The Shape of Burundi is Like a Human Heart
This is an excerpt
of Whitney’s essay. To read all the
entries please <<click here>>.
Whitney Popp hails from Chico, California. She is currently a senior
at California State University in Monterey Bay, California where she
has a Global Studies major with a minor in Peace Studies. Prior to traveling
to Africa with AGLI Whitney had visited Canada, Mexico and Italy, each
for about two weeks.
Whitney wrote on
her application that as a “social worker’s
daughter I have been raised in an atmosphere dedicated to community service.
Since I was about 12 years old I have worked with the developmentally
disabled. This work formed my tolerance and acceptance of others while
working cooperatively with volunteers”.
Early in life Whitney
had an experience which made her realize “that
respect was the most important thing to give a person. Of course love,
compassion and understanding are important but I believe those all stem
from respect. . . I dedicated myself to understanding a person without
“Going to Africa
and being in a community torn by conflict is what I want to do as a
career. I wish to work in negotiation and mediation
in the realm of armed conflict. I feel that it is necessary for me to
look into the eyes of those in the community and understand their suffering,
strength and hope.”
6/23-24/07 - I am in Washington DC
I am in Washington DC now and will be attending orientation tomorrow.
The flights went well and I was picked up by some others in the program
and am staying at one girl’s house, Chris. It’s an
old row house so they’re right up against each other, tall skinny
things. We went to Ben’s Chili House for dinner and rode
the bus to get there. I’m not gonna lie, I think I’m
going through more culture shock here than I will in Burundi! The
flight on Monday will be out of DC and goes to Ethiopia where we will
stay over night. The following day we take a flight to Burundi arriving
in Bujumbura. Out of the three team members I have met so far
I feel like I’m the most prepared! Have no fear, my trip is registered
with the embassy; I have a map, guide book, every medication possible,
medical insurance and have taken all precautions necessary. As soon
as I have the cell phone number that the team will be sharing I will
send it in an e-mail. Right now I am jet lagged and in need of
a little rest.
Thursday, 6/28/07 - Another World is Shocking
A lot of what I am about to tell you is still overwhelming to me. We
arrived yesterday afternoon and were greeted by a woman in the national
police; she had a sign for us. After a hug and a kiss on either cheek
we went to gather our luggage. Our hosts were waiting outside the baggage
claim area. Elie (a pastor), Alexia (doctor) and Joselyn (member of
the Friends Women Association) all shook our hands and hugged us. After
leaving the airport we saw cows on the road that had HUGE horns, each
one was at least 3ft. We were stopped five minutes down the road by
the police to check our bags - we were at a spot where the two main
roads, one from the airport and the other from the Congo intersect.
Once he saw the “mzungu” (white people) they let us by.
into our place (two bedrooms, dining/living room, kitchen and bathroom)
we were introduced to many people. The cop was a member
of the Women’s group, Constance, and there were many more. Each
introduction had to be a group meeting where everyone went around saying
a little about themselves, this happened over five times. After all
the greetings we took a taxi to the US Embassy so that the others may
register their trip (I did mine online already). The embassy is walking
distance but seeing as we are outsiders it was better to take a taxi
on the first day. The embassy is the only place I have been with air
conditioning and it was hard to leave. We heard music downstairs later
in the evening and found out that our place is about five feet from
a church. We attended and the voices were amazing. When our host Elie
went up to preach, members of the church went out of their way to sit
next to us and in broken English translate his Kirundi. I am picking
up Kirundi quite fast because it is a very good way to show respect
to the culture.
Today I attended the AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) with
20 people. There are only five of us [Westerners] and 15 members
us fix the clinic. The bus ride there was shocking. This is poverty
like I have never seen in my entire life. Women are dressed traditionally
or in business suits/skirts, men are all in Western dress and dressed
very well most the time. Then you see the shacks they are coming
from and it’s amazing. UN, AU and Red Cross vehicles litter the area
along with mini buses, taxis and bikes. The program (AVP) was touching
and everyone was so accepting of the new ones. Outside the clinic dirty
children run around daring each other to shake our hands. Many in the
AVP want to learn English and we have been having good conversations.
Marci, a girl in our program, is deaf and there was an interpreter from
a local school for deaf children there to translate. At lunch he told
the following story that I want to share with you to show the type of
situation there once was here. (This happened 10 years ago so Mom and
Ally, don’t worry.)
One day he arrived at school and began to teach his class like normal.
Then he heard gun fire nearby. The war had broken out in Kamenge
- where the clinic is. He turned on the radio to hear it full of
Then a teacher who is deaf came running inside, covered in blood.
The man teacher ran outside and there were soldiers screaming at
the children “what
tribe are you?” The teachers were telling them that the children
were deaf and the soldiers didn’t care. They killed all the children.
The teacher ran back inside to calm his class and the rebels (they were
Hutu) came in. The same thing happened in the class and all the children
were shot. The men turned to the teacher and asked what he was. After
responding “Hutu” the men left him alive with all the dead
children. It was a school of 300 and only 40 survived. This man sat next
to me the entire day with an amazing attitude; all the while carrying
this within him. I was so saddened by the story that I broke down and
started to cry. The entire area that we are working in was destroyed
by the war. Only now are some shacks built to house the thousands of
Eyes are always on you here; this is not a place many white people
visit. They don’t mean any harm by looking, it is just that I am the opposite
color and seem to carry with me every stereotype of a white person. I
am pretty sure the whole city knows we are here. It has been an overwhelming
two days with sites, smells, sounds that cannot be explained. It could
be depressing but it is not because the story I just told you has another
part. The man went back to the school after it had been closed for three
years and he is still teaching. The area has far to go because if you
are deaf you are not allowed to vote and only get education until 6th
grade. Nothing can ever prepare someone for this. We are all exhausted,
but hopeful. Even with everything around us so hard to bear, the people
that are helping us have touched me deeply. I love you all and do not
worry about me. I will be fine and will continue the updates...that cell
phone number is coming shortly (I hear Mother Africa calling cards are
the best). Amahoro (Peace)
Friday, June 29, 2007 - Kamenge knows my Name
I promise to make this short and will then not be using the internet
for a few days...though the addiction to it that I had before
I came here is hard to break. One correction to make is that
it is “Mzungu” that
white people are called. I am giving you the number of our cell phone.
If you call around lunch time or late morning your time I will get it
before I go to bed, so that would be a good time to call. I have only
two stories, they are short and only one is mine. First we will start
with Fiston’s because his is harder to take:
We were in the AVP workshop and were asked about a time when
we thought before we reacted. My example would have been
but I did not share that story. Fiston contributed this.
One day there was
gun fire in his neighborhood. He and many others fled into
a field. There were a lot of people and his friend approached
that he wanted
to go off with only a few people because they’d have a better chance.
Fiston took the time to sit down and could hear screaming around him.
He could not leave the people and told his friend he would stay for a
while and then head back to his home. His friend left him to go away
from the crowd. The next day his friend was killed. This man is amazing
and his story just confirms the determination of this community.
Now my story: In front of the clinic, on our breaks, children
will gather in groups of up to 20 to shake the mzungu’s hand. They drag their
infant siblings over even if they’re crying. They are not the big-bellied,
fly in the eye children; but they are not what you see in the suburbs.
Most of their clothing is dirty, their faces unclean. But they are smiling;
they are still innocent children with hope. We were asking what their
names were and when I said that my name was “Whitney,” a
five year old girl ran away and came back with a child no older than
one. She smiled and pointed to her sister, “Whitney!”, then
pointed to me “Whitney!” This little girl, who looked scared
by all the children more than scared of me, had my name. It was nice
the children made a connection with me, even if it was only through first
names, but my heart hurt to see these children in poverty. Yet, children
just want to be happy and one boy about three years old grabbed my left
hand and refused to let go. He tried to kick other children that got
near my hand. I swung him around and other children danced a little.
They are so happy to see new people. When I left they were chanting my
name...little do they know that they’re stuck with me for over