… A woman

Aaah- Dating à la Burundaise. The experiences may be different but seem to generally follow some common threads… Unwritten rules in sometimes uncharted territory or treacherous waters if not carefully navigated.

Compared to Western or even some other African societies, Burundians can appear quite conservative and discreet in their dating rituals. There is lot of underground activity but we’re not an “In Your Face” type of people. On the surface, there is quiet and serenity but dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that we have our own fierce intensity, our own quirks, cliques and groups, generally recognizable only by fellow Burundians.

In a society where everyone knows everyone, freedom to do as you please is rather restricted. Mistakes (real or imagined) are forgiven but rarely forgotten as they are usually laid bare for all to dissect and discuss. Not that we don’t try to keep those mistakes secret (and I’m sure each and every one of you has at least one secret you’ll take to your grave), but it’s hard to bury things in such a tight knit community.

Sometimes, I wonder if our parents just had it easier. For those who had a chance to go to school, they probably met in their first or second year of university, courted then got married… Seemed like no fuss. Rare were the girls who had had more than 1 or 2 “boyfriends” before getting married – as usual, boys had a bit more leeway.  I often believe that they did not have as much drama as we see people of our generation have in terms of dating – our parents are after all, oh wise and sensible. Maybe because they lived in a stricter and more conservative era, it limited the amount of hand-wringing, twisting and turning our young people seem to go through when trying to find a partner these days? Maybe…  I would ask the parents, but they’d probably slap the nosy out of me.

People of my generation mostly enjoy more freedom than their parents did. They usually start “dating” in early high school. They also tend to move and remain in the same circles so it’s not uncommon to find people who have dated pretty much everyone in their circle (I have never understood how two/three best friends can end up dating the same person in the span of 4 years and all stay cheerfully friends, but I guess it’s just me). They can be a little incestuous, these dating games. You grow up together, you are next-door neighbors, you go to school together, you date them and then you marry them (or their friend).

When listening to conversations, it seems like who someone is ‘currently dating’ is used a lot to identify them; right after their parents/siblings or where they’re from. (Single people, doncha worry; people just go back to your dating history, your exes or almost exes – even if they’ve never met them or you).

Singles are put into categories (the players, the pretty but shy ones, the scandalous ones, the serious ones, etc…) and rumors spread faster than a forest blaze. It’s pretty common to tease someone about their supposed “love du jour” to their own very apparent surprise and confusion. No, they assure you, they are certainly not with the person people are saying they’re with and say what now?? It’s quite amusing. I hear gossip as much as the next person but sometimes, after listening to a particularly fantastic (as in: insane) story, I’m left thinking in the back of my mind: “How the HELL do you know this?? The story you just told me is pretty much embarrassing for everyone involved and since they most likely would not want to divulge it – how you know? Were you in the same room?”

But who am I kidding? Those are the best stories! 😉 I take most of those with a grain of salt but, in a world where reputation and perception are highly prized and protectively guarded, it’s kinda fun to live vicariously through those who dare to break the rules.  Jealousy, infidelity, passion, oh – we have it all… but again, it’s a quiet fire, rarely a raging inferno. Making a scene is usually bad form for our stoic Burundians.

Ah, and our couples. We love our couples. We have those everyone knew they’d end up together since they were in diapers; those who have been together 6 times and broken up like 8; those who surprised the heck out of everyone when they started dating (Wait… Urya?! With her?!); those who married when they were young ; those who are together but everyone wonders how/why it lasts; those who should be together, but somehow never worked out etc… It’s a fascinating exercise of human behavior and keen observation, dating à la Burundaise.

Now, my generation is getting married left and right. It’s quite interesting to watch. There are some that I never thought would get married before their family and friends staged an intervention, and those who I thought for sure would have been married by now.  But at least, I’ve never attended a wedding where the couples didn’t look absolutely thrilled to be married. The cynic in me finds joy in that.

But all in all, what I guess what I just described happens everywhere there are people, young and old, dancing to the capricious tune called love/lust. It’s universal and has always stood the test of time. Dating chez nous is still what dating is everywhere else. We don’t love more or less than others. We play our games but the fact that we are very much a communal people (still, with a strong sense of privacy) usually means that people generally don’t stray too far in the extremes. The dating scene is complicatedly mild, with tastes of spicy and sprinkles of fiery.

I find it highly entertaining.

(Photo by Mohamed Ndayishimiye)