Burundi rarely makes the news. It’s a nation about the size of Massachusetts, but with more people and extreme poverty. It’s the twin to Rwanda, same ethnic strife, Hutu vs Tutsi, same Belgian colonial legacy, but Burundi is poorer and more forgotten. In the entire country, we saw but one working traffic light. From the Tanzanian border, the road was dirt. Our hiking trails are in better condition. In Burundi, most children suffer from chronic malnutrition. I have never been in a land so poor.
People were surprised to see us. Outside of the capital, especially closer to Tanzania, people would cheer as we cycled by. It’s like we were famous, like we were world class cyclists, like we were doing something noteworthy and important. And in a sense, maybe, we were. One man told me that I was the first white person he’d seen outside a car. It was just incredible.
At every little town, a crowd would gather. Once, the police asked us to move because the crowd around us blocked the main intersection. They would stare and gawk and sometimes manage a few questions in English. They asked us where we were from. America. America! They asked us why we were in their village, their town, in Burundi. We come as tourists. Tourist? And they would shake their heads, like they knew what the word meant but they’d never seen one before.