Sunday, February 7, 2010

Everything is Green and Inviting

I've returned to Burundi! I spent nearly two months in the States and got to see Dubai, India, and Morocco whilst in transit. While in America I drove 4500 miles to see family and friends and for work. Whew!
Again, I am so grateful for particular aspects of American culture: efficiency and honesty among others. For example; one of my daily struggles in Burundi was trying to get our truck fixed. It took nearly four months and I was pressured to buy a cow as a bribe. In America, my car had problems in Nashville. In 24 hours I had parts, an honest mechanic, and was on my way shortly thereafter.
I will share with you the rather dramatic story of re-entering Burundi. Here's the set up: To enter most countries you need 1) a Visa and 2) a return ticket. I had neither, reasoning that I could just buy my visa at the airport and thinking that they wouldn't care about the return ticket. Here's how it went down.
It was 4am and I was running on 6 hours sleep in two days. I showed up at the airport in Dubai worrying that they wouldn't issue visas at the airport in Burundi because of an email my friend sent me. What turned out to be a bigger problem was that I didn't have a return ticket. Ethiopian airlines wouldn't let me on the flight! So I rushed to get on the internet, ended up going to the ticket counter to buy a flight home but the guy couldn't find Bujumbura on his computer as having an airport! So I told him to book me one from Kigali(Rwanda borders Burundi). I thought it was close enough. I ran to the ticket counter with ten minutes to spare. But they said the ticket wasn't valid because it was not out of Bujumbura. Makes sense. So I begged mercy and they let me one the flight. BUT I had to sign a paper that said "You're an idiot and if they refuse you at the border you have to pay a 5000 Euro fine". I had 30 seconds to make a decision. And you know what? I had no idea what to do, not even an inkling. There was a small voice in my head that said "this is where God wants you", but to be honest it wasn't very loud or convincing. I figured I needed to get to Burundi so I went ahead and signed the paper with trembling hands.
I rushed to my gate and got my laptop out to find a flight from Bujumbura to Kigali as quick as I could (theoretically to complete my return ticket). The plane was actually boarding when I arrived and the connection was slow. Then a shouting match broke out at the ticket counter which delayed everyone. I was sweating, staring at the screen that says "processing request" as people were walking on the plane and they made the last call for the flight. But I found one! I booked a flight the last minute and got on the plane.
I was somewhat relieved but my stomach was still in knots the next ten hours thinking they might not have visas at the airport which would leave me liable for the fine. It was not a pleasant time. Just sitting and waiting for something to happen.
I experienced a slight calm as the plane descended into Burundi. Ducking below the thick clouds I saw the green wet-season mountains and high grass. There's something about green vegetation I find inviting and comforting. When I arrived at the airport I walked in and saw that they were selling visas! Hallelujah! So I got in and felt the weight of all the stress slowly unwind from my stomach, chest, and head.

So that's how I got back in. It's kind of a picture of my time in Burundi. That is, chaos, scrambling, and hot nerves followed by a Grace that smooths it all over.
I will post a brief blog about my travels in Dubi, India, and Morocco when I get the chance. And I have a camera now! So I will battle with the slow internet to post pictures to make the reading a bit more interesting.