Even the most unwelcome detour can have its bright moments. On Sunday, I agreed to what I thought was going to be a short drive to Burbera village, a mountain enclave in an area that saw intense fighting during Burundi’s 12-year civil war. I was told there are still visible signs of warfare, including homes yet to be rebuilt — the owners may have fled and had no money to rebuild when they returned.
But what I wasn’t told was to get there, it’s a bone-jarring hour’s drive (though only 12 kilometers) off the main road into the mountains on rough tracks. In our packed schedule, this was time that would have been better spent elsewhere. But, like everywhere in Burundi, we were greeted with so many smiles and warmth that it melted away any frustrations of the journey.
It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security here as you are greeted with such a welcome, but there is danger lurking in many places in this country, still grappling with racial and political violence, which most often shows its face at night.
As we drove around the switchbacks, dodging potholes and washouts, men on bicycles would shout out “iron sheets,” asking for corrugated metal roofing materials, the hottest commodity in this rain-soaked and desperately poor country.
In between video shoots, I snapped a few photos of the folks who had gathered to see why the foreigners in the 4x4s had come here. It was just after Sunday church services, so many were wearing their best clothing.
One thing you notice in many parts of Africa is the logos on t-shirts and hats. The donated clothes, which get shipped by the container load to this continent, often mean people who don’t read English can be unaware of the message their shirts exclaim.
Notice the woman here wearing a Spice Girls shirt.
Eminem is another popular figure on shirts here, though some of the young people I saw wearing them may have a clue of who that is and they could very well be fans.
Shirt vendors at major sporting events like the Super Bowl or a down-to-the-wire World Series will hedge their bets by having shirts printed for both teams, so they can be sure to have merchandise of the winning team for excited fans to buy immediately after the game. Though they’re officially supposed to destroy any merchandise for the losing team, that doesn’t always happen, and the shirts are often shipped off to the poorer areas of the world. So it’s not a surprise to see someone in deepest Africa or Asia wearing a shirt that calls a losing team “world champions.” It’s a kind of bizarro world where most of the teams I’ve rooted for in my life would be much happier.
But, sometimes the messages on shirts can make you do a double take (like I do whenever I see someone wearing an French Connection UK shirt in any part of the world). In another area of Burundi, I saw a woman on the roadside wearing a shirt with the superman “S” insignia… but below the symbol were the words “Super Bitch.” I know she had no idea what she was wearing, and I doubt the woman, who spends much of her day toiling in the fields, has much time to bitch.
Though have to think — in the humbling perspective that a place like Africa provides — the woman most likely has a lot more to bitch about than the original owner of the shirt.