Wednesday, July 29, 2009


professional Burundian drum corps*

We live in a school neighborhood, and so the sounds of children are ever around us.  But in the past set of weeks, there is the sound of the drums every morning.  The summer session must be when all Burundian boys learn the rhythms of their culture that have vibrated throughout their land for generations.

We drove by the school the other morning, and saw what we'd been hearing so many mornings in a row.  There were Burundian drums, each large as an oak wine barrel, in a circle formation.  The teacher stood in the middle of the drums demonstrating the traditional rhythms.  The boys are positioned, one per drum, around the outside of the circle.  With the thick drumsticks in hand, they beat out the rhythms with as much velocity as a 7 or 8 year old can muster!  And this goes on for a few hours every school day during the summer.  

They are not merely learning an instrument (like I was consigned to learn the recorder in elementary school) or fulfilling a music requirement (like the lackluster music classes I had to endure in grade school), they are learning the heartbeat of their culture.  Burundian drum corps are know throughout Africa as being the most accomplished drummers.  This is part of their heritage they are ingesting with every beat.  It is beautiful to see them delight in their tradition, to learn their rhythms unmediated by western culture or other diluting forces.  When they are in the circle of drums, it is Burundian culture they are celebrating.  It is wonderful to witness these lessons in motion!

So this morning I am in my home office ready to work, and I am again serenaded by the young drummers.  The beat is steady, forceful and unrelenting.  There is no break for laughter or horse play, these boys are serious about perfecting their hallmark rhythm.  This sets them apart - not as a generic African, but as a masterful and renowned Burundian drummer.  And as I listen, I find myself swaying to the unique combination of beats.  I can't help it!  It is like my heart is learning a new rhythm, day after day, soaking in this primal Burundian sound.  The drums bring a smile to my face every day.  This is what it is to live in Burundi, to sway to the indigenous sounds and share in this national delight... to celebrate the culture.  

When I get frustrated (electricity demand exceeds the grids capacity resulting in regular black outs, water is delivered at odd times of the day, making the idea of a regular shower more a riddle than routine)... the drums revive me.  The drums, as meted out with determined focus and athletic energy (and stamina!) of primary school boys, showcases what is good about my life in Bujumbura.  Somehow the rhythm of their drums moves me to a better place each morning.  

I am a Burundian citizen, though I came to my citizenship later in life.  I guess even I need to be schooled in these rhythms, right?  I want to carry my passport with pride - and these drums teach me to walk with Burundian rhythms resounding and reverberating throughout my body.   

On other days I hear the children, boys and girls, singing in Kirundi with such sweetness that it melts my heart.  I enjoy those songs, too.  But the drums... they do get to me on a deeper level. I love my summer mornings, complete with the Summer Drumming Sessions.

*photograph by Jaimi Kercher Photography 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Our guests are gone.  The house is returning to normal.  I am now turning my attention to a new season, one with less action but still active.  There will be fewer events, but still a lot happening. It is returning to the routines of life, even when I cannot always discern the regularity, the rhythms and roles that make it routine.  Maybe my daily routine is like life on a boat - constantly responding to the incessant movement of the waters, developing 'sea legs' so that I can walk to and fro without being thrown (or getting sick).

A friend gave me a word when I first arrived in Burundi - unfolding.  I have held onto the word, letting my imagination play with the image.  Receiving this word at the onset of my Burundian chapter was a great gift.  The connotations have been perpetually gentle, like water lapping against the side of a boat as it rocks, ever so slightly.  I have tried to lean into the word, to fall into it without seizing or fearing.  

Unfolding is something that happens slowly, gradually and gently.  I think of a crumpled paper... the corners all pressed into the center and turning on themselves.  As the paper unfolds, it spreads out - not stretching, just spreading.  And the corners come out... out from the compact center, moving toward the periphery, where corners belong.  They are not meant to be central or compressed at the core... they are corners meant to be at the boundary.  So I am allowing my misplaced corners to find their natural place.  And what happens in the process of this unfolding - I begin to see what is really at the center of the paper, what it is that holds the center.

Unfolding also leads me to think of gentleness, effortlessness, an easiness with the process. There is no striving or contending when you unfold.  You cannot force or hurry your unfolding. You just submit to it - like a good massage.  You are passive, yet present.  You are aware but not in control.  

Unfolding is like unclenching your fist.  Open your hand, relax your fingers, expose your palm. Let the stress or anger go.  Allow the hot, knotted emotions to ease and cool.  Maybe they will even dissipate as you simple let them go.  

But the word that seems constantly coupled with unfolding is gentleness.  This is a kind process, an easy place where the yoke is light and easy.  Could Jesus' yoke really be this gentle? The Dali Lama also speaks of being gentle to ourselves, extending a kindness and grace to our self as we experience harsh emotions, display bad behavior or struggle.  Gentleness as we view ourselves, gentleness as we follow, gentleness as we unfold and discover what God is developing in us.

As I said, this word has been a good housewarming gift.  It has allowed me freedom to gently unfold and allow God to reveal His reasons for me to be here at this time and in this place.  I think that now as I return to my gently rocking routine, there will be more unfolding and more revealing.  I think that next there will be deepening as I learn how to engage in Burundi in ways that are in step with the way of Jesus and for the sake of His world.

Friday, July 3, 2009

So much beautiful

It has been weeks since I have written anything beyond status updates on Face Book.  There has not been time to really reflect and say anything worth reading.  There has been so much happening and so little personal bandwidth to be able to communicate it.  So silence... and a hope that something will emerge and be blog-worthy.  But all writers know that waiting for inspiration is a cop out - you just have to sit down and write.  So I am finally doing just that... with no promises about the thoughts to come.  Good friends will understand and extend some grace!

The last month was full, brimming over with goodness and friends and divine surprises.  I was in South Africa for our annual gathering of friends.  Over 200 friends from across southern and eastern Africa, plus some westerners for good measure.  It was a reunion that embraced new friends as well as old in an on-going conversation about God's work in African communities.  
Conversation was rich, connections were rich, communion & celebration were fitting for us. 
Coming together like this never gets old!

Right away we flew from Jo'burg to Bujumbura, 7 friends carrying joy from one gathering into the next.  We arrived to Burundi in the dark, early hours of the morning.  The city streets were empty and the electricity in the house was off... our friends would have to wait till morning to see where they had arrived.  But in the morning light they could see the goodness of Burundi - with sweet sun and light breezes that were so refreshing after the rainy winter days of South Africa.  We'd rest by the shore of Lake Tanganyika enjoying pizza, wireless internet access and that glorious view of the lake and the Burundian foothills.  

But just a day later we were in high gear as we readied to welcome 30 friends traveling from Texas to meet the Batwa of Burundi.  Bringing these two diverse communities together was a year in the making, or planning or praying.  God wildly surpassed our best plans, expectations and hopes for this gathering of friends!  Connections between these two communities seemed effortless, natural and God-ordained.  Greetings were enthusiastic and warm from the first smile, from the initial hand shake.  There was music - the sounds of hands clasping together, harmonies of laughter, lyrics being learned in Kirundi and English... new songs of friendship being composed right before our eyes!  Then we danced together on the beach - and found one another with joyful abandon.  I promise you this is no exaggeration, something happened that first day together.  The Spirit drenched us.  Maybe it was a taste of Pentecost on the edge of Lake Tanganyika... where language and culture did not hinder our ability to express love and share in joy together.  I will never forget that God-drenched day.  Ever.

The days that followed kept my eyes moist with tears.  The goodness keep unfolding between my American and Batwa friends.  Each community was laden with blessings, the friendship was yielding a bounty of blessings that could scarcely be contained.  We played volleyball together on the beach and swam in the lake, we worked together clearing fields and weather-proofing homes, we shared meals, sang by the fire, exchanged gifts and blessings and laughter.  At one point I wondered, fleetingly, when the bubble would burst.  Too much goodness was... too much.  At some point something had to give...  But God's goodness does not run dry or evaporate like burst bubbles.  His goodness grows, expands, deepens... and this was a foretaste of His lavish goodness to all of us.  As our friend Tracy sings, 'So much beautiful.'  It was just so much beautiful.

I will write more... but this is a start.