Letter to Burundi

By Francine Irakoze - 13 October 2015 at 12:52 pm

Lake Tanganyika

Dear Burundi,

I only spent four days with you and unfortunately you didn’t have enough time to share details on the whirlwind series of events you faced this year; yet yesterday morning when our eyes locked for a few minutes, I felt palpable sorrows through what only a distressed gaze can convey. Then I saw in your fearful eyes surface heavy tears like agitated waves on a windy day at Lake Tanganyika. Each tear carried the heavy weight of the many children you lost since April. Tears filled with not just water droplets but painful images of your other children who fought, bled and died in the past for the sake of democracy. Too many times, death stared into your eyes mischievously flashing in front of you the ones you were too weak to save. You quickly hid your face and immediately I felt terribly sorry to be out of comforting words which could wipe away the gruesome memories rolling through your cheeks. I am also sorry that you can’t seem to find time to mourn your loved ones and to heal your open wounds. It’s clear that as you galvanize strength to rise up from your burdensome past, you get stabbed and betrayed by your own over and over again.

Surprisingly, you still try to find hope in hopeless times. I remember you telling me that each morning, as the sun slowly rises up and light beams tickle your face as a gentle alarm, many questions rush through your mind “Will I survive this day? What horrific news or images will I have to deal with? Will I have the courage to face fear?” But as usual, you find the energy to take the first steps outside the comfort of your bed, your room and finally your house. Once you are out and exposed to all the insecurity and concerns imposed by an unstable political situation, you carry on your routine tasks. But you know what surprised me the most while I listened to your story? It’s when you shared that in the evenings, you meet friends and neighbours at home, enjoy a meal and beers together, and despite a stressful day sometimes you all find a way to humour your anxiety, fear, and your lives in an unsafe environment. It seems you found a way to cope and support each other through laughter. I see you smile in these chaotic times and I am reminded that in your heart you carry a faith that transcends the noise of grenades and gunshots, and in your mind you hold the wisdom of our ancestors. I saw your worried stare, yet your engaging and loud laugh echoes in my ears like the deep and beautiful sound of our native drums. It’s the familiar sound of home, culture and community. It’s a call for hope….in hopeless times.

Burundi bwacu*, you are suffering yet you are not letting pain define your destiny. Yes you are resilient, sadly you are also weary. I am aware that the world has been harshly judging you-and rightfully so if I may add- but what most people don’t know is that your erratic behaviour is embedded in a history of unresolved and unspoken grief tangled in social and political issues. I know you are bleeding from the inside out right now. You are so deeply hurt from the raging battlefields of ideology, democracy, ethnicity, and politics. Dear Burundi, do not forget your many children who are still alive and deeply CARE for you. They will not let you bleed to death. Do not close your eyes and give up. Let your children discern all the unrevealed truths you hold. Please keep your eyes open and keep your hands steady so they can reach out to you and become strong crutches for you to stand still. I know your heart is beating fast. You are alive….Not well, but alive! Remember that I still want my children and my grandchildren to see your glorious old age. Allow them to hear you beautiful and engaging laughter while you enjoy together the warmth of the sun and feel the caressing breeze on Lake Tanganyika.

Burundi bwacu*… I can’t wait to see your eyes sparked with peace and joy again.

Your daughter, hopeful that you will get better soon,

Francine Irakoze

*Burundi Bwacu which means “our Burundi”, in reference to Burundi national anthem.

Francine Irakoze

Francine Irakoze

Francine Irakoze was born in Burundi but grew up in many countries including Japan, Germany, Ethiopia, Belgium and the United States.

She completed her undergraduate studies in Biology at La Roche College in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania., USA) She then continued her education at McMaster University (Canada) where she received a Master of Science degree in Global Health with a specialization in Health Management. During the past three years, she worked for a private healthcare company, Mckesson Canada, where she held various positions of increasing responsibility including Team Leader, Program Coordination/Liaison, and Interim Program Manager. This year, Francine was selected to join the 2015-2016 Global Health Corps Fellowship and she is now working as an Operations Officer with Health Builders in Kigali ( Rwanda).

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