This weekend we traveled up country and off road, deep into the countryside to visit a Batwa village in the heart of this lush, green country. Our driver... the Honorable Etienne Ndayishimiye, a member of Parliament and a Twa man, a dear friend (he is pictured here to the right of Claude). He was eager to take us to see more Twa friends, to learn more about how they live and what they need to advance in the coming years. Also along for the journey was Evariste Ndikumana, a university student (one of only two Twa in university in the entire country) and Grace Scale (living abroad with us this summer before she begins university in AZ).
We swerved and swayed, bumped and jostled as we made our way to the village. We stirred up more than dust with our visit... the mzungus caught the attention of everyone we passed. We were to discover that many people who live this deep in the country do not often, if ever, venture to Bujumbura. This means that many have never seen a white-skinned person; maybe they have seen one in a distant car careening by, but not up close! Not one walking with them, worshipping with them and close enough to reach out and touch... Grace and I were novelties, and we had (quite literally, as you can see) a following.
But we know that the true gravitas was with Etienne, as a member of Parliament he will be able to represent them, to effect change for them, to give them great hope by his visit. And Evariste, who asked so many kids about school, shared his own story with them about enduring elementary school, staying in secondary school and now undertaking university. You could see the kids eyes grow with surprise... a Twa in university! He learned that in this local village, only one child was still in secondary school (high school). The Twa are very poor, and can seldom afford school fees. And if they can find money for fees, few can endure the ridicule of other children - Twa are treated with contempt and disgust by most Hutu and Tutsi people. So you can imagine what school must be like - when you are poor, made fun of and no one expects much of you anyways. Not many have the fortitude (or encouragement) to press on, and so across the entire country of Burundi only 400 are in elementary school, fewer in secondary levels and two (2) in university. So Evariste's story can be an encouragement, and Etienne's presence can give them hope. The Twa are blessed with leaders who are paving the way, and making sure that others have access to it for a better future.
We have become part of this... as friends. We can share the story, we can make sure they are seen, we can work to help bring a better future for the Twa.
See the older woman crafting a pot? This is a proud Batwa tradition... pot making. Sadly, there is little market for her pots anymore as the market is now flooded with plastic and metal vessels from overseas. So she works on these beautiful, perfectly symmetrical pots and can expect 0.20 for each. Practically, this is not enough to be considered currency. All she can now do with her pots is trade or barter for food - two large pots and one small one will get her 5 kilos of cassava. Not much money, not much food, not much hope. But see her smile - she is lovely and we need to see her and encourage her.
Please remember our Batwa friends. Remember them in your hearts, your prayers, and your growing understanding of Burundi and those who comprise the population of this land.