Spend a night in the maternity ward to a rural African clinic, and you gain perspective. There was no soap, no clean linens, no running water, no electricity. And yet, they were so kind. Ben asked if there was a way to boil water, so we could make our rice. The clinic had a stove. They clearly hadn’t used it much before; gas spilled onto the floor. A pregnant woman came to give birth. The flames shot up three feet high. Ben and I thought the stove was going to explode and everyone was going to die. The woman was led to a bed. They gave us a pineapple. Even insisted we sleep on blood stained beds. (Awkward!) They were so kind.
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.
We took the MV Liemba from Mpulungu in Zambia to Kigoma in Tanzania. It was insane. When we go on a cruise, we expect sunsets and pretty scenery. This, however, is the MV Liemba: yelling, banging, crying babies, chickens, cholera, muddy hallways, people sleeping on cargo, people sleeping on people.
It was an experience. Especially as a TV crew from the History Channel rented out the boat, kind of, and were very happy to use their power as they pleased. I learned a lot. I’ll write more later.
Making videos from a bicycle! It’s challenging! These edits are a bit rough. (I’m actually being kind of rude, holding everyone up to upload!) I expect when I have more time I’ll re-edit, but as it stands, we have miles to make. Burundi calls!
The music is by a Zambian musician, Dali Soul. I hear he’s a cool dude ;). Most of his music, including this song, promote progressive causes. The lyrics are mostly in Nyanja. This song, if it’s not very clear, promotes condom usage. HIV / AIDs and other STIs are a big problem. You see signs everywhere yet the infection rate exceeds 10%.
The English manor is called Shiwa Ng’andu. It’s in the middle of nowhere, miles off the main road on a dirt track. The two historical photos are by C&J Harvey.
Once again, it was all the wonderful people who welcomed us into their homes, truck stops, back yards and huts, they made this so worthwhile. Thank you!
Bicycling through Africa, excluding the big cities, I can easily imagine myself in a classic Western film. The land is dusty, sun omnipresent, buildings stout, industry absent, law more a suggestion and at every turn there’s the palpable sense of both opportunity and danger. The highway is littered with the hulking remains of automobiles stripped to the frame. Subsistence farmers with goat powered carts trot along as a 2011 BMW whizzes by. The highway is sparse, uninterrupted but for potholes and the few occasional cows.
Looking for that all too rare dilapidated decrepit feel? Well, do I have the abandoned guest house for you! Complete with spiders, creaking doors and a rotting ceiling, it’s conveniently located only one kilometer out of downtown Pemba. From the market, head northeast along the dirt path, over the train tracks and past the three huts, it’s the only brick structure on the left; watch out for the cows.
(Also, there’s a very nice, generous family who lives on the property.)