Burundi is a land of many contrasts; so much beauty, yet so much pain. As I was growing up, my parents shielded me from death to the point that until the age of 31, I had never seen a corpse.
Here on the other hand, death is very much part of people’s lives, sometimes in unspeakable ways.
Four months ago, a friend from church died in a traffic accident. He was riding at the back of a moto-taxi without a helmet (as most people do) when a truck forced the bike off the road. As he laid unconscious in the middle of the road, a crowd quickly formed around him but no-one took him to the hospital. Due to a lack of social security in Burundi, the person that checks in a patient has to pay for admission and medical fees, and none of the passers-by were willing to do that.
As he laid there for over an hour, someone stole his mobile phone.
They stole his flipping phone.
No-one could identify him until an old school friend walked by, recognized him and informed his wife. He died in the ambulance an hour later on his way to the hospital.
And what of our gardener’s sister-in-law who was assassinated in her home two weeks ago? She left behind a husband and 7 children, one of whom has a mental handicap. Conflicting reports suggested an act of banditry or a political vendetta – apparently she was an active member of the party in power. According to locals, it only takes 4 dollars to hire a hitman. The cost of a beer and a grenade.
How much is a life worth that you’re willing to sacrifice it for a beer of a phone? Analysts say it is symptomatic of a post-conflict area, that wars distort people’s values.
The more I try to understand this place, the less I do.