Sunday, September 6, 2015

Gary and I are home again in the U.S, and it is difficult to readjust to life here.  Over 100 people have been killed in Bujumbura so far in the protests and in assassinations, hundreds have been injured and imprisoned, many tortured, and over 200,000 people have fled the country.  The president was "elected" for a third term.  Of course, the other candidates withdrew their names in protest over the charade of an election.  We have no idea what the future holds for these good people of Burundi.  We can only pray that life will improve for them, that they will eventually get a government that will help them progress.  We leave part of our hearts with our friends in Bujumbura.  We are eternally grateful for the blessing that was our mission, and say " Dieu te benisse!"

Saturday, May 23, 2015

     Friday was our last full day in Africa, so the Van Wagoner's and we went to do a game drive. We signed up for a tour through the hotel.   It was about a 3 hour drive to get there, we spent about 3 hours driving around the park, and then we drove the 3 hours back to Johannesburg.  The game drive itself was a disappointment, but, on a beautiful day,  it beat hanging around the hotel.

 This is a white rhino.  There are also black rhinos in the park, but we didn't sees any.  The white rhino has a massive head, and he is a grazer who likes to eat grass.  The black rhino has a much smaller head because he in a browser who eats  bushes and trees.

Notice how this guys stripes are not parallel.  They go in different directions.

This is the truck we rode in for the game drive.  Very different experience than a safari!  The roads are all nicely paved here with no need for a 4-wheel drive.

Notice the birds on this giraffe.  They eat the bugs from his hide so both giraffe and bird are happy with this relationship.

We are ready to fly home today and will arrive Sunday morning.  It's so hard to believe.  I think it will take time to readjust to life in Salt Lake, to get my mind around the fact we are actually going home. We have a list of things we wanted to see happen before leaving Burundi, but that list must be re-visited, revised.  We plan on continuing to do what it is possible to do over the internet.
 I sorrow for the good people we know in Bujumbura,  I worry about their future and the future of Burundi.  I know I have left part of my heart in Bujumbura and bring home with me so many memories.  What a life-changing experience!  We'll never be the same.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Monday, May 18th

     This morning we woke up to large trucks noisily gearing down, horns honking and motorcycles racing past.  Oh, how I miss my place in Bujumbura where every morning we woke to birds singing, roosters crowing, windows wide open, beautiful sky.  Here n Johannesburg it is fall so temperatures are cool bordering on cold.  My feet are freezing in my sandals!

Photos of the hotel grounds where we are staying

We don't have these at home!  Love the blue in it.

     President Ellis treated us to dinner tonight at a good Italian restaurant.

Tuesday, May 19th

     We went to the Church offices today to try to tie up some loose ends of things left hanging in Burundi.  We worked on making arrangements to get 5 missionaries out of Uvira and Bujumbura so they can leave for their missions from Kigali this Sunday.   We need to arrange to get their visas to them, to have some kind of transport ready to take them to Kigali, and then we need the missionary couple in Kigali to pick them up somewhere.  They will stay with this couple overnight and then the couple will take them to the airport.  Hope this works!

     We met with President Hamilton today, one of the counselors in the area presidency.  We talked about our options, what is going to happen next for us.  He said that when he heard we only had 3 months remaining on our mission, his first thought was " Send them home!"    We also could choose to go to Kolwezi, Congo and live for 3 months.  Start over someplace else.  He left the choice up to us, and we went to the temple this afternoon to see if we could make a decision.  After the session, I came out feeling very peaceful about going home.  That has been Gary's wish for about a week, but we didn't think that would ever happen.  Salt Lake, here we come!

Wednesday, May 20th

     We informed our mission president of our decision to go home and then told the people at the Church offices.  Originally they told us we would leave for home on Thursday (tomorrow), but then they came back and told us flights were booked until Saturday.  So we depart Africa Saturday evening!

     The Ellis's had us over for dinner tonight.  Their place is nice, right next to the temple.  It is a large old mansion with historical significance for Johannesburg.  The Church has made 4 apartments inside for the Area Presidency to use.  The pictures below are taken on the grounds of this building.  It is on a hill overlooking Johannesburg.

Saturday, May 16th

     My Dad's birthday is today.  Got to be a good day!

     We got word this morning that we were actually leaving for Rwanda with a security escort at 1:30pm.  We are exited to be taking action to depart Bujumbura.

     Update:  The incident that involved the police breaking into the Bumerec Hospital actually involved more than one patient.  There were 3 wounded soldiers in the emergency room when the police broke in and started firing.  They hunted down men who had been fighting on the side of the coup and shot them in their beds.  They also wounded several other people in the hospital.  Those soldiers who were patients were then dragged out, leaving trails of blood on the floor as they went.  This is the hospital where Gary was given tests and where we took several missionaries for treatment.

     We took off for Rwanda at 1:30pm, following our security escort.  This is the Van Wagoner's exiting the hotel.  The security vehicle is pictured in front.

 Here we are following the security vehicle down the road as we are driving through the city on our way out.  One of the rare times we actually followed the vehicle.  For any of you familiar with Gary's driving, you'll know what I mean!
 This is a photo of a small group of soldiers we passed on our way out.

After about 30 minutes on the road, the phone rang.  It was the US Embassy wanting to know if we wanted to be part of an Embassy evacuation flight that was leaving the next morning.  We told them we were already on the way to Rwanda, but it felt good to know that they were checking up on us.  

The 7 hour ride took us through beautiful countryside, through little villages with women carrying baskets and produce on their heads.  God must love these people because he has given them such a wonderful place to live---green, lush landscape, fertile soil that will grow about anything, and a mild climate where the sun shines, the rain falls, the skies are full of magnificent cloud formations and colors.  Our ride to Kigali was peaceful except for Gary's occasional white knuckle driving!

  We drove non-stop except for the required stop at the border.  When we arrived there, there was a double line waiting to enter Rwanda.  We were standing at the end of the line when a border crossing employee approached us saying, "You appear to be quite old so please come to the front of the line!"
Excuse me???  Thank-you, I think!  One of the very few perks that comes with getting old!

We enjoyed a squat toilet and then were on our way again.  As we approached Kigali, Gary allowed the security people to take the lead, as we had no idea where we were going.  We arrived at the hotel about 8:30pm.  This hotel was old, well-used, bare-bones, but clean.  I was just happy for a soft place to land.  Enjoyed a nice shower and some peaceful sleep.

I feel great sadness when I think about leaving Bujumbura.  I remember the glorious sky with its ever- changing clouds, the pastel colors of dawn and sunset, the welcome rains that watered our lawn and plants.  There are no sprinkling systems in Burundi.

Sunday, May 17th

This Sabbath morning we went to Church at a branch almost next door to the hotel.  
That is the branch you see below us.

 One of the 3 LDS branches in Kigali.
 Some photos of Kigali.  It is built on a series of hills, beautiful green hills.

     Kim's son Emmy came to visit us at the hotel following church.  It was fun to see him!  At about noon, a Church humanitarian missionary couple named Terry Liebel and Peggy Toro took us to their home for dinner.  They have just lost their MLS couple and would very much love to have us stay in Rwanda and be that MLS couple.  It's actually very appealing.  We would be close enough to Bujumbura that we could keep our fingers in the affairs over there while working with the branches in Kigali.  And living in Rwanda looks like it would be even more civilized than what we have become used to.  The difference between Rwanda and Burundi is incredible.  Burundi is like stepping back in time----terrible infrastructure, dirt roads, potholes big enough to swallow semis, unreliable power, shortages of gas, etc.  Kagami has been president for less time in Rwanda than Nkurunziza has been president in Burundi, and yet he has led his country forward, encouraging development, trying to improve things for his people, trying to unify them, trying to stamp out corruption.  Kigali is a bustling, clean,  modern city.  Amazing what good leaders can do for a country!

Tonight we left for Johannesburg at 6:45pm.  By the tine we got to our hotel, it was after midnight.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday,  May 15

  We are now at 105,000 people who have fled Burundi.  (I'd like to make that number jump by two!)  Sadly, from the news reports it appears the coup has failed.  Very bad news.  That seemed to be the quickest way to peace.  Now I don't know what lies ahead for the good people of Burundi.

     We saw on the news last night a story about a wounded man in the hospital.  I assume this man was not one fighting FOR the president because a group of police broke into the hospital and gunned him down.  Does that sound even vaguely legal to you?  And these are the men in charge of law and order here.

     The Van Wagoner's came to the Martha Hotel yesterday so we could all be together when the word comes to go.

     We are assessing info on the airport and the borders.  We wanted to head out for the Rwandan border, but the Southeast area presidency asked that we stay put.

     Here is an alert we received yesterday from the US Embassy:

May 14, 2015 - Travel Warning

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Burundi and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State ordered the departure of dependents of U.S. government personnel and non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Burundi on May 14. The U.S. Embassy is able to offer only very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Burundi. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 11, 2015.

The security situation remains fluid and volatile because of military and security forces activity in Bujumbura.  There have been increased political tensions and civil disturbances related to these actions.  Airport and land borders are reportedly closed.  U.S. citizens should shelter in place until it is safe to move about, ensure that your travel documents are up-to-date, and confirm that air and land borders are open before attempting to depart the country. 

The terrorist organization al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, has threatened to conduct terror attacks in Burundi.  It may also target U.S. interests in Burundi.  Political violence persists throughout Burundi, a carryover of the Burundian civil war. Armed groups operate in Burundi.  Weapons are easy to obtain and some ex-combatants have turned to crime or political violence.  Crime, often committed by groups of armed bandits or street children, poses the highest risk for foreign visitors.  Exchanges of gunfire and grenade attacks have increased but are usually not directed at foreigners.  If you encounter such a situation, stay indoors in a ground floor interior room away from doors and windows.  Common crimes include muggings, burglaries, and robberies.  U.S. government personnel are prohibited from walking on the streets after dark and from using local public transportation at any time.  Local authorities in any part of Burundi are often unable to provide timely assistance during an emergency.

Demonstrations, gatherings, and even sporting events that are intended to be peaceful can turn violent without advance warning.  For this reason, U.S. citizens should routinely monitor local media sources and the Internet for reports of demonstrations and unrest, and avoid political rallies, demonstrations, and crowds of any kind.

Travel outside the capital, Bujumbura, presents significant risks, especially after nightfall.  Note the U.S. embassy limits and monitors the travel of its personnel in Burundi.  All movement by embassy employees outside the city from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. is prohibited.  Likewise, U.S. citizens should not travel on national highways from dusk to dawn.  Armed criminals ambush vehicles, particularly on the roads leading out of Bujumbura.  Keep vehicle doors locked and windows up when stopped in heavy traffic.

Corruption is endemic in Burundi and contributes to an environment where the rule of law is not respected.  Government officials may ask for bribes for providing routine services.  Travelers are frequently stopped, questioned, and asked for bribes by security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks throughout the country.  Likewise, criminals who have paid off local officials may operate with impunity.

Thursday, May 14th

     To temporarily lighten the mood, I thought I would show you a photo of Gary and the "kids."

     Wednesday evening, after receiving word we had to leave, we had Gian Franco come over and take our two little cuties.  He and his family were going to take them on the 26th, his daughter's birthday, but he was happy to come get them a bit early.

Now back to reality and what's going on.

     All night Wednesday we could hear gunfire, grenades, and mortars going off.  Fierce fighting erupted over night between soldiers loyal to the president and those who support the protests.  The 2 factions battled for the national radio station and several other government locations.  A rocket hit the independent radio station that has been the source for independent news, totally destroying it.  At 7:00am, we left our house to go to the Martha Hotel.  Gary and Fabrice had to use some muscle power to move rocks from 4 barricades that blocked our way.  The other barricades were wide open, and when we made it to the main road, we were the only vehicle we saw.

A parting picture of Gary and our guard Fabrice

     We arrived at the Martha Hotel to find their gates closed and a guard telling us we could not come in.  It was quite eerie to be alone on the streets with all doors and gates closed to us.  We asked to talk to the lady at reception.  She came out and recognized us, as we have brought several people to stay at this hotel and are acquainted with this woman at the desk.  She let us come in, and we got a room.  It felt good to be at the hotel!  The security man responsible to  get us out is also at this hotel.

     We are not sure now if the coup was successful.  The celebrations of yesterday have turned into fear and firefights with both sides claiming to be the victors.

     Lunch was interesting at the Martha.  The explosions and gunfire at times seemed so close that Gary insisted I sit behind a small cement support wall for a time.  The ladies at the front desk were hunkered down behind the reception desk.                          

     Tonight we talked with other guests at the hotel restaurant on the top floor.  We met Peter, an electrician from South Africa who was in Bujumbura working for the local power company, James, a businessman from Malawi who is here checking on his business interests, and Patrick, the security guy who supposedly will get us out.  He doesn't inspire much confidence so we may have to figure this out on our own.  No one knows when or how we will leave.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Monday, May 11th

     Today we went to a meeting at the US Embassy that dealt with the tense situation in Bujumbura.  Their main message was for everyone to figure out what your tipping point is, what your trip wire is when you know you must leave Bujumbura.  The Embassy does not, at this time, tell us we need to go, but they leave that decision up to each individual.  They know that breaking point will be different for everyone.  But they did caution everyone not to wait until it is too late to make that move to get out.  They also told us about a security note they sent all US citizens which warned of a possible terror threat directed at Westerners in Burundi from the terrorist group Al-she-bab.  This terrorist group is unhappy with Burundi for sending troops to fight them in Somalia.  I think it is safe to say that after this meeting everyone was ready to hop on a plane.

There were more vehicles burned, one more killed.  The death toll is around 18 dead, over 200 injured, and over 600 arrested.

Tuesday, May 12th

    Demonstrations continue, 2 more cars set on fire.  This morning when Gary left for his walk to the truck,  he was stopped by a group of young men.  He continued on his way, but definitely felt threatened.  When he returned, mightily unnerved,  he announced he had found his trip wire when he was accosted by the group on the corner.  He insisted we pack an overnight bag before we left for the day in case we didn't make it back to the apartment.  I think we have decided we need to move out of our place and go live in the apartment over the Van Wagoner's.  Their place is in one of the 2 safe neighborhoods in the city.  The sister missionaries have been living there, but they are leaving today.

     We tried to get the Uvira elders' passport again today, but no luck.  We then had a meeting with the branch missionaries in 2 and 3 as we set in motion a plan to continue the missionary work with no full time missionaries here in Bujumbura.  We took 8 full-time missionaries to the airport and sadly said good-bye to them.  Then we came home and started packing.

     Today there were 3 more dead in violence at the protests.  Two were killed in a grenade attack and one more was shot to death.

Wednesday, May 13th

     This morning Gary once again went out to fetch the truck, but this time he was turned back.  They said he could not leave the area until after 10:00am.  We both then walked the 1 1/2 miles to get the truck, noticing more barricades had sprung up along the way.  There was even one below the elders' apartment we had to drive over.  Truckloads of military and police were racing down the streets.  You could hear people protesting in the distance.
     We had another meeting about the branch missionary plan to continue teaching, and then we went to see the apartment over the Van's where we thought we would be moving.  Heaven help me, what a mess!  Then we needed to take the remaining elders back to their apartment, pick up their luggage, and get them a taxi to Uvira.  They are the last of the elders in Bujumbura.  We found the main road was blocked by police so we drove over the center median and turned to go back the way we had come.  About that time, we were passing the US Embassy, and suddenly all of the students who have been staying out front surged into the street, cheering and jumping, arms in the air.  We stopped to find out what was going on, and they told us ,"Coup d'etat!"  We were excited to hear that and cheered and pumped fists with them. Gary honked the horn in celebration.  This day had gone from one of anxiety and uncertainty to one of joy!

     We were thrilled and celebrated with the people with thumbs up and clapping and honking as we went.  It was like a huge weight had been lifted.  All we could see was things getting back to normal.  We were at the Van's and could hear people in every direction celebrating, singing, whooping , blowing whistles.  Then we got a phone call from the mission president.  He called to say that the Southeast area presidency had decided they wanted us out of Burundi as soon as possible.  (Where was this phone call for the last 3 weeks?)  Anyway, they had intel that suggested there may be violence following the coup, so they wanted us out as soon as we could go.

     We took the missionaries back to their apartment to pick up their clothes and then drove them to where they could pick up a taxi for Uvira.  All along the way people were in the streets singing and shouting, waving tree branches, giving us thumbs up as we passed.

We hurried home to pack everything we own for the trip out.  They say if things are peaceful in Bujumbura, we will return soon.

Just found out the International Airport is closed, as are the borders.  All flights are cancelled as of this moment.  There is a security company who is supposed to drive us to the airport.  They have suggested we get out of our neighborhood, get over the river and wait in a hotel until we can make the flight.  We are supposed to leave tomorrow at 3:10pm.  My first coup---don't know quite what to expect!