In the past weeks I have visited all our offices within the country. I was curious about what I would find, as the last time was 25 years ago. To get there, you have to go into the mountains, up to 2000 meters. Many things have changed; now it takes much longer to get out of the city than it used to do. Bujumbura has grown.
On the way up, you’ll still see the cyclists who plunge down like kamikaze pilots with big bags of charcoal or huge bunches of bananas on their carriers. You can compare it to a descent of the Alpe d’Huez with 50 kilos on your back. And all this without brakes; they use their left foot to do that. The plastic shoes are therefore covered with wood to prevent wear and to avoid warm feet! The cyclists let themselves pull by the trucks; drivers charge 10 to 20 cents for a lift. Sometimes you see whole bunches of cyclists hang behind a truck.
Once up, I see the familiar landscape: many rolling hills in all shades of green, intensively cultivated with bananas, beans, manioc, corn, but also export products like coffee and tea.
Muyinga- our first stop – once was a sleepy village, but now is a lively city. Towards the border with Tanzania, I also visited a “peace village”. I talked to the residents about their psychosocial problems and about possible solutions. Agricultural problems, lack of (good) arable land and poor health services are most important.
Makamba – our last stop – 25 years ago was nothing more than a market place, a few shops and some administrative buildings. When you visited Makamba at that time, you had to allocate a whole day for that, but now roads have been paved. Did you have to bring your own food to eat that with the missionaries in the evening, now it is a town with restaurants and hotels. The clientele mainly consists of aid workers. We had booked a hotel for a training of our “community mobilizers” (12fte).
At the one hand there is development, but on the other hand the majority of the population still lives in the hills and have to live of less than 1 euro a day that they earn in agriculture. Things you don’t see nowadays are the beautiful traditional woven baskets. That whole craft has been destroyed. Everybody walks around with plastic Chinese baskets and bags in the most glaring colors. I myself also shopped at the Chinese market; all my cutlery, crockery, clothes hangers, shower mat, kettle and power strips are from that shop. Dog-cheap, but poor quality. However, my house is decorated!
The connection for electricity and water is also settled. First I had to repay my debt of 8200 Fr. Bu. (4.5 euros) that was still open since… 1988! So if anyone ever claims that administration in Africa is a mess…!? Fortunately I didn’t have to pay interest, otherwise the amount would have increased significantly!
Next time I will write more about the content of our work, such as our activities in micro insurance and the contribution of Achmea to that. I received many positive reactions to my first blog and also a number of questions. For example about witchcraft in Burundi; a question that is extremely relevant to our psychosocial activities. Many symptoms are being related to spirits and sorcery. I look forward to write about that in one of my following blogs.
Wim Overbeeke – Country Director Burundi at HealthNet TPO
Background – Wim studied International Relations and Economics (Free University) and before he came to HealthNet TPO he worked at Achmea (large Dutch insurance company), UWV, DGIS (in Burundi), ILO (in Burundi and Benin) and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Currently Wim has been posted by Achmea at our office in Bujumbura to manage the local office, to develop new (insurance) projects, to manage the DCR programme and to represent HealthNet TPO in the DCR steering committee.