It's Official. I have achieved the status of Burundian. How? Let me tell you. Only those of you reading who know me well, will truly understand the significance and humour of this tale. But hopefully even those who don't can get some idea of the situation.
I have had to take a day to think this through because I want to communicate the humour without any element of ridicule or disrespect, for the people involved.
It was Thursday and I was again enjoying respite from Cabbage for lunch, having been invited to my fellow Year 6 teacher's house for lunch. I love to go there because she lives in a different area of Bujumbura and is a genuine 100% Burundian. She has two children age 4 and 2 who remind me so much of my grandchildren. It's great to sit and play with them, they gabble away to me in a jumble of Kirundi and English.
So we have finished a good lunch of spaghetti, french beans, carrots, matoke and beef. My friend's husband goes and stretches out on the settee and watches football on TV.( some things know no cultural boundaries!) I sit at the table, on reflection obviously looking a little weary.
'Do you take a nap in the afternoon?' asks my friend.
Afternoon naps, are a big thing in Burundian culture. Life tends to grind to halt between 2pm and 3pm, while everyone finds a place to doze.
My friend disappears down the corridor, leaving me sat at the table. I'm not too sure what to do now. Has she gone to have a nap? I move to sit on an armchair. Maybe I'll just relax a bit here.
Friend appears. 'Come,' she says. Beckoning me down the corridor. I'm a little puzzled. Well actually, I'm swinging from puzzled to almost horrified, at the thought of what might be about to happen. Maybe she is going to tell me to lie down somewhere to have a nap. Which would be a bit outside my comfort zone, big time. I don't really 'do' having a nap in someone else's house.
'Come,' she says again. I am probably moving somewhat reluctanly. We stand in what is clearly her and her husbands bedroom. I am overwhelmed with confusion and horror at what I'm meant to do. My face obviously betrays me.
'You don't know what to do now, do you?' she chuckles kindly to me. 'Come.We lie down, we have a nap.'
And that is just what we did. My English hypersensitive reservations and inhibitions were gently swept aside, by the friendly, practical no nonsense, Burundian culture. We needed a nap. There was only one bed (considerably more comfortable than my own bed, I must say). We are friends. We have a nap!
Just to give those of you who know me well an even bigger laugh. You can imagine my horror, when my friend informed me, that I couldn't lie down in my dress. It would get creased. Just take it off and put on this wrap.Like this she says. I have to admit to whimpering a bit that point. Something along the lines of, I don't really do changing in front of people. But again, the pure, sense of the situation won over.
It stunned me, how conditioned I am to see something 'bad' or 'weird' in such a situation. How ridiculous, my 'horror' was and how inappropriate. Here was an extremely kind, gentle woman openning her home to me and I was responding as if she was doing something strange and wrong.
In Burundi, men hold hands with men, women hold hands with women, if you want to hug someone you do. If you need to sit close on the bus, you do.
In Burundi there is no such thing as personal space. There is no need for it. It's not practical. My very solid 'bubble' that I have developed over the past 50 years has never experienced such a consistent battering.
How amusing that God chose Burundi for me?
As I left my friend's house, she said to me, 'you are a Burundian now!'
And do you know what, I'm really proud of the fact.
Finally, let me introduce you to my new 'Bathroom Buddy'. (Yes, all is not absolutely primitive here, I have an ensuite bathroom!)
We met (me and Bathroom Buddy) last Wednesday. It was about 9pm, and I dashed into the bathroom, as you do and seated myself down. And there it was. Having committed myself to my course of action, I was forced to face the intruder. As I sat and contemplated what to do next. I decided it was time for me to learn to deal with things myself. No screaming, no breaking out in a sweat. Stay calm. It's an insect. It looks large (about 4cm long), but is considerably smaller than you. So I thought, when I'm finished here, I will go and make some hot chocolate (by the way, you can't get hot chocolate in Burundi, so if you want to send me some. c/o The King's School BP 1560, Bujumbura, Burundi. it would be gladly, recieved) Back to the subject in hand. I made the hot chocolate, got the electric tennis racket we have for bug zapping and went back to face my foe. I have to say, at this point, Bathroom Buddy, had not actually achieved Buddy status in my head. Elimination was my intended action. Full of new found courage, I boldly stepped into the bathroom, only to discover, it was gone!! Where?! Into the bedroom?! Into my bed?! I was rapidly achieving trembling heap status.
A search releaved no sign of the intruder. However, I did notice the large gap in the tiles under the bath and wondered perhaps......... cockroaches like dark, damp places........perhaps it has gone there.
I shut the bathroom door tightly and went to bed (a thoroughly searched bed, I might add)
Thursday night, I gingerly open the bathroom door and there it was! This was this point I began to think, maybe we can be Buddies.
So I set out some rules for using the bathroom.
1, Absolutely no flying. On no account should Bathroom Buddy take-off and cruise around the room.
2, No buddies of Buddy to be brought into the room.
3, Bathroom Buddy should return under bath as quickly as possible when I arrive to use the bathroom.
4, The edge of the bath will be the safest place for BB to stay. Come out, have a look around, go back under, job done.
If Bathroom Buddy can adhere to the above rules, we will live in relative peace and harmony. Should BB choose to break any one of the rules, BB will risk immeadiate, extermination by electrocution. (Squashing would be far too messy and traumatic for me and I don't own any flip flops) These rules of course apply only to BB, and cannot be reversed to apply to myself. I remain free to walk, fly and move around the bathroom as I wish. No risk of extermination!
I might also add, that if I see any duck tape whilst out shopping, I might well resort to confining BB to the under bath area. I'm not entirely convinced that BB actually understands the rules, so may not adhere to them very closely!
Our friendship is not deep enough for me to extend any grace or second chances.