|Location:||bujumbura, burundi (m)|
|Text:||53 194 kilometres on the road
i was a bit disappointed to learn that the famous livingstone monument, commemorating the time and place stanley found dr. livingstone on the shores of lake tanganyika, was off limits.
"it’s inside fln territory, even thought it's only 12 kilometres south of bujumbura". regus, the owner of the car that i was going to rent, told me. regus, a smart young man who's working with delphin's family, had agreed to rent out his car for a mere 25 dollars per day, including the driver.
as much as i liked such a good deal i soon realized that i was now effectively under delphin's control: he'd always be able to find out where i had gone and to set the limits of my adventures. i didn't really mind because despite the relative stability in burundi, this was still a country in conflict with unofficial truths and unpronounceable realities; a bit of invisible guidance could do no harm.
at first armand, the driver, struck me as a well-built, self-confident and good-natured man. but it was at the 'circle nautice de bujumbura', buja's slightly run-down yacht club, that i was to realize that the projected confidence was not much more than a thin layer supposed to patch over memories of the past.
"they killed thirty members of my family," he said, looking deeply into my eyes,
"thirty people! women, children… they tried to kill all of us tutsis…
at kitimba they burnt children, innocent children – they burnt them with palm oil – and they cut embryos out of pregnant women's wombs and hacked them into pieces in front of the dying mothers eyes… how can…"
his voice sagged as he turned his head the other way, not wanting me to see the tears that had already announced their approach in his collapsing features. i felt the uneasy, unfounded guilt of a listener who doesn't know what to say, unable to console, unable to do anything but sit there and wait.
i had heard about the genocides, of course, but reading about numbers of casualties or even seeing pictures in magazines, does not disturb the soul very much. such information comes as part of an ever-flowing stream of bad news from around the world. it's impersonal, distant and detached from the comfortable world of the consumer.
being told about such atrocities by an eyewitness is a different thing, altogether. descriptions of lost relatives bring the pictures to life and victims suddenly have a name, a character and a personal claim for existence.
"i am finished," armand continued after minutes of silence, his voice now firm but tired, "there is no future in my life, i can't get over it. my brain feels dead and numb".
then he told me about his baby that would soon be born and his mood cleared as he talked about hopes for a future generation. we had a couple of beers, accompanied by a plate of 'ndagola', tiny fried fish that reminded me of kampala's fried grasshoppers, and slowly the conversation turned to other topics.
disappointed by the fact that i couldn't visit livingstone's' monument i asked armand to drive me to the border with congo which was just 20 kilometres down a well-secured road. i didn't really know what to expect from the little trip, but i wanted to get a glimpse of the countryside beyond the capital.
there were no slums. fertile fields extended right from the city limits into a plain that was dotted with villages. we passed caravans of heavily loaded bicycles that gingerly tried to balance along the edge of the narrow road. the air was full with the scent of freshly cut grass and charcoal fires.
in the villages women, dressed in colourful traditional 'pagnes' sat in front of their houses, braiding each others hair, observed by the men at the nearby make-shift bar who were chatting over their beers. there were tiny barber shops, bicycle mechanics and butchers whose chunks of meat hung from the roof of their shops in the sun.
there was nothing special at the border. there were a few huts and the usual crowd of opportunists selling everything from sunglasses to fried chicken, trying to make profit off the unfortunate travellers who where caught-up in endless border formalities. the soldiers didn't seem to be bothered by our purposeless arrival and simply waved as we turned around to drive back to town.