Sunday, November 1, 2009

Life Away From High Fructose Corn Syrup

Till this point I feel I have only shared with you the highlights of my time in Africa. Big events, like my trip up here overland or seeing Mugabe, add sweetness to life but they are not the substance. It’s the everyday routines, pressures and encounters that are the ‘space-time’ of life (sorry reading The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene just now. Love it. Such a nerd).
The other day a friend asked me “so what do you get paid to do?” Other similar questions come up frequently, and in all honesty I never have a straight answer. I call myself a missionary, but what does that mean? In this part of Africa, the traditional role of a missionary is a thing of the past. Churches are everywhere. One of the two channels I get on TV is broadcasting preachers and the like constantly. And yet I feel I have ‘accomplished’ a lot since I’ve been here.
Most broadly, I am opening an office here for Overland Missions. Previously, our presence here was not permanent and tied into strictly humanitarian aid projects. Since, my arrival this has shifted. My role ,as I see, is to lay the foundation for the long term presence and effectiveness of Overland Missions (OM). On a practical level this means I am meeting anyone and everyone I can while learning as much as possible about the local ‘scene’ to see where I (OM at this point in time) can be most useful. Recently, I spoke to an American missionary that advised me to spend at least a year ‘shaking hands’ and getting to know people! Luckily, Bujumbura is a small town and everyone knows everyone so after a few months at this I feel my time ‘networking’ has been potent. I have started some small projects but these only in the early stages of planning.
Everyday I try to plan as many meetings as possible with different NGOs or ministries or whoever. I usually spend the lunch break (from 11:30-2:30) working with a group of street kids at a bible study. My job is not hard per se but it’s the conditions in which I work that usually send the average westerner packing their bags after a year or so (and I have not reached that threshold yet…). In Tom Petty’s words, it’s the waiting that’s the hardest part. The saying here in Africa is ‘hurry up and wait’. If you approach anything with the rushed attitude so common in the west you get no where, and will most likely stop dead in your tracks.
Often, working as an international organization requires working with bureaucracy. Bureaucracy only works when pushed from the top. That is, you have to find the right person who knows the right someone who sits above the a-hole holding your application, waiting for a bribe. Logically its not that hard to figure out. So, patience, a good attitude, a smile, and the ability to make conversation go a long way. Navigating the social paradigms of Africa takes a savvy that comes with time. Always time.
I leave Burundi in mid November and will return mid January. I will take the time away to evaluate the opportunities that have presented themselves and commit to more full time work when I return. I have to say that I am very optimistic about the positive impact that my time in Burundi will yield. Praise God!

The food alone is worth the trip!
The title of this section is taken from a line in Chris Farley’s last movie, “Almost Heroes”. You need to see it.
Do words like “organic”, “all natural”, and “local” make you want to pay double for a product at the supermarket? Well if they do you should come to Burundi!! Everything is organic, natural, and local! Indeed, the food here is quite wholesome. There are no crazy artificial chemical sweeteners or additives that we find on the packaging of food in the west. Now you ask, “ Dave, how do you know if it’s local or organic?” Because often times the place you eat is next to the garden or field where the food on your plate comes from. Most commonly Burundians eat beans and rice or rice and beans or any combination of the two. There are also green bananas, regular bananas, pineapples, mangoes, and, thank God, they love French fries. Every meal is pretty much the same but it’s satisfying. You also get viande, or a cube of marinated meat, on your rice for a little extra. One negative aspect of the cooking is the amount of palm oil used, but on the whole the diet here will more than sustain if you get enough of it (a major problem here). And it’s eons better than the food in Zambia and most of the surrounding countries whose staple is a corn meal porridge cruelly resembling, but not tasting anything like, mashed potatoes (ugali, n’shema, pup, or, as westerners call it “oh this sucks”).
Even the Coke here is made with real sugar, supposedly, instead of high fructose corn syrup. For some reason I have developed this thing against high fructose corn syrup. To me it’s symbolic of the negative characteristics of life in America- quick satisfaction but unfulfilling and damaging in the long run.
Fact: high fructose corn syrup is the leading cause of HIV/Aids and H1N1 flu in the world today*.

*Not a fact.
Ain’t it funny how time slips away..
It’s silly how fast my time has gone in Burundi. Even though I have a long road ahead of me I can see myself saying that at the end of my two years here. I am so looking forward to going back and seeing friends and family, looking forward to cold weather and not putting on SPF 50 sun block everyday. I plan on getting a camera while back in the States so as not to deprive you of the beautiful scenery here for too much longer (and to make blogs more interesting to read). Burundi has provided me with great stories and has some amazing people. I look forward to sharing more of my time here with you and appreciate you all taking the time to read this.
Please don’t be a stranger. Send me an update, attach a photo if you can.