Thursday, November 27, 2008

The tour...

Since the chances of hosting any of our dear loved ones from the States is slim (though we'd love to have you!) we thought we could give you the virtual tour of our home. Jim and I live with two other ladies (the same age as us) - Wendy and Jillian. They live upstairs and we live downstairs but the open spaces are communal.
This is the front of our house...
...and the side yard pretending to be a jungle...
...and the downstairs porch...
...I decorated the living room myself...well, let's say I rearranged the furniture and planted a few plants...which I noticed our guard/gardener already replaced because they died...
...and the dining room with Jim in it. (I forgot to photograph our bedroom. It is just a large room with a bed and a bed-net and lots of closet space... And the occasional mass invasion of a biblical plague of grasshoppers.)
Moving on to the upstairs, we have the best feature of the house -the balcony. We spend many hours on both sunny days and in amazing rainstorms sitting here, reading, praying, typing. It's an incredible view, with Lake Tanganyika on the horizon hedged in by Congo.
And finally, here is a view of our gate and driveway from the upstairs porch.
I'd like to also introduce you to Selius, who works with us full-time as a gardener/landscaper by day and a guard by night. (He goes home each weekend). He is kind enough to put up with my Kirundi as well, since neither he nor I speak French and he doesn't speak English.
This is Emmanuel, who is a great cook and keeps us well fed! We had a great time cooking together for Thanksgiving yesterday. (Though he doubted my measuring skills once or twice since we don't have measuring cups of any sort.) But he stuck with me and it all came out great!

This is our cat Kumusi. He came with the house. He is very little but we do feed him, I promise!

As a final stop on the tour I'd like you to meet our friends. We like to refer to them as the 'creepy Burundi statues.' As you can see, we get a lot of mileage out of them during social events at our house...

(we are 'American Gothic,' the painting - get it?)

Our friends - Meg and Isaac:

There's a spare bedroom upstairs if anyone wants to come for a visit!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Update Letter - Winter 2008

Friends –

Hello again from Bujumbura! The snow and frost have come for you, our friends and family in the West, but we continue to be showered with sunshine and African rains here in Burundi. Alas, we won’t see snow again until nearly 2010! I’m sure you’re probably planning your holiday gatherings: who’s going to cook the turkey (we’re going without that this year as well!), when to build the first fire of the year in the fireplace (if you haven’t already), what to buy for that special someone (may I suggest some fine Burundian coffee beans from your nearest Starbucks?). We’re also preparing for the holidays here in Africa, and thought it appropriate to send you our season’s greetings along with an update of the latest news and events in our tribe. If you haven’t been keeping up, our blog has lots of stories and pictures to bring you up to speed.

HOME: We recently moved into a new house in a neighborhood called Kibenga, just south of the neighborhood where we formerly dwelt, at the end of a long, bumpy dirt road and 50 meters from a primary school. The house we lived in before is a guest house, and we were always meant to find housing of our own. We are living with Wendy and Jillian, friends of ours from World Relief. They live in the upper floor of the house, and we live in the ground floor. We live quite communally, but it’s nice to have a place where you can retire for a little privacy. The hallmark of the house is the upstairs balcony, which gives a beautiful view of Lake Tanganyika and the Congolese mountains, and is lovely while reading a book during a mid-afternoon rainstorm. We’re working out hiring new house staff and learning how to get around in this new context, as we’re living without a safety net, so to speak. But we really enjoy the new place, and it’s fun playing peek-a-boo with the curious young faces that peek out of the school’s gate each morning.

WORK: Karri is working hard at finishing both her graduate work and a five-year business plan for Turame, the microfinance institution where she is serving. (See story below) She’ll be finished with her classwork in December, becoming Karri DeSelm, MBA. And not a moment too soon, as her desk is quickly piling up with new tasks and responsibilities, shuffled into place by a Turame staff that is already convinced of her irreplaceable qualities. Jim is continuing to work with Church Mobilization at World Relief, and has been able to preach and worship with the staff here in Bujumbura, as well as upcountry in Nyanza Lac and Gitega. He continues to write music and has found a new joy in keeping the blog lively and interesting for you, the humble reader.

CHURCH: We continue to grow connected to our church here, PTI, and have begun to feel like a ‘regular member’ rather than a guest. We marvel each week at the diversity of attendees – Burundian, American, Scottish, British, Canadian, and many other Africans from across the content whose lines have crossed in Bujumbura. Pastor Emmanuel only grows dearer to use as we interact with him and he shares his passion and vision for training up young pastors in Biblically sound theology and shaking loose some of the ‘religious dogma’ which plagues denominations here and creates division, rather than unity, within the Church. In Burundi’s church, denominational, and ethnic context, it is a daunting task but one he continues to ‘suffer’ with great joy.

PRAYER: Our hearts are still constantly with you all at home and we grieve and rejoice with you as we hear stories of what is going on in your own lives. Thank you for all the prayers; we know they continue daily. All of the prayers for possible challenges of living here have been answered faithfully by God. We ask that you pray for God to continue to open our eyes, seeing and engaging Burundi in the way that God sees it. We pray that we do not miss opportunities to form relationships and love others that God is putting before us. Please also pray for the Church here and its divine role in bringing about peace in Burundi and refusing to engage in continued power struggles and violence. Pray the Church will have the courage to take a lead in ensuring the 2010 elections are peaceful.

SUPPORT: As a final thought, our fundraising support still stands at only 50%. World Relief will continue to send us funds through the remainder of our internship despite our support raised, but we would be indebting ourselves to them once we return to the States. Because of this, we’re thinking and praying about the wisdom of returning home early and cutting our time here short in lieu of going into a good amount of debt. We deeply do not want to end this experience early, and are asking humbly for you, our friends and family, to consider supporting us once again. We know the holidays are upon you, and you’re making choices about gifts, parties, and charitable giving, and many of you have already given very generously.

So our proposal is this. We welcome your support if you have not supported us yet, and if you have done so and wish to do so again, we thank you very much. We’ve included at the bottom of this letter a link to a site where you can donate and a form you can print and mail. If, however, you are willing, we ask that you pass on this letter to someone else we know, someone who might be interested in supporting us this holiday season. Our contact list is only so long, and we’d love to increase awareness about Burundi and God’s work in it, along with our donor base. If you’re receiving this as an email, forward it! If you’re reading it as a blog, tell someone about it! Let’s bring the warmth of Africa into people’s hearts this winter, and keep the DeSelms in Burundi!

We miss you all, and cannot wait to worship with you again. May the God of peace enrich your season greatly with peace and dreams of peace. May you experience the love of a God who took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. And may you find new ways to take on the flesh of Christ himself, and incarnate His love, joy, justice, and mercy in the world around you. Let earth receive her King!

Grace and peace,

Jim and Karri DeSelm

I recently had the opportunity to have a long conversation with the Gitega (the central province) Branch Manager, Gerard, and also travel with him to visit community banking groups consisting of 30-45 members (90% women). In our conversation, Gerard shared the story of his life, how he came into development, and “fell in love with Burundians” – his own people – later in life and felt called to serve them through microfinance. His English seemed to miraculously improve as he told me with excitement of the banking group that had managed to save over $1,000 (a huge feat!) and of those coming to him with lists of potential members begging for Turame to bring services to their province. He told me about asking permission of each one of the community leaders in the new regions in which Turame hopes to expand, and of how permission was granted with enthusiasm at each request. He told me of the challenges urban dwelling Burundians face – high living costs and expenses – and of the challenges of encouraging women in their ability to adequately manage their business and take higher loans in order to expand and increase their profit. He told me of the many consequences of the long war on the people – loss of businesses, assets, and even cows who once provided free fertilizer to crops. Now people suffer to rebuild their lives. Farmers cannot afford the high expense of chemical fertilizer and are failing to produce a harvest that can sustain their families.

And then I saw hope – in the faces of women and men who continue to take Turame loans. After the meeting prayer and sharing of the ‘Word’ through translation clients told me of their increased income which allowed them to send all of their children to school, to feed them without problems, to pay back their loans with ease. They were making plans for their future, plans for their children. One widow told me her children would not be alive if Turame had not come because no one would loan her money. They were proud and had dignity and confidence. Isaiah 1:17 came to me in clarity: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” In a new and real way the work I am doing everyday in an office behind a computer connected with its true purpose. To seek justice, to restore dignity, to serve those in need, to worship and glorify God with my work - to see the Kingdom of God growing, unstoppably, throughout Burundi.



To SUPPORT US BY MAIL: (Click the image and print)

…And what a feast it was…

Outdoor Porch + Burundi + Mosquitoes + Shaved Legs (desensitized) + Laziness (to go retrieve bug spray) =

Unfortunately my choice, without thinking, to wear a skirt to work the next day equally horrified my colleagues, who decided I was sacrificing myself so that the rest of Burundi could be unbothered by mosquitoes for the evening, as it seems they all heard about where I live that night…

Don’t worry mom – they claim that malaria infected mosquitoes only do their blood sucking between the hours of 2 and 4 am. Lets just hope these mosquitoes weren’t on U.S. east coast time…

Friday, November 7, 2008

Open Letter To Mom - Part III

As far as daily life goes, we get up around 6 every day. It kinda blows my mind that we get up so early, but the sun sets at 6, so we’ve been going to bed pretty early. We get up and have breakfast, which usually looks like fruit salad, toast, and coffee. We’ve found a pretty good bean to use a local coffee shop, so our habit is still nursed here in Africa. Sometimes I knock up a tasty egg concoction with onions, peppers, and salsa. You just have to clean up quickly, or the ants will get breakfast as well.

We get picked up by our offices at between 7 and 8. Karri’s been keeping really busy with Turame. They’re giving her some human resources work, story writing, and other documentation, and Wendy shares some of her massive workload with Karri, also. I get to the office and have some quiet time, read, practice French, and prepare for whatever gathering I have to prepare for. Sometimes it’s a talk for the kids on Tuesday, sometimes it’s picking music for the team at PTI (our church), sometimes it’s translating Kirundi hymns for the staff devotionals here at the office. My boss, Sophonie, has been away quite a bit, so it was pretty slow starting off, with not a lot of direction. But now we’ve got a bit of momentum, and I’ve got a better sense of how I can serve here. I’m gonna put together a guitar workshop and take it to some of the upcountry locations, start working with the musicians here in Bujumbura, and help formulate a vision for the staff devotional time. I’ve had the sense that the more available I am, the more opportunities I will have, so I’m not really running around just to get busy. I think that would be a waste, and I’d end up doing a bunch of stuff that I can’t say no to when the things God really wants me to do come around. Now I think those things are starting to develop.

Lunches are always a highlight of our day. We sometimes go to a little cafĂ©, just the two of us. But most days, Isaac, Jillian, Wendy, Karri and I head over to this place just fifty meters (metric, you know!) from the World Relief office. It’s called (creatively, as are all shop names here in Burundi) “Coffee Shop.” This isn’t the coffee shop we buy our bean from. In fact, the “Coffee Shop’s” coffee isn’t all that great. Go figure. But their food is really good and really cheap. So we’ll get brochettes, (which are kebabs in french), omelettes, or croissants, and sit in the open air dining room, chatting about life, politics, work, and weird topics you wouldn’t think could occupy an entire conversation.

We head back to work, more of the same, meetings and study, and head home around 5 or 6. Sometimes, I head home a bit early and study or read at home. This is partly because I’m more comfortable there and partly because I like to be around for Enock in case he needs anything. SO I usually take a mototaxi, which is just a guy on a motorcycle that I flag down. They wear bright orange vests so you can tell the taxis from the regular Joes like Isaac who just own a motorcycle. I negotiate a price, which is necessary because, as a white man, I’m overcharged by over 100% initially. You’re expected to bargain, which means walking away sometimes. I’ve never actually walked away and had the driver just give up. He always drives up to me again and tries another price. I can get a ride for between 500 and 700 francs, which is between fifty to seventy-five cents. That’s still probably two to three hundred francs more than a Burundian would pay, but hey, I’m a muzungu! Then I hop on the back of his bike and hang on! It’s a great way to travel in the city if you’re alone, partly for the cost, and partly because you get a great breeze to cool you off. Karri opts for the Mutatu buses, which I mentioned in an earlier blog. That costs right around a quarter, and the price doesn’t change for us white folk, which is nice.

We get home and figure out our evenings doings, which normally involves some lovely meal from Enock and maybe a night out with friends. Sometimes Karri has homework to do, sometimes we just watch some movies, sometimes we walk over to a friend’s house house and chill there. It’s always different, but we’re normally in bed by 11 or 12. Then starts a new day! It’s the little things that make us love it here, though. It’s rain storms in the evening, or discovering a great new cultural event to participate in. It’s listening to Burundian drummers, or the trilling of birds that I’ve never heard before. It’s finding that one connection with someone who speaks a different language, that one wisecrack that passes through the cultural limbo and causes you both to guffaw in pleasure and approval. It’s being with the poor every day and wrestling with where we fit in the scope of the kingdom with them, being forced to decide if the banknote you’re about to pass will actually be a just a fish rather than a fishing pole, and whether that’s ok for today. It’s greetings with kisses, handshakes, half-hugs and whole hugs, learning new words in Kirundi and seeing delight in someone’s eyes when you make your feeble Western attempt to repeat. It’s eating real food, fish caught by fishermen in Nyanza Lac, beef raised by herders in Gitega, mangoes from our neighbor’s tree. It’s remembering that God can be in two places at once, moving with the sun from the church in Ruziba to the activity center in Fort Wayne.

So that’s life for the present in Bujumbura! We’re living a full life here, and know that Christ has seen fit to graft us into his body here. Still, we miss home, then smell of fallen leaves, the quick inhale of that November morning air that gives you a shiver, and that instinctive hum that comes out like a reflex when you hear those words, “How about a fire in the fireplace tonight?” Give all our love to the family, and know that our hearts are still with you, and you with us. Love you!!!


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Burundi Fun & Beauty

DRC Mountains from across Lake Tanganyika

Showing off... I can do that too...

Very high jumping...

Jim bringing the house down with his skills of ROCK

Burundian Drum Team

Karri teaching a thing or two about drumming

Jim introducing us at Enoch's rural church

Karri & Enoch in front of the bricks Enoch bought to build his future home


Amazing Moth!

David with jack-jack and Sam - the dogs we lived with at Trina and Seth Chase's home

Karri & David - one of the youth who is actually a twin... I think this is David...

Jim, Karri, Isaac, & Wendy celebrating Wendy's Quarter Century Birthday

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Power of Example

Today is the day – the historic US elections. I must say that it is quite a different experience planning to participate in my civic duty while in Burundi. We (Jim and I and American friends) made it to the US Embassy (across the street from my office…. But don’t try to take pictures – I’ve already been threatened by the security guards there keeping a watchful eye…) a few weeks ago to cast our absentee ballots. For me, this year has been quite unprecedented as I cast my first primary ballot ever in Philadelphia, attended two ‘Obama’ rallies to hear him speak (one of which I will never forget as we – the crowd – took over the streets of downtown Philly on foot), and finally cast my presidential vote while living in Burundi. I would say I have thoroughly fulfilled and enjoyed my ‘civic duties.’

This morning found Jim and I awake at 5:30am and out the door to our friends’ house. Brandon is Canadian and Duncan is British but still they agreed to host the mini-election party since our invitations to the Ambassador’s party never arrived. I could go on, noting the nose-almost-pressed-to-the-TV screen position I took up on the floor, the tears I couldn’t hold back during Obama’s acceptance speech… but that isn’t why I’m writing.

I wanted to mention the power of America’s example in the world – good or bad. And today it was the former. Not because the US elected Senator Barack Obama (okay, well, it was great for that reason too!) but because I have had a Tanzanian, a Kenyan, and multiple Burundians say to me today that the US is setting a wonderful example in the world regarding the democratic process. In the African Great Lakes and East Africa region it seems almost fictional to hold an election in which there is no ballot stealing, no threatening of voters, no riots – rather, a simple voluntary concession to the winning candidate. That is it, done deal. John McCain retires for rest to his Arizona cabin. No mobilizing supports to take over the streets, no assassinations. These are the contrasting pictures those around me are drawing.

As they have shared these thoughts with me my immediate reaction is to correct them, to remind them of the debacle of the 2000 elections, to explain the influence that corporate America has over the political system, but I don’t. And, in hindsight, I am glad. I am proud of America today and its ability to run a democratic election that ends with a speech about unity and solidarity, rather than violence. I am proud to know that my vote counted in this election (given my extreme confidence in our US postal system and the Burundian US Embassy…). We must be aware that as the US, we are always setting an example – whether good of bad. Today it is a good example that is likely to have ripples of influence far beyond what we may ever know.

Burundi is facing an election in 2010 – and by ‘facing’ I mean approaching an event that brings apprehension and fear into the hearts of the country’s citizen, who hope and pray for peace but find such ideals have a marred track record in Burundi. But the Burundians around me are discussing a new hope in the example they see in America. It can be done. And it can be historic – just as our election is today. Wounds can be healed and new faces can replace the old.

As Christians we understand hope – we know the author of hope. And as the Church – worldwide – we must share that hope of peace, of resurrection, of renewal, of transformation, with a world peering desperately into the darkness for a light. The Church is still the Body of Christ, the light in the world. No politician can ever fill this role. But as the Church we must play a positive role – the role of the peacemaker – demonstrating the values of the Kingdom of God. I believe there is a large role for ‘the peacemaker’ in the realm of politics. May we, I, step forward with courage, and follow Christ, the Prince of Peace, even into the depths of political turmoil.

“And I knew that as they were sitting in, they [the students doing sit-ins in the South] were really standing up for the best in the American dream and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy, which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.” – MLK; “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” – 3 April 1968

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Open Letter To Mom - Part II

The expats we’ve been hanging out with have been strewn throughout the blog, but here’s a rundown of some of our closest friends:

Wendy – Wendy works for World Relief in Baltimore and gets sent out from time to time to help with different organizations like Turame. She’ll be here for about the same time we will, and we really love hanging out with her. She works extremely hard, and occasionally finds time for a game of Phase 10 with her friends.

Isaac – Isaac was on the plane with Karri and me from Brussels. He’s an MK who grew up in Mozambique and just graduated from Virginia Tech. We tease him mercilessly for being young and being single and being perky, but he’s actually extremely smart and well-traveled. Whenever we have questions about international affairs or travel, he’s quickest to chime in with his experience. He’s a joy to be around, even though Karri threatens him with physical violence every once in a while.

Jillian – Jillian is here for two years as the Church Partnership coordinator here in Burundi. She came from a ministry in urban Washington DC, running an after-school homework help and alternative recreational center for the youth of the neighborhood. She’s got a big heart for those kids. She’s also a fiery personality and a straight shooter. She’ll set you straight if you’re off the map, and she’ll love you while she’s doing it.

Brandon – A Canadian who loves waking up in the morning, putting on classical music, and drinking a good cup of coffee. When we hang out with Brandon, we’re either going to a great restaurant, normally a place called Ubuntu which has the best pizza in the country, or hanging out at his place watching Planet Earth, a nature-type series by the BBC. But whatever the activity, it usually also involves listening to his music collection (he has impeccable taste) and talking about the stuff we love to talk about: world politics, environmentalism and development, emergent Christianity, art, just brilliant, brilliant stuff.

Duncan – Hailing from the UK, Duncan is one of the few people who speaks faster than my wife. He splits his time between Bujumbura and his place upcountry, working in agriculture development. Duncan is very easy to be around, loves the Lord, and is quick with an anecdote.

Adam - A terrific guitarist from Liverpool who works for a Belgian organization that de-mines African countries. Burundi is pretty mine-free right now, so they’re focusing on collecting and dismantling small arms. He and I like to grab a drink at Circle Nautique, a club owned by a Frenchman named Jean Luc, after rehearsing with our musical ensemble. Adam is dating…

Martina – A singer from Italy and photographer for the UN. Martina has one of those voices that works so well on French torch songs, with that thin tremolo of a vibrato and crooning style with long, arcing approaches to notes. Karri says she reminds her of the main character from the movie “Chocolat”, a free spirit with a zest for life and all things beautiful. She’s also passionate about cheese.

Fabien and Jenny – Fabien is a Frenchman and a great guy, who plays and sings in the band occasionally. He’s what Adam refers to as a “mutterer,” meaning his French is so French, it’s nearly indecipherable, but he’s a lot of fun to hang out with. He’s dating Jenny, a South African, who works for Accord, a mediation and conflict resolution organization. Karri has had a great time chatting with Jenny, and they have a lot in common.

Matt and Daniella – Matt’s from Kansas and works at the Embassy. You can tell he really loves life, and volleyball might be his favorite part of life. The story goes that he had pined for Daniella, an Italian girl who works for the UN, for months, and she finally noticed him. Now they spend as much time together as they can.

We also frequently run into Christy, Suzie, Meg, Tomas, Fred, Estelle, Maria, Mohammed, Steve, Andres, a veritable United Nations of friends, and I'm sure I'm leaving people out. We hang out at the beach, catch dinners, spend evenings sitting around eating good food and playing music. It's a real joy to be around such a diverse and interesting community.

-To Be Concluded!-