DAY SIXTEEN

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MAMA

Burundi Market -dried fish

“Karibu!” That swahili word of welcome still warms my heart. I love meeting new people. I love hearing their stories, what makes them wake up in the morning and what puts a smile on their faces just before they sleep. If I am able to inspire at least one person every so often to move forward with their dreams then I will feel I have moved my own.

“People love our mom,” I am told when I ask them how she survives with so many other dried fish vendors next to her. Mama wakes before her children and walks for an hour to her new place in the market. A month ago – the old market she worked in had burnt down -displacing hundreds of vendors. In the evening when she returns, often carrying fruits, vegetables and other provisions on her head, she is tired but her warm beautiful smile never leaves her face.  Mama doesn’t speak French nor English…but her heart speaks volumes.  Raising six kids on her own, as a single mom for the last 9 years, has made her children strong. They dote on her and hope that the new business projects we have started together will help her and the other moms in their dance group.

When we meet new people we never know who will be but a passing exchange of words or who will slip quietly or boisterously into your heart until it is time to say goodbye. As the motos (motorcycle taxis/ boda bodas in Kampala) arrive much too quickly and we rush to jump on with our knapsacks -I quickly hug my new friends from Burundi goodbye. I was sad at first that I missed saying goodbye this morning to the little ones but grateful that they were not there because the cold morning air, as the motos whipped through the streets, was not hitting my face hard enough to keep my sadness away.  I was already missing my Burundian friends by the time I was on the bus… a bus not yet filled with passengers and their hastily purchases of snacks and water.

DAY FIFTEEN

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DAY FIFTEEN

EDWARD -an example of inspiration: kids helping themselves and their families
Bujumbura, Burundi

“Feed inspiration not desperation.” My dear friend, Lise Janelle’s words often rings in my ears and those of my children. I live this more so, now. Kids Canada is all about feeding inspiration. My trip to Africa last October quickly made me realize that I was often not seen as Maylynn nor as an artist, mother nor a friend but as a muzungu -a bottomless source of funds for gas, meals, favours, supposed short term loans, incidentals and bio-sand water filters. I’m so tired of hands trying to reach into my pockets… be it here in Africa or in Canada.

I have learned this lesson time and time again for years yet find that the lessons continue to come at me as I have failed to “walk the talk” in my personal life. Feeding desperation creates dependency and the moment you stop feeding desperation to feed your own needs, be it desperation or inspiration -the receiver of your debilitating kindness often does not see what has been done in the past for them but only what is not momentarily there. You are not greeted with selfless support in return but surprisingly and painfully faced with anger and accusations of abandonment for stopping to think of your own needs.

I do not blame them. I had fed desperation and supported their victim within in my blindness to play the role of a supportive friend. I often remember and remind those who find themselves uncomfortably in the role of rescuer that when I trained as a lifeguard in high school for example -it was drilled into our cores to always remember to place an object between ourselves and those we are rescuing. We were told that in desperation, in this case fear of drowning, one thinks only of one’s own survival and will drown you in the process -along with themselves. We were told to move away from them, push them away if need be, and shout at them to hold onto the object and not onto you. Friends remind me that on flights we are told to place oxygen masks on ourselves before loved one. A most difficult priority to factor in when you instinctively place loved ones ahead of yourself.

Today -I am sad and try not to look back at who and what I thought was going to be so much a part of my journey but grateful for those who still walk quickly beside me – often holding my hand so that those human sized pot holes and oncoming objects coming from everywhere do not slow us all down. Today, I hold hands with PTMOF to rescue a young teen mom and her baby who have been on the streets for 4 days. Today, I once again, am grateful for my friends and family, especially for Andrew, Kaia and Wyatt -who have not screamed in anger at me or accused me of abandoning them while I walk, run or fly on my own to think only about myself for a short while…

DAY FOURTEEN

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muchopo

Muchopo

“C’est une tete?” I asked my friends… because I think I see teeth despite the darkness of the night and the dim lights of Bwiza, the Congolese/Senegalese area of Bujumbura. “Oui, C’est une tete du Mouton. Muchopo.” They reply nonchalantly. “Ca va?”

“Of course I am fine with that!” Guess that would be the polite Canadian in me replying as I try to keep my fingers filled with the Casava bread on the side -dense dough like pieces which have been sliced to accompany the muchopo. If I keep picking at the unusual bone in my hand -no one will notice I am not able to get over my embarrassing inability to get over the part that says that the part I am eating is the head part of a sheep.

Tresor looks at me and I can not stop laughing because his eyes search mine deeply -so obviously looking to see if there is any truth in my words. Why am I laughing uncontrollably? Only my cousin Nathalie could answer that! LOL I suppose I am uncomfortable with my inability to embrace my Trinidadian and Chinese cultures – both cultures indulge in specialties of animal parts that are usually discarded or turned into hotdogs or pet food in Canada.

My dear, sweet friends laugh and tell me that I am experiencing Africa through one of its local dishes. Bwiza does not sleep – muchopo restaurants line both sides of the street and tables are filled with locals all diving into heaping plates of muchopo and oversized (to me) bottles of beer.

Clemence and Jean Paul see me deciding on what part to approach and pass me the more “meatier” bits. Crunchy and quite tasty but I am still unable to stop laughing at my ridiculous inability to eat something because I asked what it was! I persevere as I am in training for my street food adventures with my street foodie friends, Sang Kim and Sora Olah. OK – that meatier piece was not meatier-like at all… “keep chewing -it is so NOT the tongue.” I tell myself -hoping to drown out all of the, “OMGs -it IS the tongue!” in my head!!
; )

DAY THIRTEEN

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DAY TWELVE

Pastor Pierre et Pastor Vital
Cibitoke to Bujumbura, Burundi

“How do you find Burundi?” I am asked. The smartly dressed Burundians that sit close to me on the bus smile warmly and nod hello. Absolutely beautiful and its people are as welcoming and as curious as those I find in Kampala.

I am asked what brings me to Burundi. I reply, “visiting friends. We work together in Kampala, Uganda.” I tell them about Kids Canada and about my “How to change the world in 30 days” blog when they asked to hear more about my work. Pastor Vitale smiles and tells me his dreams are of restoration: spiritual, economic and financial for both men and women. He dreams and Pastor Pierre implements his ideas.

When buses and cars stop -we are instantly surrounded by vendors selling newspapers, sunglasses, snacks, bread, drinks, belts -almost anything imaginable that you might need or not need at the moment. Every working mother’s dream when challenged by sleeping children and little time or energy to unload and to load little bodies in and out of a car to grab a bite or to do any shopping.

Pineapples and avocados have become my weakness in Africa. Knowing this, my friend quickly calls out for one of the pineapples… Sadly we do not have the small change they need. I watch as shillings pass by me and tomatoes and other produce are passed through our windows. A pineapple comes next and then realize later that one of my new traveling friends had bought the pineapple for us! “It is a Burundian custom to take care of our visitors,” Pastor Vitale says with a smile. “If you hadn’t already payed for your fare -we would have payed for you.”

I am filled with the warmth of his words, their smiles and their eyes.

DAY TWELVE

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DAY TWELVE

CIBITOKE, BURUNDI

Adding Burundi to my list of making babies cry : (
“Seriously!” I tell my friends. “Their moms laugh and tell me that their baby has never seen a muzungu before.” I can imagine how scary it must be for little ones to see someone so drained of beautiful colour : )

Visiting my friend’s family in Cibitoke- I am apparently one of the “nice” muzungus passing through their village. Most muzungus they see passing through are foreign soldiers who, I admit, would scare even me.

Jean holds my hand as many of my African friends comfortably do – mostly to keep me safe from passing vehicles and from falling into human sized holes but I tease them that I am convinced it is to show everyone that i am friendly! : )
However, It does not manage to keep the more aggressive money seeking locals away from me. I am fooled by their warm hellos but quickly we are able to cut them short as it is not unlike those I find in Toronto approaching me with their little stories of desperation.

“I’m so sorry, Maylynn…” many of my African friends apologize. “I am a little embarrassed that Africans shout out muzungu and continue to feel they can ask muzungus for money.” I assure them that I understand that my presence is often a first to many and that slowly many misconceptions we all have will change as both our worlds slowly open up courtesy of the world wide web and with more travelers passing through. More and more we are moving towards cultural exchange and the introduction of sustainable development and projects not just handouts. Slowly those I meet and share more than a hello or a smile with learn that not all Muzungus are rich nor are all Africans starving and living in destitute conditions as many are shown in the media of the past.

DAY ELEVEN

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DAY ELEVEN

FOOTBALL

Trying out a new pace – I admit it was hard to gear down from my Toronto time centred life where I wear many hats – all demanding that I work around and along multiple schedules. However, I am learning that Africa moves at its own pace regardless of how fast I want to move ; ) My Ugandan friends that travel back and forth admit that the speed in which we move in Toronto is much faster and exhausting. The hot African sun slows us all down and I move at a less stressful pace – occasionally riding a wave of energy when I hit someone that is moving as fast as my mind is : )

Today I slowed down long enough to appreciate this particular piece of art made by the Burundian children themselves. The 3 Rs – Reuse, Recycle, Reduce….  so much a part of our lives here in the west  yet second nature for our kids here in many areas of Africa.  So – who exactly needs to teach who?

DAY TEN

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DAY TEN

BUS TO BURUNDI

Never mind the “baby head” bobs one jokes about to describe the embarrassing moments when we fall asleep sitting in a car or anywhere in public – this 12 hour bus ride to Burundi had us all dancing Burundian style. Heads not bobbing but swinging side to side and around and bumps that had us jumping clear off our seats! You can check out my friends here from Jeune Batimbo during one of their practices last year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSLMUDKM7

The speakers threw out loud cool African music as we tore through the hills of Uganda and Rwanda and reminded me of my bus rides through the Moroccan Atlas mountains years ago. I suppose this bus ride was not as “breathtaking” as the Moroccan ones where the edges came a little too close at speeds that were a little too fast around corners -with cool Moroccan music screaming from the speakers, of course.

The borders were the most difficult. We were shaken, thrown up in the air and woken to fill out forms and to line up in lines that suddenly grew longer in front of you if you didn’t invade the personal space of the person in front of you. An adventurous welcome into each country.

Heading to Burundi to set up one of two Colloidal Silver projects generously donated to Kids Canada by Silverpuppy.com Thank you Ken Ode, owner of Silver Puppy, who builds and sells silver generators. The second generator will be set up at Great Valley Children’s Centre in Kampala, Uganda.

DAY NINE

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DAY NINE

Nabinoonya Beach, Entebbe

Definitely not a beach of sand and umbrellas but exactly what I love the most – rocks to climb over and on top of to find just the right rock to sit on to be as close to the water as possible. When I need to stop to catch my breath I can think of nothing else.

Others have joined us and many are in the water swimming along with the fishermen in their wooden boats. A Sunday but all is surprisingly quiet despite the loud, cool Ugandan music in the background.
: )

Today -my friends have arranged a day for me and I could not be happier. Africa and its beautiful people are once again changing my world….

DAY EIGHT

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DAY EIGHT

KAMPALA, UGANDA

“We can spot a tourist a mile away!” So I was told by my French, Dutch and British friends when I was an aupair in France many adventures ago. I confess I can not. Many slip through the cracks of my tourist spotting abilities as I am limited by the obvious -backpacks, running shoes, maps and cameras. According to my European friends -American tourist wore white socks and running shoes while canadian tourists all had canadian flag patches sewn on bags or hats : )

I on the other hand, in Kampala – can be spotted a mile away -or so it seems. I am met daily by the warm, “hello muzungu!” whether I am in a car, on a boda boda (moped taxi service) or on foot… even in pitch darkness. “How can they see me??” my friends can often hear me asking? OK.. I admit… i have become quite curious about the Muzungus I can spot, too. We often smile at each other or at times, give each other personal space by not staring : ) Muzungu (MU-zung goo) means white person in Uganda. According to the urban dictionary muzungu is a Swahili word referring to missionaries and early explorers meaning “those who wonder aimlessly”. : )

Being called a white person is funny actually since I have never thought of myself as white in Canada. I am considered a POC – a person of colour. : )   For the most part it is not meant to be derogatory here in Africa in contrast to North America where it would not be acceptable to call out skin colour hellos to strangers in passing. Strangely – I am not offended -especially when children use it. However, it has become a little annoying on occasion when I am tired and would prefer the Hello Mukwano! (friend) that others have thrown my way.

Today (ok – many days) being spotted meant I was potential sponsor money. I quickly tell my new friend of the moment that Kids Canada is a cultural exchange program for children here in Uganda and in Canada but would be happy to check out the orphanage he supports.

Uganda is beautiful and so are its people. Everyday I hope Kids Canada and our ground leaders here are able to touch at least one person in our path -to let them know that not all muzungus are pockets of wealth nor out to save them. In Canada, organizations like ours are determined not to perpetuate the belief that all African children are sad, hungry and orphans as depicted in the media and in charities of the past. Today – I know that I can not do that on my own nor will I create the necessary wave but today…..i will settle for a small ripple…