Stéphanie D'ATH

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Testimony

When young people get involved ... in the North North Exchange IRIBA 2008.

Wednesday July 16th, 7pm, I land at Bujumbura airport. I do not see much, it's dark. Indeed here it is the dry season, and unlike Belgium, the evenings are not long and clear as in summer with us. The airport is small enough for an international airport but it has its charm and is teeming with people. Apparently, during holidays, Burundians living abroad come to visit their families and the ex-pat, unlike, return to their country of origin. What makes a lot of traffic!

Claude, the president of IRIBA, at the head of the organization of the north-south exchange project, aiming at this year 2008 to fight against discrimination and particularly that of the Batwa, awaits us and accompanies us to his home. Before a well deserved night, we exchange some conversations with the Burundians who accompany us. Their good mood and their warm welcome immediately put us at ease. The alarm clock is very morning. Apparently, as soon as the sun rises it is not too much question to laze in bed, a beautiful sunny day is offered to us to discover Bujumbura (Buja for the intimate).

After a breakfast where we devoured a delicious cake in the shape of "Gustave" (the equivalent of the Loch Ness monster in Lake Tanganyika, croco which, according to rumors, measures more or less 15m and which already has more than a man crunched and killed to his credit), we begin our tour in the capital. We begin with a visit to the embassy where we are warmly welcomed and we receive a presentation on the current situation. Then the pickup takes us everywhere. Through the living museum (zoo with all these animals that we are happy to see in cages rather than in life: crocodile, snakes, ..) Kiriri district, the beautiful panoramic view of the hill Vugizo, the walk downtown, the beach, the lake, the place of independence, the revolution, the monument of unity, the cathedral and so on. We have lunch on a skewer of meat or fish at the lake and we finish the day at the nautical circle with the official launch of the project North-South Youth Forum 2008.

Buja is a lot of fascinating things but a city much different from what I expected. The contrast between Belgium, highly developed, and Burundi, which on this side still has to evolve a lot, is striking. Cars are a luxury that few can afford, only the main streets are concrete, stores are more markets or small stalls, etc.

On Friday we leave the capital already to 'climb' (because here we leave Buja it is to go in the hills) and go to the province of Kayenza Muruta to join the other members of the group and start the project. The trip is superb, the beautiful landscapes. I am told that 'when God painted Burundi, he took a palette of greens and had fun', that's exactly it: the greens are declined between fields, forests, plantations, hills and all kinds of vegetations. The beauty of Burundi is unheard of, and indescribable. The flip side is the omnipresent poverty of the population. In the countryside even more than in town it strikes me. Every day I see it everywhere and I do not get used to it. Especially that of Batwa (an ethnic group that represents less than one percent of the population and is the poorest). At the base they lived from hunting and gathering, but since they settled down, they have only meager lands on slopes and can only survive in a country where they are despised and where nothing of them is granted).

Friday we settle and we get to know each other. The animators are 5, the young people a big thirty. Tim and I are the only Bazungu (whites) among Burundians, from all over the country, and Congolese. The insertion is complete and rich in learning. From Saturday we are all at work. The days are punctuated by a schedule respected to the African watch 😉 raised at 6:30 am, breakfast and then departure to the site. Young people are helping the masons as best they can in building 10 houses for the Batwa. These help us gladly too. We have the opportunity to talk to them and see how they live.

In my eyes it's worse than misery. They eat little, and their food is sweet potatoes and meager harvests. Their pots they sold and represented their only source of income are worthless since substitutes such as plastics and others have appeared. Whole families live in tiny huts made of earth, wood and straw. Given the lack of contraception, families are all very numerous. The water is 1 / 2h walk and I do not describe the path that must be taken to achieve it. I would be unable to put one of their 20-liter hack on those sloping, slippery trails. It is fabulous to see how women wear these bravely on their heads. Their clothes are rags. In view of the dust due to the earth they look dirty all the time. Shoes are a luxury they can not afford like many other things. Their body bears the traces of all they have endured (cold, hunger, untreated diseases, ...), and despite that they still know how to rejoice and dance, sing, smile, etc. with us.

We return for lunch and then begin the activities: the sport and then either a workshop (pottery, dance, singing) or conferences on discrimination. The latter are most interesting and debates that are even more follow them. Several topics were discussed: Batwa discrimination but also other forms such as Jews, community problems in Belgium, conciliation measures in Canada, racism in Congo, Belgium, etc.

Dinner is shared together before the evening entertainment. Eventually, a report or a challenging film is shown at night. On Saturdays a dance party is planned before Sunday, the day of rest and visit.

We are divided into three groups and each in turn cooks and dishes. It is a diversifying activity that takes a lot of time because here, for example, rice has to be sorted. Everything is cooked on a fire. Livestock and poultry are bought alive and require some work before becoming the piece of meat that we usually buy at the supermarket. The bread is homemade. The dishes are made by hand, of course, with Marseille soap (just like laundry or any other cleaning), etc. The supermarket does not exist: the races are made at the market and only the products of the seasons are practically findable. In short it looks like a mix between the campground and the camp guide with gas cylinders less ;-).

We are already in the middle of the project! Time flies and the group is soldering. We still have a short week of construction (which is fast approaching: the houses are growing visibly) and then a tour around the country to visit and discover the other wonders of 'African Switzerland'. Even if the sun is not always with us (it is even cold from time to time because we are at altitude), the atmosphere is very good and we try to put our little stone in the building of a better world for the Batwa to improve their living conditions and to challenge the world for their cause.

Stéphanie D'ATH 22 years old Participant