By Karl-Chris Nsabiyumva
Photo by Rosalie Colfs

He moved to Bujumbura about two years ago. It was his first time here. He had succeeded the national Exam and had been admitted to the University of Burundi to study Economics. He had wanted to study Mathematics, but what could he do… appeal? It’s sometimes better to take what you’re given instead of risking to lose it all, he says.

I used to believe that this country is so small that everybody had to have at least one relative or a close friend in the city. Patrick doesn’t have any… or at least he didn’t when he first arrived.
This just reminded me of an old lady I crossed paths with upcountry a few months ago, and who told me she hadn’t seen her two sons for seven years, when they left for the capital in search for work. I couldn’t believe how two people could just “disappear” in a country as small as ours… Well, these days, even planes dissappear. How have they not ran into at least one village acquaintance who would go back and tell their mother that her boys are doing fine… Are they still alive?! Or how, after seven years, haven’t they been able to afford a trip back home… are the tickets too expensive?!
Anyway, back to Patrick…

The first thing Patrick had to do when he set foot in Bujumbura was to find a place to stay. If you’re not quite familiar with how things work in Burundi, you’re probably wondering if the University doesn’t have accommodation facilities. Well, it does, but first year students aren’t entitled to it – I’ve always wondered the reasoning behind this practice… I would be grateful if somebody would care to explain.

Now Patrick doesn’t come from a wealthy family. His mother, a widow who can barely read and write, has been taking care of her family with the income she gets from selling some of the harvest from the family property. Patrick is the eldest of her five children, and he is the first in his family to complete secondary education. His mother had to sell a piece of their land to make sure he would have enough money to survive his first few months in the big city.

Patrick’s survival plan included renting a small room in Kinama and sharing it with four former schoolmates who had also moved to Bujumbura for University. However, by the end of month three, after moving to the city, money was starting to run out, and the government grant was barely enough to cover his needs… So he had to review his survival strategy.

He applied for a job as a security guard at a private security company, and he requested to do night shifts: that way he would have a place to stay during the night, after school. This meant that he didn’t need a place to stay anymore. The best part, this extra income allowed him to send some money home to contribute towards the education of his younger brother and sisters. During the holidays, Patrick sought for a daytime job and that’s how we met… and that’s how I learnt the real definition of a hustler.

He isn’t your typical “poor Burundian” mind you… Many families still can’t afford to send their kids to primary school which is supposed to be free – those who claim it is tend to forget that parents have to purchase uniforms, copybooks and pens, which aren’t free – let alone paid secondary school.

Patrick is a smart hardworking chap… Very different from the “lazy Burundian” I’ve often heard people talk about, the one from whom it’s best to put something in a book if you want to hide from him. Although sometimes it seems like he’s pessimistic about the future and uncertain that anything good can result from his efforts, Patrick keeps working. Sometimes the quality of his work may be questionable, but isn’t that normal from a guy who has two jobs – including a night one – and studies? I mean, imagine he were posted at your house and you caught him sleeping at night instead of guarding. Would you (kindly) make an effort to understand why he fell asleep or would you just call him incompetent and lazy, and have him replaced the next morning? #QuestionToMeditate

I’m not trying to justify unprofessional behaviours here; I’m just calling for consideration for the hustlers out there. It’s not their fault that some systems are messed up, or that they weren’t born privileged. I’m calling for consideration for all Barundi… people who actually hate corruption and division, but will not hesitate to do “whatever it takes” (even if it’s paying a little bribe) to make sure their children have food on their plates and roofs to sleep under… I know this is a bit out of context, but isn’t it hustling too? Fortunately, there are people out there like Patrick who try to do the right thing.

Karl-Chris currently lives and works in Bujumbura. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter: @Mr_Burundi

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