One of the ones that we could identify and fix was lack of good counseling for women who needed to deliver by Cesarean section, for one reason or another. We offered free ultrasounds as an incentive for these women to come in to meet with me (or another doctor) and provided education on risks as well as a scheduled date to come for a Cesarean section if it was indicated. The goal was to reduce emergency Cesarean sections that could have otherwise been avoided...and, it worked!

The other beautiful thing about this project, and one that is not listed in the article, is how the project has continued on (even after the study period ended). Even now, three years after the program "ended," we've continued to find funding for free ultrasounds, and our number of scheduled Cesarean sections remains high. Perhaps my favorite part is how the generalist physicians have taken up the mantle, so to speak, and now provide almost 100% of the ultrasounds, counseling, decision making, and scheduling for these women. I am involved almost not at all, unless a second opinion is necessary. Simple, sustainable care to improve outcomes and decrease mortality. Fitting that the article was published just a week before International Women's Day. I pray not only the our progam at Kibuye continues, but that other hospitals around the country will be able to replicate the program and improve outcomes for many other women in different regions.

And finally, a big thank you to our former intern Matt Nagy for being the impetus and the driving force behind publishing our study and findings. He is one of the smartest people I know and we are grateful for his wisdom and expertise (far beyond his years!).


Beautiful Burundi

 by Michelle Wendler

Here are some candid photos of everyday life, and a few interesting facts along the way. Enjoy! 

Bringing home the bean harvest.

Vegetable market.

Banana transport.

Sewing the good old fashioned way without electricity. 

Chicken transport.

School time!

An ancient artifact I found at Kibuye buried underground. Well not too ancient, just maybe around 60 years old, to when the first missionaries lived here. It's part of a kerosene powered refrigerator.. 

Termite wings on the door step.

Local kids having fun.

Babysitting starts very early here. As early as 5 years old kids start to help care for the younger ones

Mr. Ezechiel, a man who works for us and has become like family.

Morning sunrise overlooking Kibuye valley.

Lake Tanganyika, the 2nd largest and 2nd deepest lake in the world.

Fishermen on Lake Tanganyika.
The house where Betty Ellen Cox lived, right outside our front gate! She was one of the first missionaries to come to Burundi. You can read her biography called "Simply Following"which is still sold on Amazon
"Take our picture!"

Found this on a trail...as is. 

An oil painting I did of a house in our village. The sunset brought out such beautiful colors.

Homemade toys are the best!

Coming home from the field.

The brick making process. They form the bricks out of the mud, then stack them into kilns and fire them in place.

I love the beautiful colors.

Came to church wearing her Sunday best. 

Morning fog.

Sunset behind the church.


Teaching English

(By Erica Ause)

Outside of my role as teacher for the team’s children, I am also an English teacher for a few groups of people who work at the hospital. This role has been a huge blessing to me, and one of the things I look forward to most each week. It has helped me make some dear friendships and given me an opportunity to peek into the Burundian culture. One group I teach are the medical students. This is open for any and all students who want to give their Monday night to English. The class ranges from about 2 to 15 students depending on the other things they have going on like exams, being on-call, or classes. For some, this is a chance to practice English simply out of interest. For others, it is vital as they have chosen to write and defend their theses in English. This is not an easy feat, but for those would like to study in another country, a competence in English is just short of necessary. This is the most relaxed class I have because I never know who will show up! One day, we had only two students, both of whom I know well. So instead of studying English we played ping pong in the student center for an hour, speaking only English of course. Another time we had so many that we split into two groups and worked on two different skills based on level. This class is full of students around my age who show me their passion for those who live in rural Burundi. They love their patients and teach me about the differences between life in the city and life here in Kibuye. They have also taught me cultural things I would not learn otherwise, like how people date and how to throw a party.

Another class I teach is a group of hospital staff. These four men are learning English to either be accepted into a master’s programs abroad, find jobs dealing in international relations, or for the sake of their role at the hospital. This class gives me some insight into the generation that already has children, and who grew up and work in rural Burundi. This is a different outlook on the world, and one that I am blessed to be privy to. From them I have learned how one shows respect to different people (for example, the students are always the ones who erase the board, never the teacher), when it is appropriate to ask a question in class and when to stay silent.

The third group is the most structured, and time sensitive class. The four men I teach are a part of the PAACS (PanAfrican Academy of Christian Surgeons) residency program that has recently started here in Kibuye. PAACS is an English based program, so although these four speak Kirundi and French at the hospital, all their conferences and tests are in English. This class is half me teaching English, and half me learning more about surgery than I will ever need to know as we review from their 2-inch-thick textbook. We do practice tests, presentations, language lessons, and a lot of speaking. One day, before they headed to a PAACS conference in Kenya, I turned my house into a "restaurant" to allow them to practice the vocabulary needed for that setting. I asked them to provide some of the foods they often eat, but which I had never tried. The wife of one of the residents brought supplies to our kitchen and taught me how to make the dishes. We made Ugali which is like a ball of dough made from hot water and casava flour as well as Ndagala, a small fried fish cooked in oil and lemon. We then enjoyed the meal around the table, and it was delicious. It was a wonderful time spent together, using conversational and restaurant vocabulary, learning about each other’s cultures around food, hearing stories about their childhoods, and discussing some of their fears and excitement for their trip to Kenya.

One thing I know for sure is that the best way to learn language is through speaking about anything and everything. This means that “English class” can range from a lesson to a dinner together. I just love when language learning and friendship overlap. Spending time with all these students has been one of the most fulfilling parts of life here, and I am so grateful for the relationships I have made through it.