Audrey Hanard

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Me, Iriba and Burundi: narrative of an initiatory journey

Before this summer there was me, fruit of a hazardous meeting of a sperm and an egg and twenty years of education, meetings and discoveries of all kinds. I am then a student in first degree in management at the ULB and eager to discover the world. India is proposed to me as an Erasmus destination, but I hesitate to leave alone in a country that seems to exist only in my dreams and on television.  "At 20, it's time to get out of the Old Continent" was my creed while my dream was to "save the world". But how ?

Then there was Iriba, fallen from the sky, or rather in the electronic box of a friend, like that, without warning. From where came this email remains until today a mystery. Criticism, I went to visit the photographic exhibition, similar to the one we are preparing today. Why this mistrust? You must know that I was not at my first attempt. For four years this desire to share an experience with people far away, very different from my daily life was eating me up. Never, however, did I find my happiness. The projects, often initiated and conducted exclusively by Europeans, did not allow enough exchanges for my taste. Going in the direction of building something believing I saved the world did not satisfy me. It needed more than that.

This plus, Iriba had it. I understood this by reading the general title of the project: "North-South Youth Forum". Finally, an association allowed young people from different continents to work TOGETHER towards a common goal. I then understood that the goal was not to save the world by building a hospital room, annex to the health center of Mugomera, but to change us, young Europeans, Burundians, Rwandans and Congolese having so much to discover on each other. A whole program ... to which I hastened to adhere.

Then comes the third member of my trilogy: Burundi, birthplace of the initiators of Iriba. A country that had no other connotation for me that a dangerous country, almost at war according to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where it is necessary to "go only for urgent professional or private reasons".  The initial euphoria gave way to fears of finding myself in such a country of barbarians. The word machete suddenly took on a very particular meaning, tinged with anguish and nightmares. After much discussion, however, I decided to override these reservations and to commit myself permanently, once the June session was over and the possibility of a second session definitively dismissed.

Departure, therefore, for this country that seemed to me to come from another planet, a summer evening, July 29 at 18:30. The plane seemed huge and spending 7:30 in the air seemed a crazy idea. Yet ... twelve good hours and a few stops later I set foot on the Burundian soil. I noticed - almost disappointingly - that the soil was not so different from us. All Bujumbura, moreover, seemed to function like a city with us, if not more "amateurish". To my astonishment - I hardly exaggerate - I discovered the presence of hairdressers, garage owners, cyber cafes, discotheques and other shops.

We stayed a few days in Bujumbura, "time to acclimate" according to the organizers. It is true that in the capital we slept in rooms of two with water and electricity, which was not always the case. The presence of a trading economy was also much less present in the rest of the country, if not absent.

Then came the discovery of Mugomera in Ngozi. The housing was more rustic, with no running water and electricity at the discretion of the local power station, serving Bujumbura first. I liked this lack of comfort. What at first was part of my fears became a pure pleasure. After two weeks of construction I discovered while looking in the tinted windows of the governor's jeep that I had not been seen since my arrival. Not a single mirror in the whole convent where we stayed and I had not even thought about it ...

The days of construction were not real full days of construction: we worked in the morning and returned for dinner (or lunch according to nationalities ...). The afternoon was made of dance workshops, scriptwriting, singing or costume creation every other day, alternating with conferences on Human Rights, transitional justice mechanisms ( that I discovered on this occasion) or the health situation in Burundi and more precisely in Ngozi. Sport also had its place because we had to prepare a volleyball and football team to play against the president's teams. The evening was supposed to be filled with cultural activities but the many power outages often reduced us to play "Loup Garou", a role play that kept us busy for long hours of darkness. This same darkness I was afraid of before leaving and who has become an accomplice over the days, especially during the last five days of pure tourism, climax of the stay.

All this well-thought-out and detailed program had only one precise meaning for me: it was an ethically defensible form of occupational therapy to allow us to get in touch with each other, as much as possible , whether cooking, dancing, singing or carrying bricks on site. And this contact has clearly been the most rewarding. Prejudices fall, probably to the benefit of others. I was most afraid of contact with poverty, but soon I had to realize that it is not an insurmountable barrier between peoples. We have been able to share things with people who have almost nothing by dropping this reflex of guilty malaise deeply linked to our scale of European values. Because in myself I ended up wondering who was the most to complain about ... The people I met were (for the majority) not sick and were not hungry. This simple fact was a revelation for me: no, all Africa does not die before reaching the age of 5, there are even adults who will not die in the week that live there ... But these people own in all and for all their piece of land, a box, 2 trousers, 2 T-shirts and a smile to the ears when they saw the "muzungu" (white) arrive with brown hands full of mud. Maybe she would end up unrecognizable as Burundian?

These multiple contacts also led me to another relationship with time, even if at first it annoyed me. Against my will, my credo has always been to do the maximum in a given time and therefore in my life in general. Europeans always want more. Time being one of the few commodities that remain counted during a human lifetime, they invented words such as "efficiency" or "yield" to get around this scary limitation to their eyes. She is a management student who speaks to you, I remind you ... There, what takes half an hour here lasts three hours. We learn to wait until the herd gives way to the truck. We learn to wait for the officials to agree. To wait for anything and everything even without knowing what is expected, tired of asking the question. To wait for nothing. And finally, to wait is to live too. A revelation…

These few reflections are supposed to represent (but so badly) the term "initiatory course" in the title. Unfortunately I am sure that I will have to return often to Africa not to forget these lessons: here one undergoes quickly in spite of us a brainwashing which puts the clocks at the European time. In fact I miss Africa already ...

I'm pretty sure now that I want to go to Erasmus in India. I can not wait to be there and learn so much more ... In the meantime I am busy with some European activities hoping not to forget too much by then. My dream is always to save the world, maybe it just became a little less vague. It slowly takes more concrete forms, perhaps less spectacular but certainly more feasible.

Audrey Hanard