Home Sick and Holidays


Four trips to sub-Saharan Africa in six years have taught me to always expect at least one bout of travel sickness. This year, however, it looked like I was going to get away scot-free, until I caught a cold on Canada Day. How bizarrely patriotic, right? But I couldn’t let a little cough get me down when we had a big party planned. July 1st is a national holiday in Burundi as well, after all.


This year marks the 50th anniversary of Burundi’s independence. Many of those years have been marked by horrific violence and a Civil War (1993-2005), but the past seven years have been relatively peaceful. As a result, people were in the mood to celebrate.


My dad special delivered a Costco-sized bag of pancake mix, two varieties of maple syrup and every Canadian-themed decoration he could find in Red Deer, AB, so we could cut loose with our students this year. I pulled out a guitar at one point and somehow managed to play about a dozen songs that were familiar to the majority of the people there. From Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, we all sang ourselves into the night before breaking out into a dance party that lasted a couple more hours.


Very little of our reveling was fueled by alcohol either, as more than half our guests surprisingly opted for Fanta or juice instead of the varieties of beer we bought (with great difficulty, I might add).  Maybe everyone was just saving themselves for the next day, when Burundi decided to officially commemorate their anniversary. Someone, somewhere, decided Sundays we’re for partying. But we didn’t listen.


Come Monday, parades were organized on the streets and drummers could be heard performing across the city. Some commemorative parks right near our place were even designed for the occasion, with the final touches being administered at the very last minute. A couple camouflaged helicopters circled regularly overhead, but I have to think they were rented from a neighbouring country. No one was used to seeing them before.


Our apartment this year has been pretty perfect. On our Burundian-sky-scrapping fourth floor balcony overlooking the Chaussée Prince Louis Rwagasore (a main commercial street), we have a prime view of city activity. Usually we get to enjoy sunsets and people watching, but on occasion we’ve witnessed some pretty intense drama, including a police arrest that or may not have resulted in a death.


As a police officer calmly held a screaming man’s head between his legs for several minutes, the man eventually passed out and never got back up. He was eventually thrown into the back of a police truck and taken away, and all we can do is hope he eventually came to. I’ve said before it’s a little bit of the Wild West out here, but that’s never seemed so true.

Christopher Redmond