Thursday, October 4, 2012


Monday morning we visited Ngoma sub-parish. A sub-parish is a worshipping community that is a kind of out station for a parish. It's not quite the same as a multi-point or combined parish. Often it is led by a catechist, with periodic visits by the parish priest. The reason for our visit to Ngoma was to see how the people are building a new Church. Ngoma sub-parish is quite new. Currently they meet in a nearby school classroom, but now they are building their own church.

Children in Ngoma
On the way we stopped in at the administrative office for the Gashikanwa Commune (county), where we were warmly greeted by the administrator, Jeanne-Françoise, who is the wife of Archdeacon Leonidas.

Bishop Jane with Jeanne-Francoise in Ngoma
Arriving at Ngoma, we discovered the people hard at work, along with their pastor. They showed us how they were laying the foundation. Nearby there were piles of bricks ready to build the walls. Our visit provided an opportunity to stop for a few minutes while we were introduced. Then a group sang a few songs of welcome and praise.

Singing in Ngoma
After prayers of blessing offered by both bishops, we left the people of Ngoma to their work, and returned to Ngozi. There we briefly visited a guest house operated by the diocese, and popped in to the local market. Then home for lunch, and some time to prepare for our journey home.

Foundation walls
In the late afternoon we stopped in at St John's parish in Ngozi, where we met Pastor Noel and his wife Clothilde.

Monday evening there was a dinner with diocesan staff and clergy, where we shared some stories, and I had a chance to show some of my photos from the trip. Too soon, it seems, it was time to say farewell to our friends. Tuesday we will make our way to Bujumbura to catch our flights home.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Taste of Burundi

Sometimes people ask what we eat when visiting Burundi. I've briefly described a few meals on some earlier blog posts, but here I would like to be a bit more comprehensive.

Most Burundians eat a simple diet of a starch and a vegetable most days. This could take the form of rice and beans or bananas and peas. And there is always sauce. The most common sauce that we have encountered seems to be made from tomatoes and onions and some hot pepper, all added to water that has been used to boil meat. We have also eaten a delicious peanut sauce, which is a good source of fibre and protein.

When I mention bananas, I don't mean what most Canadians understand by the term. Broadly speaking there are two kinds of bananas in Burundi, with several sub-types. The first is a starch rather than what we usually see in Canada. This is a staple that can be eaten in a variety of ways, often roasted or fried. Deep-fried bananas make a tasty alternative to french fried potatoes. This kind of banana (which is not quite the same as a plantain) is very common in Burundian cuisine. The second type of banana is what is referred to here as “sweet bananas”, and is the familiar fruit eaten in Canada, though often much smaller than those we import from Central America. It is common to see sweet bananas about 10 cm long. (There is actually a third type of banana which is used to make beer. Delicious but potent!)
Banana Beer
Most Burundians eat meat about once per week. Meat could be chicken, beef, pork, goat, or rabbit. Fish is also popular. Much of the fish eaten in Burundi comes from Lake Tanganyika. Other animals are raised locally. We often encounter them along the roadside.

Staples include bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, maize and peanuts. Cassava is a versatile plant. The root can be eaten as a starch, or made into flour from which bread can be made. And the leaves can also be eaten as a vegetable, high in iron. Vegetables that we have encountered include peas, beans, beets, spinach, tomatoes, onions, hot peppers (scotch bonnets) and avocados.

Fruits are also plentiful in Burundi. We have seen sweet bananas, pineapples, jackfruit, apples, passion fruit, papaya, and mangoes.

Burundi is also a large producer of palm oil, sugar cane, coffee and tea, which are major export products.


Burundians live the 100-mile diet in that they truly eat what is produced locally. In fact, they probably go beyond the 100-mile diet to the 10-mile diet. Much of what people eat is what they grow themselves. It is normal to see houses in villages or along the rural roads with bananas and other foodstuffs growing alongside them, and we often see larger plots of land being cultivated. And we often see people tending a few cattle or goats. It seems that very little of the Burundian countryside is not cultivated. Excess produce is taken to the local market to sell, carried on the head or on bicycles.

Avocado tree
Hot peppers are an important part of Burundian cuisine. They can be served roasted, but also commonly are processed into either a powder which can be sprinkled onto food, much as we sprinkle black pepper on food in Canada, or they are made into a hot sauce similar to Tabasco. The generic term for peppers, powder or sauce is piri piri.

Hot peppers
Describing flavour is a bit of a matter of taste, but I find Burundian food very tasty. It is mildly spicy to my taste, with balanced flavours.

Bee hive in a tree
I'm sure I've left out a lot, and probably got some details wrong, but this is what we have seen and experienced in our travels in Burundi.

A tea plantation

Monday, October 1, 2012

On the Road in Burundi

Note: these photos were taken from moving vehicles through windshields. Quality has suffered as a result.

Travelling around the diocese of Buyé involves using a combination of the main national highway and secondary, unpaved roads. 

National Highway

Secondary Road
The highway is always busy, but not in the sense that highways in Canada can be busy. Along the highway we encounter a few cars, buses, taxis and trucks. It is possible to go quite some distance without seeing another car. But it is impossible to go very far without seeing anyone. Motorcycles and bicycles outnumber four-wheeled vehicles, and by far the most frequent traffic along the highway is foot traffic. It seems impossible to go more than 100 metres without seeing someone walking along the highway.

Women passing banana stalk placed there for a dignitary
We see people carrying enormous loads of goods to markets on bicycles, either laboriously pushing them up hill or riding down the other side at breakneck speed. In this way people take their loads of bananas or charcoal or wood to be sold. (Burundi is very mountainous, so it seems that we are always either going up hill or down.)

Taking bananas to market
Others use bicycles as basic transport, often carrying someone else on the back.

Taking charcoal to market

We also see people (mainly colourfully dressed women) carrying baskets or farm implements on their heads, often with a baby strapped to their back.

People carry anything and everything on their heads. It's actually quite an efficient way to carry a load. Children carry their schoolbooks on their heads, and both men and women carry enormous loads of goods on their heads. We're told it's possible to carry up to 60 kg on one's head. All it takes is practice, balance, and a cushion that is traditionally made from a banana leaf.

And we see crowds of children, young and old, on their way to and from school. Usually when they are on the way home they seem more playful, running and fooling around like school children anywhere.

Along the side of the highway in the villages and towns there are the usual homes and shops and various institutional buildings such as government offices, hospitals, churches, schools and so on. In between towns, we encounter people cultivating fields, herding goats or cows, producing bricks or charcoal or selling things at roadside stands.

A heavy load of charcoal
Sometimes we see small leafy branches on the road, which is a sign that there is an accident scene or a broken-down vehicle ahead, much as we might use flares in Canada.

Often we see people on bicycles holding on to the back of a truck to catch a lift up hill, five, six, seven at a time across the back of the truck; or people who have climbed up and are holding on for dear life on the back of a shipping container.

Don't try this at home
The secondary roads vary in quality from relatively smooth to very rough. Progress can be slow as we must often negotiate the ruts and potholes and the miniature river valleys carved down the road by runoff. On secondary roads we give up driving on the right. Instead we drive wherever the road is smoothest, weaving back and forth in a slalom course along the road. Because these roads can be so rough an SUV is essential. A more delicate car wouldn't survive very long in these conditions.

Bridge on a secondary road
Secondary roads can be a bit less populated than the main highway, but they are still dotted with villages at frequent intervals and there is always someone coming or going from village to village. The main difference in traffic is that there seem to be fewer four-wheeled vehicles on the secondary roads, and more people on foot spread out across the road as they come and go. A horn is an essential bit of equipment as we constantly need to warn people of our approach.

Entering a village
All along the route, there is always something to see, always people coming or going, curious people wondering who we are, often waving or shouting greetings. And the scenery is spectacular. Burundi is a very beautiful country.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Sunday morning started sunny and bright. It was a taste of things to come. We arrived at All Saints' Cathedral in Buyé for worship to a warm welcome. We were escorted to the chapel to change for the service and we could hear the congregation already singing. When we processed around the side of the cathedral we noticed that banana stalks had been placed along the front path to the door, a sign of welcome for a dignitary.

Entering the cathedral, it was obvious that it was packed.

We began with words of welcome and introduction by Bishop Sixbert, and Bishop Jane, Tim and I were each invited to say a few words to the congregation. Then the choirs began singing. In all there were five different choirs. It was an incredible experience.

Cathedral Choir

Ngozi Youth Choir

Cathedral Childrens' Choir

Mwumba Youth Choir

Lycee de Buye Choir

Then there was a song and people came forward into the crossing and began dancing. Even the bishops joined in.

Bishop Jane preached on the life of the church based on the letter of James. At the end of the sermon the congregation applauded enthusiastically.

Then followed communion. Again, Bishop Jane and I had the privilege of distributing communion.

Finally, the service came to a close and we processed out. That's when we were treated to a surprise!

A talented group of traditional drummers and dancers entertained the entire congregation outside the cathedral. Again, even the bishops joined in.

Eventually it was time to move to the bishop's house for lunch with all the diocesan staff and clergy. It was a delicious feast of chicken, beef, goat, potatoes, rice, bananas, peas and spinach. Both bishops shared their vision and hopes for the development of the partnership between Edmonton and Buyé, and we were presented with gifts.

We made our goodbyes and returned to our hotel. What better way to spend a Sunday?

Saturday, September 29, 2012


It's Saturday evening in Burundi. The crickets are chirping and a full moon is poking its face out from between the clouds. It is a beautiful evening, which is fitting after a beautiful day. Today we went for a youth service in the parish of Mubanga, where about 50 young people were officially inducted into the Boys' and Girls' Brigade. The winding dirt road was not as difficult as yesterday's road to Bigombo, but it did take us through some beautiful countryside.

Arriving at Mubanga we were again greeted by a crowd of people who had been waiting for us to arrive.

We were led into a school room to change into our vestments and then processed into a full church for the service. There must have been a hundred or more young children, many of whom sang in a choir, and an equal number of older youth. The small children kept moving slowly closer through the service, like the tide coming in. And the windows and doorways were filled with curious people outside, who were trying to see what was going on.

Archdeacon Samuel welcomed us to the parish, and Bishop Sixbert said a few words about our diocesan partnership and about his visits to Edmonton, and then introduced us. Bishop Jane, Tim and I were all asked to say a few words. The children laughed when I tried to explain ice skating to them.

As has become the usual routine, we were treated to songs by several choirs, readings from scripture and a sermon by Bishop Sixbert that encouraged the young people in their faith.

Then it was time to induct the young people into the Boys' and Girls' Brigade. A few clergy helped them tie on the blue scarves that are the symbol of membership, and then Bishop Sixbert said a prayer of blessing.

It was amazing to see both how serious the group was about this meaningful step, and the joy that they expressed at being officially inducted.

Next it was time for communion. Bishop Jane and I were given the opportunity to distribute communion to the faithful. It is always a blessing to see the eagerness in people's eyes as they come forward to receive the sacrament.

The service was about to end, but the weather had other ideas as the heavens opened with rain. No matter; a youth choir came to sing while we waited for it to stop raining. Finally, we emerged from the church and returned to the school room where we changed and enjoyed a delicious lunch of chicken, goat, bananas, peas, potatoes and rice. This time there was also a delicious peanut sauce as well as the usual tomato based sauce.

The Archdeacon explained to us that the church building was built just last year by the youth.

Here's the one they replaced.

On the way home we stopped to see people making bricks. We were able to see all the stages at once. First, clay is pressed by hand into a mould to make the bricks.

The clay bricks are turned out of the mould and allowed to dry.

Once the bricks have dried enough they are stacked, covered in mud, and then fires are built at strategic intervals in tunnels in the piles of bricks.

The fires are kept burning for four or five days.

Once the bricks are ready, they need to cool.

Finally the finished bricks are ready for transport to a building project.

Here's how they are transported.

All in all, it was a wonderful day.