By MRG

Have you heard the funny skit where a Burundian is talking about how he converted to Christianity?  He talks with the typical Burundian accent in French, saying how the part in the Bible about miracle in Cana was what got him converted. The skit is just HILARIOUS! I just uploaded it on youtube, if you want to check it out.

If you haven’t heard it yet, don’t worry I will tell you the part that inspired this little piece. When talking about when he learned about Jesus multiplying bread and fish to feed the masses he says “ Je me suis dis ça ce n’est pas dans la coutume Burundaise kuko ibintu vyo kuja ngaho mukarira mugahinga muri ibihumbi n’ibihumbagiza c’etait un peu bizarre comme coutume ”. I heard that and was like YES!!! Right on point!! Ce n’est pas la coutume Burundaise (it is not Burundian custom).

See I consider myself a third culture kid (TCK): a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Born in Burundi of Burundian parents, raised in Ethiopia and a nomad since I turned 18, I am very culturally confused. So bare with me as I try to make sense of a lot of things that are either obvious or irrelevant to many. Today I will share with you my frustration with the apparent problem of Burundians with eating!

OK, back to my skit anecdote. As a kid I heard different references to food I found confusing. My dad once talked about this old guy in his native hill. He described him as incredibly wise and said no one, including the man’s children, had ever seen him eat. I really don’t get how never being seen eating is a sign of wisdom 0_o. Worse, once we had a guest over for dinner, and he was about to say thank you for the food. Quickly my dad laughed saying “ehe agira ashime indya” (“he is about to thank us for food”). Hmm so it’s rude to say thank you for food?  A couple years ago I remember driving one of my aunts in Buja and she was hungry, yet refused to eat igitumbura (donut) in the car out of fear that abantu bomugaya (people would despise her). Ok, why would anyone despise her for eating a little donut in a car! Anyhow, I thought I had a weird family with an unusual relationship with food and didn’t connect those little awkward moments. But one day I read somewhere: “in my culture drinking is public, eating is private”, I realized this must be a cultural thing; they can’t be the only food haters!

That quote was so on point! Have you noticed that it is very uncommon to find food sold on the streets in Burundi? Cities like Addis Abeba, Arusha and Yaounde don’t have much in common, but in all those cities I bought grilled corn on the street, especially during the rainy season. I know Burundians eat grilled corn, but I never saw it being sold on the street.  Also in many cases, if a family is visiting another in Buja, if it is time for lunch or dinner, and they did not specifically invite them for food, they will often serve all the kids food, while their parents keep enjoying drinks n’ikiyago (talks). If we even just look at our language, I can think of four words to say the verb to eat, each one being more vulgar than the other: kwihereza, gufungura, kurya, guswaga. This is a sign that there is some sort of hierarchy in just eating in Burundi. Isn’t there a saying like:  “abantu barafungura, ibikoko birarya” or something of that kind?

But I think the biggest and most obvious sign that Burundians don’t really like sharing food in public is that food is not served at weddings- except muslims maybe-! I mean nowhere in the World do you go to a wedding and not get food! Really! People tell me it is because we are poor and we have about 500 guests at a wedding, but I bet you even in the poorest most arid countries on the planet, they serve food at weddings. We just don’t like eating turi ibuhumbi n’ibihumbagiza (when we are thousands of people) or when we are not with people we are close to.

Personally, I am a self-declared foodie. I love food, enjoy every second of every bite. I buy food off the streets, and think it is part of the charms of city life. In Ethiopia, where I grew up, when people like each other they feed each other – baratamikana– famously called “gurshas”. That is how intimate sharing food gets. When Ethiopians are eating, they will offer to share saying: “ene bla” which literally means “let us eat”. They will do so even if you are a stranger. In most North American cities, you can find food trucks, free food is the greatest attraction for any campus event, companies offer breakfast to staff doing more than usual over-time. People eat freely, and I do as in Rome. Needless to say, when it comes to food, I think I relate more to Ethiopian way of eating together, the North American way of eating anywhere, than the Burundian way of eating privately.

So dear Burundian brethren, I ask, can we eat already?

MRG currently lives in Toronto, Canada