05.07.2009 - 05.07.2009 33 °C
One of the great things I love about travel is the odd coincidences, chance meetings and occasional strokes of sheer dumb luck that liter the path. The sort that you can never rely on, but you kind of know will periodically happen and memorably enliven events for a few days, even if they are not always ideally timed or enlivening in ways you would hope for. Which is pretty much how i came to be sitting on the terrace of a very swanky lakeside (Lake Tanganyika) villa on the outskirts of Bujumbura – the capital of Burundi – looking across at DR Congo in the distance, whilst watching the sun go down and the full moon rising over the mountains. The fact that i was being offered obscene amounts of superb - and free - food and booze (of which, sadly, i partook in very little. Bl**dy Hamish), meeting several luminaries and being greeting incredulously and joyfully by a handful of former colleagues and acquaintances whom i had not seen in donkeys years, couldn't help but enhance the experience.
I hadn't really intended to come to Burundi, or certainly not at this point. Whilst i have heard many good things about the country and have long been curious to visit, i figured that sadly I just would not have time to have a proper look (before my next violation at Nairobi hospital) on this trip, and it didn't make any sense to just go for a couple of days as i wouldn't get the chance to see anything. And then I met the Belgian.
Many years ago (yes, ok, in a previous life: these ramblings are rapidly descending into a historical tale of my misspent youth, which is not a good thing) whilst working on a small project, I met a Belgian guy. Pretty much, it was the sort of project that any normal student can relate to – We were doing something we probably shouldn't have been, somewhere that we almost certainly should not have been, for reasons that have since been lost to time and at those hours of the day that normal folk would get paid an 'unsociable hours' bonus for. It was crazy, unpredictable, frustrating, occasionally a little hairy but always a heck of allot of fun. The Belgian introduced himself to me as Jean, but I have actively heard him introduce himself as Wim, Phillipe, Marc, Tom and at least half dozen other names, including, once, memorably, as Marie-Anne. What his real name is, i doubt i will ever know. I generally call him simply, 'the Belgian'.
He is the kind of person that disappears for weeks or months at a time, and then randomly appears in the sort of place that you just don't expect: a random bar in Arjeplog – and believe me, in that part of the world, they are all pretty random – being a personal favourite of mine, though baring the occasional email we have had no direct contact in years. He is a few years older than me and had a Rwandan wife, hence his relevance to this irrelevant piece of garbage. Thus it was that when it occurred to me that perhaps i might be going to Rwanda in the next couple of days, i sent off an email on the off chance he could give me some pointers there. Seventeen minutes later, my phone rang.
A couple of days later when i got to Kigali, I had rung him up and we had met for a quick coffee in town. He apologized that he would be extremely busy for the next day and so could not show me around or offer me the dinner that he had long promised (amongst much else, he is a gourmet chef) in return for a small favour I had once done, but if i had no other plans he was heading to Burundi a couple of days later to a party and was sure he could get me an invite. Besides, he said, there will be a few other people there who i knew who would doubtless be delighted to see me as well. I pondered briefly, but really, what could i do? When the Belgian invites you to a party, you don't say no. It's just not done.
It's really not.
And that is ignoring the fact that Bujumbura – even now, despite the horrific civil war that has been fought until relatively recently - has long had a reputation for being both one of the gastronomic and party capitals of Africa.
Thus as i sat gazing out of the tinted car window at the moon glistening on the lake, on my way back to my central Bujumbura hotel at some time vaguely around 4am (the hotel closed its doors at 23:00, i had said earlier when i excused myself to leave. 'No problem', came the reply, we can deal with that. And is there still a curfew on movement at night in Bujumbura, and don't we have to go through some checkpoints, I had also naively asked? 'No problem', came the reply, we can deal with that. So I had stayed a while. And there was, indeed, no problem anywhere), I reflected on what a great evening it had been. On just how brilliant the food had been, what a great party it was (i was amongst the first to leave, so the party very definitely still 'was'), how superb the hospitality had been - especially considering i was an entirely unknown, disheveled looking, mostly non-French speaking random backpacker to the hosts – and what an interesting and enlightening evening it had been (so *THAT'S* how they solved it. I'll be damned!), most of all i reflected on just how lucky I had been that everything had fallen into place so perfectly and out of the blue. And I finally started to remember just why I love traveling.
Yes, I know that this whole entry doesn't say anything except how lucky I was, and is entirely self-serving. But come on: i've pretty much spent the last 3months sat on toilets, squatting over toilets, sitting in hospital waiting rooms or with tubes being shoved up my arse - and sometimes all of the above at once – (and i'm on my way back to restart that same joy) , so figure i'm due a small stroke of luck and bit of joy, and thus had to share it with you. If you don't agree with me, tough!