Anil’s story- Chapter twelve: The blood-soaked hills of Burundi- 1988 to 1990
Source : Google photos of the villagers in Burundi, Africa
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Source: Google photos of a Burundian market
I left one day in July of 1988 for Addis Ababa where I was to catch a flight to Kigali which is the capital of Rwanda. It was to be a short visit of about one week to see the country and the project firsthand and to decide if I will accept the job to work there. I had to meet with many Rwandan and other officials to assess the situation there. I had decided not to bring Jasmine and the kids with me this time if I accepted the job because uprooting them again would have been hard of Jasmine and them.
So, I mentally prepared myself to work in Africa alone this time but first I had to find out what the project was all about and more importantly who were the project personnel both Rwandan and the foreign experts. It was good of the Americans to offer me to visit the country first and then decide so I was under no obligation to accept the job if I so wished.
I arrived in Kigali to find no one to receive me although I had sent a telex to that effect. The military officer took his time to stamp a transit visa on my passport so by the time I was free to leave, the airport was empty. Then I had to have some local money, but the bank was closed so a Rwandan girl changed some money for me. Outside I found a lone taxi and asked the driver to bring me to the hotel called Hotel des Milles Collines where I was booked. But here again there was no booking made so I was directed to the hotel called Diplomat where a room could be found.
The Diplomat is a nice hotel and had some people selling beautiful wood carvings and statuettes, so I bargained to get a tall Tutsi woman beautifully carved and polished in typical African style. The next morning, I found my way to the office where I was to meet with the representative of the project.
Kigali is a hilly town and there are thousand hills as the name of the hotel suggested. The valley below was full of vast swamps full of papyrus reeds and hippos and crocodiles. I could see it before landing how extensive the swamps were and how green they looked. The town was small and well laid out with a small business district, but Rwanda was a poor nation comprised of two tribes of Tutsis and Hutus who mistrusted each other deeply.
This mistrust was sown by its former colonial master Belgium which made it its business to describe two tribes as distinctly different from each other although to you and me they looked just the same. They even measured the width of the nose to say that Tutsis had sharp nose and thin lips and were taller than the coarse Hutus. The population was roughly 80% Hutus and 20 % Tutsis but here the government was Hutu whereas in the neighboring Burundi the government was Tutsi although with roughly the same mix of the population.
They spoke the same language in both countries so the separation of the region into two countries seemed very artificial made of course by the Belgians who separated the two and sowed the seed of mischief that was soon to come. At this time, I did not see anything but was told that there was an undercurrent of hatred between the two tribes.
I was given a driver and a car to bring me to Rwerere up in the hills in the north where the project of farming systems was set up so soon, I was on my way through green hills and arrived late at night in Rwerere. The project here was complete with a guest house and the residences for the project staff and office buildings. There was no electricity here, so they used a generator that they turned off at 10 pm but there was water piped in from some source.
Here in the cool mountains of northern Rwanda I saw hills heavily populated, and many farmers could be seen tending their coffee and plantain or banana plantations. Their houses were simple mud house built of red clay. In fact, the hills were mostly of red soil but very green and full of plants of all kinds. Women worked with babies on their back the African style like in Mali but here the hills were lovingly tended and neatly planted everywhere which was in stark contrast to Malian jungle.
We went to the lake Kivu or to a place near it where there was a waterfall. People said that it was a favorite place for some to commit suicide where they just jumped off the cliff. I was shocked. Why would anyone commit suicide in such a lovely green country where food was plentiful and climate so cool? They said that up the hills near the volcano there were plenty of gorillas that Dian Fossey had studied. Many tourists came to Rwanda to see the gorillas there who were now protected from the poachers by the armed guards.
I liked the beautiful country of Rwanda but was unsure about the job.I met and talked to many Rwandans and the expatriate staff about the project and visited their sites in some villages. They had set up a huge tree nursery to distribute saplings to farmers to plant on hill slopes to prevent erosion so obviously the project was doing something good. But I found the Rwandans morose and sulking. They were unhappy about something but would not tell me what. The expat staff also were unhappy about something so I sensed that their relationship with the Rwandans was not smooth .
If I joined the project here, then I would be in the middle of their quarrel which did not sound very appealing to me. The person whom I was to replace said that he was glad to leave the place. There was also tension among the expat staff, so they did not get along very well. The project chief was an American who asked me why I did not publish any technical papers to which I replied that enough has been written about the farming systems already. I was a field person and wrote about my work as a final report but never really cared to publish anything.
He thought that publishing articles is what people should do and looked at me with suspicion. He was not a friendly person but addressed me as Sir which I thought very odd indeed.
Then the American representative from Arkansas suggested that we go to Burundi next door and see if I liked the project there. They also needed an agronomist there, so we drove through Butare on to the border one day.I bought some wood carvings of misshapen African figures in Butare that I found typical if not very attractive but arriving at the border, the border guard refused to let me cross to the other side.
It was because the officials in Kigali had made a mistake of writing date of expiry of the visa which had expired before I had even arrived in the country. But the guard was adamant and said that it was not his problem. He said that I should go back to Kigali and correct the problem, but we stayed and insisted to go to Burundi. Finally, after what seemed like a long wait, the guard finally saw my point and let us through.
We walked across the border when the policemen lifted the barrier. On the Burundi side the project leader had come to pick us up. I noticed that the Burundi outpost had a solar panel telephone with tall antenna. The road slowly climbed up the hills of Burundi snaking through green hills full of coffee bushes and villages until we finally arrived in Gitega where the project had the office and where most of the staff lived.
From my long experience I knew that a project succeeded or failed depending on the relationship among the team members and the relationship with the host country counterparts. Money had very little to do with it. I had very good success in Haiti although Mali was a bad experience where the Malians controlled everything including the money.
My strong personality and ideas about what farming system should be doing did not mesh well with the project staff in Rwanda whose leader insisted on doing very scientific research and publish results. There was nothing very scientific about a farming systems project anywhere. It had mostly to do with trying new crops and varieties, new methods of cultivation and improve the yield. One had to be daring and innovative. You could draw on the expertise of the international research centers around the world and ask them to send you seeds or technical materials. I always received help from IRRI.
Here in Gitega I sensed that it was a better administered project. I was assured of full autonomy in deciding what I wanted to do within the framework of the project goals. They had heard about my success in Haiti and said that I was to stay in a remote village called Karuzi which was some 60 km from Gitega. The road to Karuzi was a dirt but drivable road.
I did not mind the isolation of Karuzi. I was coming alone so it did not matter where I stayed so I accepted the offer and proceeded to Bujumbura which is the capital of Burundi. But something that I had seen in Gitega bothered me a great deal. It was the army soldiers in battle gear running on training exercise through the streets all the time. Why they were so heavily armed and what was the meaning of this exercise? I was to soon find out.
The road to Bujumbura runs downhill all the way from Gitega to the plains through similar green hills like in Rwanda. Here too coffee was the mainstay of the economy, but the farmers grew plantain in profusion as well. It was their main diet although I saw some rice in the valley. They grew manioc and potato and I heard they had huge tea plantations in the north. The rain fall was similar to that of Rwanda, so Burundi was just as green.
Here women wrapped in clothes of psychedelic green or bright red walked down the hills carrying babies on their back and loads of stuff of their head but the men were really dangerous. They carried huge loads of plantains on their rickety bicycle and speeded down the slopes without brakes all the way to the plains . The accidents were frequent on this part of the road to Buja as they called Bujumbura. Then there were mini vans that plied between Buja and Gitega that competed for space on the road with the daredevil farmers with their loads of plantain.
The huge tankers carrying fuel from the coast snaked slowly through the mountains posing more dangers . But now I was on my way to Bujumbura to meet with the officials there and mostly to let them see and appraise me.
Bujumbura is spread out next to the Lake Tanganyika that is a very big lake next to Lake Victoria. It is a freshwater lake that is the source of livelihood of thousands of fishermen in Burundi and Tanzania. You can see the huge hippos playing in the lake just near the shore, but they are wild and dangerous. The bull hippos often flashed their saber like teeth at people when they felt nervous. The baby hippos bathed and cavorted under the watchful eyes of their mothers.
But the hippos came out to graze in the middle of the night and mowed the gardens like a lawn mower destroying everything in its way. Many Bujumbura residents complained of the marauding hippos and the destruction they caused but the hippos were protected. There were also huge crocodiles in the lake somewhere.
In Bujumbura one could find a lot of ivory and hippo teeth carvings as well as zebra skins and many artifacts made in Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire. The expat population was small and tourists very few, so it was not like Kenya. I liked Burundi and thought it was a nice country with friendly people.
People at the airport remembered your name even after many months. The pace was relaxed and the atmosphere very exotic with all the hippos bathing nearby. The market was chaotic and full of minivans leaving or coming from the distant parts. They sold beautiful baskets and bowls made of papyrus reed that grew in abundance everywhere .
The meeting with the Americans and Burundians in Bujumbura went well. It was mostly the monologue of someone who seemed to know all the answers and had face marks like an Ibo from Nigeria, but I was used to strange people. We all agreed that I should come to Burundi and work in the project as the only agronomist in Karuzi. The Belgian fellow at the ISABU looked at me very strangely as if he had never seen an Indian. ISABU is the agency that represents the Burundi government interest in the project .
The director of ISABU had visited our project in Haiti and I had taken him to the field so show some of the work I did there so he remembered me warmly and said that I should come to Burundi and give the project a helping hand. His companion in Haiti was to be my counterpart in Karuzi.
So having accomplished the mission I flew to India to pay a short visit to mom. She was happy to see me again although no one was expecting me. Mom hugged me and cried while others milled around asking where I was coming from, how long I was staying etc. so I told them that I had just visited Rwanda and Burundi and was on my way back to the Philippines. No one knew or had even heard of these countries but that did not surprise me anymore.
Shanti even made fun of Rwanda saying it sounded like anda which means egg in Hindi, but I was determined not to be disturbed by their comments. It was only going to be a short visit of 10 days, so I was prepared to say nothing and do nothing. Thankfully their curiosity lasted about 5 minutes after which they left me alone. I felt sorry for mom who said that she suffered a great deal of pain. I was amazed at the great number of medicines she took and gulped down the white liquid which she said was the antacid syrup.
I tried to comfort her but did not know how. She was feeble and partially blind. She stayed in bed most of the time but did not sleep very much. Nirmal said that he was doing all he could and consulted the best doctors in town but her problem was old age and loneliness.
I kept quiet. I knew better than to open my mouth. These people could take something I said and use it twenty years later to start a quarrel with someone. I said nothing about Rwanda or Burundi. Nirmal had once told me that God had made the blacks ugly which to me was so shocking that I did not know what to say. But Bengalis derided anyone who was not Bengali.
They said that the Sikhs were stupid, the southerners uncouth who did not know how to eat properly, and the Punjabis were shameless and unethical. The local UP people were uncivilized and the Biharis were barbarians etc. Only the Bengalis were the best because didn’t they produce Tagore? and Subhas Chandra Bose? The Bengalis tended to live in the past probably no more than others, but they did live in the past.
Annapurna also came but had no idea I was in town. People were not surprised that I visited India often. They took me for granted and said that international travel to me was like going to visit someone next door. I left for Delhi with a heavy heart this time because I knew mom was not going to be around much longer. Dad was long gone and now she too would leave us. She had lived through many difficulties and sickness in life of which she spoke with misty eyes while I brushed her snow-white hair.
She told me how badly the relatives in Kolkata had treated her when she was with my father there tending to his needs. He was in the hospital for his cancer treatment and the operation while my poor mom braved the crowd riding many buses to reach him every day with food. She was old at that time, but no one often gave her a seat in the crowded bus. I did not know that our relatives were so bad and made a promise never to see them again.
I had sent her money from Vietnam regularly and built the upper floor so that she could get an income from the rent, but she gave the money to Sabita for her upkeep and Sabita being a shameless woman took it. But she had the pension and was not short of money. She in fact gave it away freely to her daughters and their children. What she needed was the feeling that she was loved and cherished by everyone, but Sabita did not love her.
Nirmal took care of her but often sided with his wife. Annapurna was away working somewhere, and I was the farthest. It made me sad. She was the greatest mother in the world, and I said so. But now she was old and weak and needed our love and help. Don’t people ever realize that they too will get old someday? How would I feel for example if Ashis and Jayanti someday told me that I was pretending to be sick to get attention when I lay in my bed all wrinkled and shriveled? If I am a proud person which I am then how much prouder mom is?
She came from an important family in Sri Ram Pur and was the apple of the eye of her parents. She was born after my grandmother prayed for a girl child in Tarakeshwar temple and fasted there. That is why my mom was called Tarakdashi or the servant of Tarakeshwar which is another name for Lord Shiva. She was given gold jewelry and beautiful saris when she married my father at the tender age of 13. She survived her husband and two sons who died which is hard for any woman.
She traveled all over India with my father but never saw any place because she was busy raising children but never complained. I asked her to give me something that she had made so she gave me a most beautiful bed cover of crochet work that had taken her years to make. It is now with us forever in the Philippines.
I returned to the Philippines and told Jasmine all about Sri Ram Pur but she knew most of it from her experience there. She now urged me to bring Annapurna to the Philippines where she could spend some time with us. But this had to wait for two more years. I still had to go back and work in Burundi for a while.
Meanwhile the news from Burundi was bad. My worst fears had materialized. The Tutsis were killing the Hutus again everywhere. That is why they were marching in full battle gear in Gitega that had made me so uneasy. The CNN and the BBC reported mass slaughters of Hutus by the Tutsi army while the world watched in horror. Years later the Hutus in Rwanda would take revenge and slaughter half a million Tutsis there until driven from power by the Tutsi militia.
These green hills of Burundi would be soaked with the blood of Hutus who fought back only with machetes and knives but were no match for the machine guns. Many fled across the border to Zaire and Tanzania and some to Rwanda. Their lovingly tended coffee plantations were now abandoned as village after village was destroyed and people died or fled in fear.
I debated with myself whether I should go back there but the project people urged me to return in October. They said that the bloodletting was over at least for a while so the project could start again. Jasmine was worried that I should go back to such a place, but I said that I will be ok if the project people said so. Burundians seldom attacked foreigners.
I visited IRRI to see mainly Surendra who now worked in an outreach program. Others seemed too busy to have time for me. They all felt very important and would keep me waiting in the outer office like a refugee. I did not respect such people, but IRRI was a strange place. There were a lot of scandals there involving some people in wide scale theft and mismanagement. Dr. Singh seemed unhappy and said that there was a lot of reorganization of departments, so he was not sure of his status now.
I found the atmosphere unfriendly, but Dr. Singh promised me any help I needed from Burundi like seeds or technical help. He had helped me a great deal in Haiti by sending me wonderful high yielding rice varieties and would do so again in Burundi, but he still wished that I had taken the job in Cambodia. Everyone heard of Burundi in the news or rather saw it on TV.
I liked Surendra. He and I did our graduate studies at the same time at the University and had somehow kept in touch although not often. He did not know that I was in Haiti for a while but now we talked about our good old days whenever we got together. I had a feeling that he too was not very happy at IRRI and wanted to get out. IRRI’s reputation was carried forward by such stalwarts as Dr. Singh who was a scientist of world renown, but I wondered what would happen when such people retired or left IRRI for other jobs somewhere.
I returned to Burundi in October of 1988, but I had to spend a few days in Addis Ababa this time to get a visa for Burundi. Addis Ababa is perhaps the most forlorn city that I have ever been through. The small and old airport is seen full of refugee relief goods piled sky high on one side while Russian jets unloaded some more reminding you that there was a war going on in Eritrea in the west. The ride to downtown took you past drab concrete block buildings and many had a red star on top meaning the regime was communist. People were poor and would often ask you to buy them beer .
You could hardly find anyone to guide you to a good restaurant although I tried hard because I liked Ethiopian food in Washington DC, but I had no success. The Ethiopian hotel only served beefsteak or omelet with oily French fries that I had trouble swallowing for three consecutive days. It was a tough country that had gone through horrible famine and now a protracted war that no one was winning.
They boasted about their coffee, but I found it tasteless after the Burundi coffee that was so aromatic. Their handicraft was shoddy although I did buy a leather briefcase that was well made. The Burundi consulate was nice and stamped me a visa, so I was ready for Bujumbura once again. I was glad to leave Addis Ababa. The Ethiopean airways was not a good airline that took your business class ticket and put you in the economy class saying that the flight did not have a business class. They also did not like to refund the excess charge or give me a first-class upgrade which I demanded.
The flight to Bujumbura from Addis Ababa takes you over the Lake Victoria, which is the biggest freshwater lake in Africa, but it was pitiful the see the shores denuded for miles around. This did not look like the Africa of Humphrey Bogart and Hepburn but as we approached Kigali, the country turned green and hilly. The green dense papyrus swamps spread over a huge territory. Only in east Africa you could see such huge swamps. The one south of Sudan was bigger in size than France .
This time I was met at the Bujumbura airport and we soon traveled to Gitega again and then on to Karuzi which was my station.
Bujumbura was now calm and showed no signs that there were fighting here and, in the country, recently except many check points everywhere manned by armed military men. I arrived in Karuzi the next day but saw some checkpoints on the road where the military scrutinized the papers thoroughly before they let us proceed. The situation was still not totally normal, but no one talked about what had happened here so recently.
My driver was a Tutsi who felt hesitant to discuss the recent massacres in the northern Burundi. In Karuzi I was given a house next to the guest house of the project. It was a fairly big house just for one person and was partially furnished so I settled down quickly and hired a servant to do the cooking and cleaning chores.
The village of Karuzi is hilly and is surrounded by small hills and numerous valleys where the farmers plant rice. Just below my house down the hill is a small lake where the cattle herders always brought their cattle to water. Sometimes you could see wild ducks landing on the lake. The governor of the province received me without much enthusiasm but that was understandable. People were still uptight about what had happened here and were suspicious of foreigners.
Karuzi is a very small village with a few houses and a few stores. The Institut Technologique Agricole of Burundi or ITAB was located here so their staff mostly stayed in Karuzi. The foreigners who worked in Karuzi commuted from Gitega, but my job was here. The project had an office just outside the village where I soon met my Burundian office workers who appeared a bit shy. They were young people who had been shabbily treated by the American woman I had replaced so they thought I was also arrogant. But I soon put them all at ease and found them very willing workers.
I was in charge of the big research station which was nothing but an area full of weeds and jungle, so my first job was to carve out of the wilderness enough land area to plant the experiments and do seed multiplication work. This work had already started, and some land had been cleared but more land was needed. The Burundians worked eagerly and did whatever I asked them to do. They were glad to work because they were bored doing nothing so far.
Soon several hectares of land were cleared and I started laying out many trials on corn, beans and potato. Down the slope we cleared more land and planted corn, beans and potatoes for multiplication. We had some huge pits dug and filled with compost that we collected from the dairy farm.
The French fellow who worked in the project commuted from Gitega but never lifted a finger to help in anything. He played with his computer all day and went right back to Gitega if there was no electricity which was often.
But he came to pose and take photos of beautiful experiments on corn and beans or other crops to take credit. This project was 90% agronomy work, and I was the sole agronomist, so I wondered what the others did.
The routine of work with the farmers in outlying villages in the province and the work at the Karuzi research site kept me busy all the time so I seldom went to Gitega. I had received some rice varieties from IRRI that I was testing in the valley below but also some upland rice varieties that I had planted in a distant village. Upland rice is grown just with rainfall and directly seeded as compared to the lowland rice that had to be transplanted .
The villages of Bugenyuzi, Munyinya, Gishikanwa, Kabwira, Rugazi, Kiranda and Murambi were many such sites where I had planted trials on potato and beans. The potato trials were very successful, but the bean did not do badly either. Often farmers asked me to share a glass of banana beer they brewed and called pembe. They also made beer from sorghum .
Beer drinking in Burundi was a national pastime. Almost everyone drank huge quantity of local beer or the Amstel that was brewed under license near Gitega. We often sat around sipping pembe amidst the coffee plantations and joking. Women tended the coffee plants with care and plucked the red beans while carrying the babies at their back.
I did not understand this beer culture at first and invited my office workers to my house for some tea and cake. They made faces when they were served tea and inquired if I had any beer. No one drank tea. Beer was the only thing respectable here, so it was expected that I serve beer to them.
The farmers were simple folks who lived in rectangular adobe houses with tin roof and planted coffee, banana and plantain near their houses on the hills. They also planted beans, manioc, corn, potato and sweet potato.
They planted low land rice in the valley below which was mostly women’s job. In general, the country was blessed with good rainfall and rich volcanic soil that made growing anything easy. They had plenty to eat and were prolific breeders. It was not unusual to be surrounded by at least a hundred kids of all ages as soon I stopped my car somewhere.
Most of the farmers were Hutus and their landowners were Tutsis. The periodic slaughter of the Hutus by the Tutsis probably made them more anxious to produce children. There were trees everywhere, but the farmers chopped them down mercilessly for firewood. The government was military that often ordered the villagers to plant trees on the slopes so you could see many many hills completely planted with pine trees.
The villagers were required to work one day a week to help maintain roads or make new ones or repair small bridges or culverts. In that respect it was so different from Haiti where no one did any community work and chopped down all the trees making the hills so utterly denuded. Here it was really green and lovely. The farmers here wore tattered clothes and were barefoot but that was perhaps because they always worked in their fields and did not want to spoil their good clothes.
The once-a-week village markets were a riot of colors where mostly women bought and sold things they produced. They carried huge bunches of plantain on their heads and walked 10 kms to a market where they sat whole day to sell it for a small price but often carried it back if unsold. The women would not reduce the price by 10 cents and preferred to carry the heavy load back to their village.
Children here didn’t throw stones at passing vehicles or shout insults. Instead, they said good morning and smiled. People raised their hands in greeting whenever they saw a vehicle but whether it was the show of subservience to others was hard to tell. The past was tragic in these lovely hills that a Times correspondent had called the bloody hills of Burundi.
They lived side by side with the Tutsis but in fear. I only saw a country where no one benefited from this mutual animosity. The country was beautiful and supported a growing population well, but it lacked infrastructure like roads, schools and health care facilities. I often saw seriously ill people carried in a reed basket by strong men and walking for miles over the hills to reach a primary health care facility. There was no ambulance service here. The roads were just dirt road that became muddy during the rainy season that often washed out the culverts and bridges.
Many villages were remote and cut off at such times. The public transportation system was also poor and dangerous as I had mentioned the road to Bujumbura where banana carrying bicyclists posed a threat. People waited by the roadside for hours to get a ride to some place and a medical emergency could be catastrophic.
Most villages had no electricity or running water but in Bugenyuzi, the Italians had set up a hospital and clinic that probably had a generator. The also had a church. Even in remote villages one could see beautiful churches. The one in Karuzi was built with red bricks and had stained glass windows and dirt floor where women sat suckling their kids during service.
There were many Catholic missionaries of various nationalities who lived in isolation I small villages but built nice churches and often a school and a vocational school where they trained boys in pottery making or women in basket making or weaving. Islam was not much in evidence yet, but I suppose it was only a matter of time. One Tutsi girl in Gitaramuka once told me that she did not believe in the church controlling the lives of people, but the Catholic church insisted that the Catholics baptized their children. This was the only way they could propagate the faith.
She also said that the Hindus were correct in thinking that the religion was a private matter that concerned no one except the individual and wished that others would follow their example. But this was not to be. In some countries it was the State itself that controlled the religious lives of its citizens rigorously. Then there were the fundamentalists forever pushing their agenda.
The young lady was an educated Tutsi who saw no future in the intertribal hatred. I suggested that perhaps people could forget their tribal differences and learn to live in peace but for that to happen, it was essential that teachers like her work hard to make the children understand that they were Burundians first and last. Perhaps more intermarriage could also blur the tribal lines and reduce animosity.
My life soon settled into the routine of going to work at 7 am and visit some villages and sites where we had set up field trials. In the evenings I would often curl up with a book or listen to the short-wave radio. There was nothing else to do or no one to visit. Only my next-door neighbor who was a Peace Corps girl dropped by once in a blue moon, so we played scrabble.
The nuns and the priest also came to visit me but not often. The Burundians remained aloof because I did not share their enthusiasm for gulping down beer every night at the village grocery store that also doubled as the pub.
The evening meals were the left over from the lunch that I warmed up. The life became monotonous and routine with no break for anything. I did get a dog later on, but he was a free foraging dog chasing chickens and birds in the village and showed up at dinner time only. I called him Jumbo, but he looked more like a hot dog with small legs and floppy ears.
Sometimes I played on my harmonica and sang a few lines of songs that I played on the cassette player or even talked to myself that is also known as thinking aloud but mostly it was a very solitary existence.
Jasmine frequently wrote and asked me to return home. Kids were missing me because this was the first time, we were separated but I could not return home. Home seemed so far from the hills of Karuzi but the fact was that home was indeed very far from here. The letters took more than a month to reach heightening the sense of isolation, but time somehow passed.
One day the governor invited me to his inaugural ceremony which meant the traditional dances and parade. The Burundian drummers are known for their drumming skills. They all showed up in their costumes of leopard skins and feathers and beat 15 or 20 drums in unison. They beat their drums and danced at the same time while the women in bright clothes also paraded and danced. The schoolteachers brought their students who also paraded and sang.
Later I saw similar dances and the drummers when the president of Burundi came to Karuzi. His ministers stayed in my house and made a mess of the bathroom by flooding it and dirtied the carpets, but the President stayed elsewhere. They took my sofas for him to sit on. The ministers made their obligatory speech of “when you are in Buja ,come and see us” etc. and left not meaning a word of it of course but that was expected of politicians.
I could not depend on the project staff in Gitega to buy anything that I needed for the work in Karuzi. Once they brought me a can of spray to kill mosquitoes when I had asked for a bottle of insecticide for corn. Others said that they simply forgot. The only problem was that nothing was available in Karuzi so everything had to be bought in Gitega, some 60 kms away or in Buja, some 200 kms away. Their attitude was that if I needed something then it was my problem and not theirs.
But they always took credit for the work I did by saying that our project did this or that. They bragged endlessly about the success of the project to the visitors but left it to me to do all the work in agronomy. The project did not work as a team because others did not participate or help in the project work in Karuzi. The meetings were held in Gitega but mostly to discuss administrative matters and seldom technical matters.
People often asked me if I was lonely in Karuzi to which I always answered that although I missed my family, I was not lonely and spent my time in solitude reading books or listening to radio or music. It gave me time to think about a lot of things and sort them out in my mind. People in Karuzi thought that I was unsocial because I did not join in their beer drinking but it was never my style. I liked talking to people over a cup of tea.
I tried fishing and fashioned two fishing rods. My servant made a platform at the edge of the lake below where I often sat in the evenings with a lantern and caught a few catfish. Later an FAO expert from Congo who came to work in Karuzi became my fishing partner. It was more fun than actually catching anything because somedays we came back empty handed.
The French fellow who was a team member often derided my work by saying the data were too good to be true or that I had faked it somehow. I let it pass but knew that the matter had to come to a head someday. He was a lazy fellow who pretended to work but only played with his computer. He said that he was an extension specialist but there was nothing to extend to the farmers yet. This was not true as the results showed.
Once I organized the field day for the farmers in the Karuzi station to show them what results we had obtained. This was pure extension work .The field days were very important in the farming system’s project when you could discuss with the farmers the experiments. They often made valuable comments that could then be taken into account in planning for the future work. So I depended on the French fellow to take charge.
But he let me down and said I could handle everything myself. This I did. We transported the farmers from their villages to Karuzi and back and set up a program. We also ordered banana beer for them and the drummers to entertain the crowd, so everything went well. The Frenchman then came and took photos to take credit for the successful extension work.
This was the last straw. I confronted him at the next staff meeting and said that he was a lazy person who shirked his responsibility in the project by not doing what he was hired to do. I was very angry.
From that day on wards this fellow became my avowed enemy and started spreading lies that I was a womanizer and received women in my house. People who lived in Gitega believed him and spread the word farther afield. The Gitega people were all with families and children and often got together so they were a solid group of which I was never a part. They treated me as such. It was now them vs me. It was unfair about the lies, but it is an unfair world we live in. No one bothered to hear my side of the story.
I had nearly spent 18 months here and wished to leave. The FAO expert who became my friend often said that I was doing excellent work so I should apply to the UN. I thought about it and sent for an application form from Rome. They replied that they were very impressed with my resume and encouraged me to fill the form and return to them as soon as possible. I did and waited.
Jasmine and the kids were arriving so that was very exciting. I counted the days until they landed and waited eagerly for them at the Bujumbura airport. The kids came running and hugged me tightly. Jasmine looked more beautiful than ever. She remarked how different the country was from Haiti which it was. We climbed the hills to Gitega where we accepted the invitation only from the project leader for a short visit. I did not like these people who were treating me in a poor way and said so to Jasmine. The Frenchman’s invitation we rejected out of hand.
In Karuzi jasmine and the kids stayed for a month. I tried to keep the kids occupied with fishing and beehive installation. I took them to various villages to show them the field work I did. We went to see the Italians in Mutumba nearby who very nice people were and had invited me to attend their Christmas party the year before. They received Jasmine and the kids warmly. She attended the Karuzi church service and saw the research station I was developing in Karuzi.
I had recently completed the building of a big warehouse there with toilet facility nearby and was in the process of building a potato storage facility. This was completed later where all the potato harvest from the fields was stored. I had planted fruit trees and cleared more land for other experiments.
I brought them to the Bugenyuzi market to show what they sold. The Karuzi market was very small by comparison. We went to see the hippos in the swamps of Karuzi one night, but they came out only late at night. The kids had never seen the papyrus swamp before and wondered what else could hide there. There were probably crocodiles too. They marveled at the crowned herons that looked for insects in the farm and the spoonbills. Africa had so many different types of birds that were unique.
Back in Bujumbura the kids were thrilled to see the hippos in the lake and the black mamba snakes in the small zoo. There were huge boa constrictors and pythons. But soon their vacation was over, and they flew back home. It was the difficult period for me now because I sorely missed the kids so I occupied myself with finishing up the remaining part of the work that included data processing and analysis of results so that I could start writing the final report.
I had attended a meeting in Arkansas few months ago where I presented the results of the work in Burundi with the help of a video that I had filmed. The lab that helped me re do the audio part of the video wanted a copy of it. It was very unique and showed how the Burundi farmers grew their crops. Now the project invited a professional video man to make a film on the project at a great cost and promised me a copy but never sent.
This is also the time I started writing my memoirs that would be the basis of this biography later on. My time was short, and I prepared to leave in a few months' time although the Americans wanted me to stay on for a while. This I refused. I had done my job well and got very good results that I presented in the form of a final report now and left Burundi for good in November 1990.
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Originally published at http://aumolc.wordpress.com on March 25, 2023.