Monday, May 5, 2008

On This Day Last Year...

I spent days in Kigoma trying repeatedly to find a way to Bujumbura, Burundi. I had heard that a ship would take me there but at the port they told me the ship had ceased running north on Lake Tanganyika because of conflict in the area. Rebel factions were working the pirate trade on the lake and transport north was risky.
I went to the shipping port hoping to get a berth on a commercial vessel but the shipment was delayed by customs, then a late delivery of goods. After days of begging and waiting, twice going to the port with my bags only to be told after long hours that the ship would not depart. I even made my way out to the nearby fishing village, told that I could catch a ride with a fisherman. What I faced, hours of slow going in an open boat with an all male crew in pirate-infested waters, was not appealing. If my "captian" was Hutu and the pirates were Tutsi, there was no telling what my fate would be.

On a Thursday night I was told that the commercial ship would sail on Saturday. And just as I was losing heart, a group of Americans showed up in the little hotel where I was staying. They packed me off to some hidden beach in a cove - pure paradise - for an afternoon of swimming. It seemed that I had been alone for too long and I was happy to have the company of native English speakers, aid workers in the area who had taken a few days of holiday.

On Saturday, I again packed up my stuff and made my way to the port. By noon, again I was told that the ship would not be leaving. In exasperation, I walked up the hill from the water to a mutatu stand (were mini-vans employed for local transportation sit, perhaps for hours, until all the seats are full) where I caught a jam packed little bus that would carry me the first leg of what turned out to be a harrowing journey into Burundi.

Photos: A mud brick store along the road outside of Kigoma; three examples of mud brick homes, one with a corrugated aluminum roof , painted door and wood-framed windows signifying a more wealthy home owner, the third photo (with a child running to see our van) shows a perfect example of a fenced courtyard behind the home, complete with laundry; In downtown Kigoma I purchased a dress, made in India (there is a large Indian population on the continent, particularly in Tanzania) and walked across the street to have it hemmed. The man sewed it up in a few minutes on a peddle-driven machine on the porch and then, using a coal-filled iron, pressed it for me. Kigoma's electric supply is sporadic (almost a euphemism!).