Friday, 15 May 2015

My Heart Aches for Burundi

If you look way back to the archives of this blog, you’ll see that it started in Burundi, that I spent a few months there and fell in love with the country, as most people who go there do.

Now, the country that enchanted me is in the news again – and French-speaking countries in Africa are never in the British news for good reasons.

This isn’t an analysis of what’s happening. There are better writers than me out there who know the context better. I only studied it for a few short years, and only spent a few months there. I’m not an expert and I won’t pretend to be one.

But I can barely watch the news right now. My friends in Burundi – some of them have left and are refugees. Some still there, in the middle of it. I am afraid for them – they’d been through so much, and their tiny wonderful country deserves so much better.

Why did the country draw me in as it did? The beaches, the lakes, the brochettes and the fish, and the Congolese bands coming across from Uvira. The slow pace of life, a city small enough to learn to navigate easily by bus and where you run into friends on the street. But mostly the people. Generous, open-hearted, proud of their country and their heritage, and - above all - hopeful that the future would be better than the past.

There were always problems. The peace has held, but development has been slow and the government increasingly authoritarian. But there was enough positive news to cancel it out – the integration of the army (without which we’d have seen more violence and the coup may not have failed) and the return of refugees. And, mostly, we haven't heard anything - and no news is sometimes good news.

I became a humanitarian because we don’t know how to fix these problems, and in trying we can often make them worse. I am a sticking plaster, trying to help people get by while we wait for them to be able to go home. But right now, that doesn’t feel good enough.

I haven't been back to Burundi since I left. As a humanitarian, I only go to places where bad things are happening. Never having been back to Burundi has made me happy, and I hoped that when I did go it would be on R&R from Goma. 

Now I'm faced with possibly going back to work - and it breaks my heart.

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