Today is President Ntaryamira Day. I have just spent a little time reading up on exactly what that means. 'On April 6, Burundians celebrate President Ntaryamira Day. It is a public holiday that commemorates the anniversary of President Cyprien Ntaryamira's death in 1994.'
'On April 6, 1994, Cyprien Ntaryamira died in a plane crash. The private Dassault Falcon 50 jet which belonged to Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, a fellow Hutu, was shot down while landing at Kigali International Airport, Rwanda. The plane crashed, killing both presidents. Their death ignited the Rwandan Genocide.
President Ntaryamira Day is a solemn observance during which people reflect upon one of the most tragic events in the African history.'
Thus, it seems quite fitting that I am spending this 'holiday' in my office. Circumstances mostly beyond my control ( granted I could have said 'No') mean that I need to be at work and available, today.
I was tempted to feel a little sorry for myself. Poor me, having to work today! But I am surrounded by others also giving up their 'holiday'. So I am neither unique, nor alone. Together with the fact that today is meant to be a day of reflection and solemnity, I no longer feel quite so hard done by.
I have also taken some strategic steps to help today feel 'different.
1. I have Highland milk to go in my coffee. No black stuff today.
2. I have Vanilla sugar instead of ordinary white sugar.
3. I am Blogging.
4. I have a sewing project. I'm not going to spend all day doing School work. In fact if I can manage it I'm not going to do any . But I am in my office, so that might not be possible.
Now I just have to get my brain to agree that although the surroundings are 'work' the circumstances are 'holiday'. My brain's a bit dense with things like this. Not very adaptable.
Knowing that I would be spending Week 2 of my Easter break in the office, I made the huge effort of having a 'mini break' last week. Towards the end of Term 2, I began to be aware of the fact that my daily life had become confined to a bubble that extended approximatley 5 miles from my home. School, church, Club du Lac. I know that for many living here, their bubbles ar even smaller. So I am not trying to play the 'woe-is-me' card. Even the fact that I get to go to Club du Lac to swim and relax, is a privilege denied to very many living here. But I had the feeling that during the Easter break I should take the opportunity to leave the city and venture Up-Country.
So at 8am, on the dot (even though we didn't have a deadline), Thursday 31st March 2016, together with my house-mate Alli, I escaped the confines of Bujumbura. Off we went, up the hill towards Gitega.
We had a very loose agenda or mission. Alli had heard of a project running in Cankuzo province, where donkeys were being introduced to work on the land. Alli is somewhat of a donkey freak. Ever since she heard of there being donkeys in Burundi, she's been desperate to go and see them.
Therefore, destination 1 was Cankuzo, about 4 hours drive from home. We have a luxury lunch stop at a town I can't remember the name of. Luxury lunch - bread & ibitumbura (Burundi doughnuts) and milk, in an Amata Neza Shack. The Milk shack offers, 3 glass sizes of milk , 1 litre, 700ml, 600ml and a choice of fresh or rancid, room temperature or cold. The total cost of our lunch 1200 fbu . What's that in £'s? At present there are 2200fbu to £1.
Amata Meza Shack - The one with a man outside
Shortly after lunch we were stopped at our first Police check. The very nice policeman at the Check point asked us where we were going... Cankuzo......would we like to take a passenger? The answer of course to that question has to be 'Yes'. We looked across to the small crowd of people waiting. A mother with a flock of smalls, a couple more policemen and a man with bags. Which one(s) we wondered? It was the man who approached when given the nod by the policeman. Fortunately, I've been here long enough now, to have released my 'Englishness' in such situations. It turned out that the young man was a doctor travelling home. He was completely harmless and pleasant.
But he did start a chain of very interesting 'Directions-to-find-theDonkeys'. It seems to be culturally wrong to ever admitt that you don't know where something is. So if you are asked if you know where the Donkey Project is in Cankuzo, it is better to make up an answer, than actually just say, 'Sorry I've no idea'. So our passenger, confidently, confirmed that there were donkeys in Cankuso and we would very easily find them opposite Coodec.
Unfortunatley, his drop off point arrived earlier than the easiliy found donkeys.
We arrived in Cankuzo in the early afternoon and choose our hotel based upon the fact we liked the Zebras decorating the drive way. Cup of tea and we were set to visit the donkeys. Cankuzo is not a large place, one roundabout, four roads. Alli reliably informed me that Coodec is nearly always opposite the Commune. Easy. Drive to the Commune, but no Coodec. Never mind, another person who fortunately knows exactly where the donkeys are. Back to the roundabout, past the hotel, along the road and there they will be. Off we go. The road starts as tarmac, very shortly becomes dirt. Then it goes on and on and on and on. Finally turning into a bumpy, muddy, windy track. With absolutely NO sign of donkeys. We come to a small village. And low and behold another person who knows with great clarity where the donkeys are! Just keep going along this road turn right then left and there they will be. At this point we ask, about how long will it take, 'about 2 hours!!. How long? It's now around 4pm. Finally,as we approach an extemely steep bumpy descent,we call it a day, do a 20 point turn and head home.
My hotel room - 10,000 fbu a night
Discussions at the hotel, with a group running a project in the place to which we were heading, reveal that it is a tiny little communtiy and if there are donkeys there, they had never seen them! Ah.... so all those directions were in fact the route to see the incredible, invisible donkeys of Burundi!
Back to the drawing board with the donkey hunt then.
Day 2 found us on the second part of our mission. I'm a little skeptical now, as it is another 'search' based activity. Alli has lost Eric. Eric is a young Street boy, who a few months ago was fortunate enough to come across Alli and with her help get placed in a programme that helps Street children. Sadly, after settling in extremely well for 3 months he suddenly disappeared in February. Alli had a feeling he might have tried to return to his home town, to find his father. His home town being, Gisenyi, in the very north of the country. Another 2 hours drive Up-country.
At least this part of the journey involves driving through the Ruvubu National Park. After being rewarded with a great view of a troop of monkeys, we stop off and have a little trek into forest.Find nothing but big footprints (of cow like things) and insects. But we felt awesomely, intrepid, out in the wilds of Africa all on our own.
I won't go into all the details of the Eric search, other than to say it was almost as fruitless as the Donkey search. But involved a lot less wild goose chases.
However, on Day 2, Apirl 1 2026, my 6th Grandchild appeared in the world! Riley Eleanor Salmon arrived at 12:40, while I was trekking in the forest.
After, the failure to find Eric, we decided to head home. The whole journey made somewhat stressful, by the discovery at another Police check, that Alli's driving licence expired in December 2015. Fortunately, the young policeman who made the discovery was happy to accept a small gift to allow us to continue unhindered. The next 5 Police checks were , Master Classes from Alli, in how-to-talk-your -way-through-a-Police-check-without-allowing-them-time-to-ask-for-your-documents. Alli might be rubbish at finding things, but she's a genius talker.
As darkness drew in, we flew down the mountain from Bugarama at break neck speed. I was heard to whimper at one point,' It would be nice to arrive home alive!'. Over taking container lorries on mountain roads, still not something I am at ease with.
Well it's 2:30 pm . I have just about completed this Blog, finished the sewing project and drunk 5 cups of coffee. That leaves 2.5 hours for soloemnity. Think I might pop into town on the moto and get the ingredients for making volcanoes.
3:30pm. Shopping trip on National holiday not such a great idea. I've given my bestest smiles to lots of heavily armed policemen and soldiers.
My shopping list - Vinegar, baking powder and liquid soap.
First shop, Bon Prix - closed. Second shop - Carre Four - open . No vinegar, no baking powder. Just liquid soap. Third shop, Italbu - closed. Fourth shop, Engen - open. No baking powder. Just vinegar. Fifth shop , Chez Shiva - closed down. Sixth shop, the-one-by-Pont-Muha-on-route-Rumonge - no longer a shop!
On my way home I will try Payless (which is not actually called Payless anymore, but everyone still calls it Payless, because that's what it used to be called and no one likes the new name.) If they don't have any, I will try the Indian shop (which got it's name because it was owned by an Indian family. But they've left Burundi now and it's owned by Burundians, but we still call it the Indian shop, because it's too hard to identify it any other way!!)
Sometimes I do miss Asda ( or Tesco, or Sainsburys, or Morrisons, or Waitrose, or Aldi, or Lidl)