Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas and a convoy...

So, we made it on the convoy to Burundi earlier this week. It was a much longer day than I had expected - not to mention tiring, even though all we did was sit in a vehicle for most of the day. We received a much needed stamp in our passport from the Burundian government, without having to pay for a visa though (score!). So, IF our work permits continue to be delayed we will at least have a cushion of time on our tourist visas.

It was quite a bumpy ride once we crossed into Burundi, which may explain our fatigue at the end of the day. We were jostled all over the place, with no operational seat belts to speak of, in the UNHCR Burundi vehicle we took from the Tanzanian border to the reception center in Mabanda - just a few miles away. The roads almost immediately took a turn for the worse as we crossed into Burundi. There were deep crevices in the dirt road, puddles that had yet to dry up from the rains, and a few scary steep cliffs we were driving on the edge of to avoid more bumps. We tried to focus on the view up and out over the misty green landscape, instead of down in the deep ravines. The view was a amazing, but the bumps and dips were a bit heart racing at points anyway though...

I was again surprised at the appearance of wealth in Tanzania, even after a short trip inside the Burundian border. Tanzania has always seemed to be so much wealthier than Mali. From the time I arrived in Dar, the difference between the two major cities in each country (Bamako and Dar es Salaam) was pretty stark - even aside from the obvious differences in landscape (Mali is land-locked and Tanzania has a huge ocean border, plus the island of Zanzibar).

However, I thought that coming out to a western, more rural area of TZ, I would see more people living like people in rural areas in Mali. I thought I would see a lot of decaying or collapsing mud houses with thatched roofs throughout the area, particularly during rainy season. Instead, I have seen a lot of construction of brick houses and preparation for paved roads. I saw more of what I anticipated I would see here in TZ in Burundi though. This could be because of the status that Kasulu has received because of its hosting of international relief organizations though. A lot of money has been poured into this area because of the ex-pat "traffic" here, which will most likely dry up as soon as the refugee camps are officially closed.

Even though Tanzania, thus far, has appeared infinitely wealthier than Mali - or even the sliver of Burundi that I saw this week, its per capita income is actually less than Mali ($442 in TZ compared with $470 in Mali Anyone have any thoughts on that?

In other news, Christmas has arrived and it is a lot wetter and louder than I had anticipated. There is a rather raucous thunderstorm that appears to be passing now, but it just might be laying low for a bit before gearing up for another round. We'll see...

Christmas Eve was spent here in Kasulu with an American, an Iraqi, and a 1/2 Iranian 1/2 Dutch colleague. We were laughing at how unlikely it would be for our countries to be sharing a meal together, never mind by choice - especially with Aljazeera English and CNN in the background. : )

It seems that prayer call from the mosque downtown has called the rain and thunder back...I just hope the roads (and runway) dry up enough before Kelly's arrival in Kigoma.

The rains continue, unabated, on Christmas Day in Kasulu. Merry Christmas!

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