It’s after 8pm on Tuesday night and I’m headed to bed soon. It was a full day here in Bujumbura, Burundi. Today we celebrated Leah Miller’s 9th birthday. Whereas home in the US, birthdays could be pulled together with 24 hours to spare with phone calls to Sams Club for a cake, quick trip to the Dollar Store for paper plates and decorations, and finish by hitting Wal Mart for some ice cream and batch out a party, this one was being prepared for more than a week, and in some cases, months.
To have a birthday party in Burundi, you have to plan ahead. Way ahead. Presents have to be mailed months in advance, brought over in planes and stored somewhere with tight security, or delivered by hand through friends or couriers who happen to be flying into town. In Leah’s case, all were true. And since there’s no party store nearby, all of the kids have been making decorations at the house and for Leah. Grace made her birthday crown. Janette, Micki and I put the decorations up last night. The day yesterday was spent preparing birthday cupcakes. From scratch. Not US scratch. African scratch. There are no packages where you add water, an egg, and some oil and voila! Everything slows down here. But it all came together today. We celebrated with pizza and soda, and custom cupcakes. It was a great day for sweet Leah.
We’ve been away from Michigan for a week now and it seems like we’ve been gone longer. I’m disciplining myself to journal at least once daily. Our trip halfway across the globe was pretty uneventful. Which, according to seasoned missionaries, is a miracle. We made it safely from Detroit to Amsterdam, and arrived on time to Nairobi. We made it through customs without a hitch and overnighted with the Reynen family. The next morning we flew to Bujumbura where we were warmly greeted by Joel, Hannah, and Leah Miller. It was so great to see them.
From the airport, we went straight to the campus of Hope Africa University. The Miller’s are staying in the guest house there. Within a few minutes of dropping our bags, we were playing games, sharing stories, and picking up where we left off when they departed six months ago.
The days here have been filled with board games, a battle for reliable Internet (never ending in Africa), cooking, baking, a few trips into the city, and worship at one of two Free Methodist churches in Buja. I’m learning a lot from Joel about what it’s like to be a missionary and what they really need from a work and friendship perspective. It’s only been a few days and I can already see how being connected is so important on the mission field. My respect grows even deeper for those who have been missionaries before cell phones and Facebook. I’ve gotten to meet some pretty incredible people and I’m laying the groundwork for two stories I’ll be able to bring back as well as a few pages of notes on how to really serve our International staff.
We’re adjusting to culture shock – both us as white people being stared at and adjusting to Burundian culture. Some good conversations with Grace. Here’s a couple of bullet points of some things I’m experiencing and learning:
- We sleep under a mosquito net
- It’s a beautiful country
- I haven’t seen a traffic light yet
- A young mother following me down the street begging for money breaks my heart
- The term “luxury item” takes on a completely different meaning in Africa
- It’s hot
- Language feels more of a barrier than culture to me.
- It costs $12 for a box of Kellogg’s cereal. The small box.
- The electricity goes out at least four times a day. Candles are a must. We’re already used to it.
- There is running water…most of the time
- The window above our headboard is less than three feet from the guard house at the front gate. I can hear a group of men talking now. We usually are wakened several times for shift changes nightly
- There are very few white people here. We stick out.
- Being a missionary is not easy.
Tomorrow Micki and Grace visit a private English-speaking school while I hang out with the kids. Joel and Janette will be at French school. We’re planning a trip “up country” to Kibuye to visit the clinic and potentially make some stops on the way. We’re also going to meet Bishop Elie and tour Hope Africa University. I’m booking flights to Eldoret where we will be meeting up with Empowering Lives International on Wednesday. We fly out of Buja Tuesday, July 2nd. Why do I mention this? It’s Burundi’s independence day. Their 50th. Yeah. Didn’t plan that well. Traffic? You betchya.
The lack of cultural noise here is good. I missed the NBA finals and really didn’t grieve much. Don’t care about reality TV (of course I never really did much). Gearing back is nice. We’re just starting to slow down. Takes awhile, especially for me. My only luxury item I brought was my french press and good coffee. I also brought my own mug. I try to enjoy a cup in the morning (with powdered creamer of course), read my Bible, journal, and pray. For some reason I’m in Isaiah. I’m currently working on memorizing Isaiah 61. My goal is to have most of it done when I get back. I’ve heard that passage quoted literally five times in the last two weeks. I think I need to pay attention to it. Know who the last person I heard quote it? Leah Miller. The nine year old.