Kirundo, Burundi, July 31
I’m 47 years old, and the last time I was in sub-Saharan Africa I was about 26. I’ve realized here what a difference that makes.
It’s not a physical difference. I’m keeping healthy (knock on wood) and I’m feeling energetic and strong. It’s more a mental difference. In my 20’s, traveling in Europe and Africa, I was willing to undergo all sorts of discomforts: cold showers, sleeping in train stations, bunking down in hostels with 20 strangers to a room, wearing the same clothes for days on end, travelling in smelly, creaky, very over-packed buses with no toilet, never mind air conditioning.
Somehow, now, I don’t take any of that as an adventure anymore. A cold shower is just miserable. Wearing the same clothes for days is just off-putting. Travelling in over-packed buses is just dangerous. And all that’s changed is me. I like a warm shower, clean clothes and comfortable travel.
Yes, I realize this isn’t really about age; it’s about being used to a certain level of comfort. And being here, where people are so poor, makes me appreciate how much I have, and how much I’ve been taking it all for granted.
However, knowing that, knowing that I’ve been taking my comforts for granted, knowing how many other people never get such luxuries, doesn’t make me want to give them up or even cut back. I still want them – a warm bath, my own bed with only Albert there, comfortable travel, and so on.
We’re staying in a hotel up on a hill overlooking the town of Kirundo. Apparently it’s the best hotel in town, though, of course, it doesn’t live up to western standards. I have a toilet that flushes. I have electricity, though it went out the first night we were here. I have running water, except this morning when the hotel’s water tank was empty. There’s warm water in the sink, but not in the shower, so I’ve been washing my hair in the sink because I can’t face a cold shower. The bed is comfortable, though the mosquito net over it has a big hole right over my head. We have a van at our disposal to take us all to and from the school where we’re working, though, to Stephanie’s chagrin, we’ve been insisting on walking back every afternoon.
I’m living in a level of comfort that most Burundians will never know, yet, to be honest, I don’t like it. It bugs me that there’s no light next to the bed, so if I want to read I have to use a flashlight. I hate sponge bathing in the sink. My room is big and empty and barren, which I find depressing.
I know that I have no right to complain, and I’m very glad that I came here for all sorts of reasons, but at the same time I’m uncomfortably aware of my own feelings of dislike and discomfort. I guess that’s how this all links to my age: at 47, I’m simply less flexible than I used to be and my bleeding-heart liberal world view doesn’t seem to be enough to outweigh that.