Broken-Down Burundi

Burundi, today I turned my face away from you.

Every word I heard sounded like a rumor, not a fact. My head ached as it spun in a sea of unconfirmed reports from a multi-lingual press corps. And glad tidings were nowhere to be found.

So I stopped hunting for hope amid 140 cryptic characters, stopped scanning news outlets…

I just stopped.

I looked elsewhere or maybe nowhere at all, but certainly not in your direction. Not today.


Burundi, today I turned my face away from you.

It wasn’t so yesterday or the days before when my eyes fixed with great hope on your happenings.

Mighty women defied a no-protest order on Mother’s Day, deciding Sunday was a good day to pray with their feet.

Numbering more than a thousand, women returned to the streets only days later. Hutu, Tutsi and Batwa they walked. Catholic, Protestant and Muslim they walked. Women from the rich hillside neighborhoods and from the scarred slums below all walked.

Even when police confronted them, they refused to yield. Tear gas hurled at them and still they stood amid the white smoke, enduring stinging eyes for a greater kind of peace.

And protesters took to the streets on the other days, too. Young men wanting a better economic future and older men wanting to see political promises kept – to see their dreams for you realized in their lifetime, if possible. They flooded streets to say freedom is what they want.

The silence broke. The streets came alive. The street spoke.

I marveled at your strength, Burundi.


Burundi, today I turned my face from you.

No more images of bloodied bodies, burned out buildings or enraged faces staring down the barrel of a camera lens. That’s not how I want to think of you.

My father called you broken-down Burundi once, when you were in the clutches of your civil war. Every part of you bent with brokenness, unable to fully function and all he could do was name what he saw.


I see you differently when I rummage through my own memories of you.

I see your rolling hills layered as far as the eye can see with winding roads like red ribbons weaving in and out stitching the terrain together. And row upon row of tea plants exploding with green flames.

I see Batwa women dancing barefoot, tirelessly gyrating with such verve yet a kind of grace, too. I see the elegance of the traditional dances with elongated movements and flowing skirts moving like the poised patterns of ripples on Lake Tanganyika.

I hear the sky crack open above me as your athletic drummers pound in tight rhythms. It is your heartbeat they play – and why I can’t help but dance despite my clumsily whiteness.

I hear the bird chorus every morning out my window – your good will ambassadors wooing me out of bed and into your sun-drenched day. Their song is never melancholy, which incessantly surprises me.

I hear the call to prayer, the one that slithers through the dark hour of day and beckons me to pray. You might be surprised to learn that I love this sound too, but I do. Before I even open my eyes your imams remind me to praise God and give this day to none other.

I remember you as the one always offering bouquets of bright flowers and walls draped with bougainvilleas in white, orange and every shade of pink.

The one who hosts hippos on the lake’s edge, mythic crocodiles like Gustav and even harbors bats in unsuspecting trees.

I remember your sweet pineapple and blushing mango, rich avocados (perfect for afternoon sandwiches, by the way) and bakeries boasting of the perfect pane chocolate.

Your high country yields the world’s most coveted coffee beans. You really are a wonder to behold.

You’ve become my home away from home. You are the land where my husband is the fullest version of himself. You’ve given me my children who carry your dna in them wherever they go.

So it pains me to see you broken down, Burundi, because broken isn’t how I know you at all.


Burundi, today I turned my face from you.

It hurt too much to hear the blow by blow as he beat the life out of you. Hurt too much to see you return to him, as if you didn’t know better or deserve more.

I couldn’t understand why you’d choose this. Or why you wouldn’t be rescued from this.

I began to see your brokenness, and it broke something in me, too. My own sadness and disappointment told me something secret – that I really do love you more than I let on. And your demise somehow feels like my own – ubuntu works that way.

But for tonight I will close my eyes and not scan the horizon for your coming, not look for the messenger leaping with good news down your lush green slopes.


(But, Burundi, there are fresh mercies every morning. For both of us, I hope.)






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9 thoughts on “Broken-Down Burundi”

  1. Sean
     ·  Reply

    May Burundi’s history not be their prison. May a broken-down spirit not become despair. May this country’s story still be unfolding and may peacemakers regain courage. Prayers and thoughts with you, Nikondehas, and all the people, military included, of Burundi.

  2. Idelette
     ·  Reply

    I lament with you … I do not see Burundi as broken down either. She has been a gracious hostess. She has returned me to myself through her beautiful people. She has awakened so much in me.

  3. Christie
     ·  Reply

    You confront the sadness and violence with such beautiful images… I am grateful for this reninder; all the details to hold in prayer for her. Thank you for your bravery to do this: to keep writing hope in the midst of lament.

  4. lisha epperson
     ·  Reply

    Before adopting, I’d never heard of this place. Now, it is the home of my sons people. Knowing has been a knowing of pain. It’s been hard. Believing adoption to be the call to a broader scope of love, connecting me in spirit to a people, a culture, a heart – in the deepest sense I am linked of soul. Forever. Burundi is heart breaking. I weep with you.

  5. Laura Shook
     ·  Reply

    Your description of Burundi is the same one I know. I am praying for your heart, your family, and our Burundi today. Love you.

  6. Jen Wells
     ·  Reply

    I’m hurting with you and for you, and for your husband and your son and his beautiful country and people. Praying with you today for miraculous changes and peace.

  7. Diana Trautwein
     ·  Reply

    Oh, this makes me weep inside. I am so very sorry, Kelley, for all the confusion, pain and loss of this season. Praying for you, for Burundi, most especially for Claude and your fine son.

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