It all started as an experiment…

I had been blogging for about two years, writing about some of my highs and lows, critisising some aspects of the society I live in, and sharing these tales with my family and friends through my personal blog Mister Burundi/Ramblings of a Third World Elite. The one thing I had learnt from this experience was that it would be hard to get Burundians to write about their personal lives and opinions (that weren’t about politics). Our reserved nature doesn’t allow us to open ourselves up to people so easily, let alone to the unknown and not so friendly World! In fact, many people who had read my stories had asked me why I blogged and how I could “put so much of myself out there”…

On the other hand, I had gotten positive feedback from other followers of my blog. I had also received requests from two or three people to publish their texts on my blog. I couldn’t say no because I loved the idea of sharing other peoples’ stories, but then again my blog was MY blog: I didn’t see how to integrate their stories in mine. But still, I wanted to share their stories, especially since I had begun feeling like a fraud, calling myself Mister Burundi online, but knowing very well that my ramblings were far from reflecting the life of an average Burundian. I wasn’t going to deny my Burundianess, but really, if the world was going to learn about Burundi through stories, more people, from different backgrounds of life, would have to start writing!

*The light bulb moment*

It was a Sunday night. As I already had a wordpress account, it didn’t take me more than an hour to setup the blog, design and layout included. I took some of the stories I had posted on Mister Burundi and pasted them here. I started contacting some people whom I knew could write, telling them about the project and asking them to share their texts. If this was going to work like I wanted it to, it needed stories by different authors. Active bloggers were my plan A, as they were already in “the circuit”… “This Burundian Life” would really just be an aggregate of stories we published on our personal blogs. Luckily, most of the bloggers I contacted liked the idea and accepted to work with me, so I started collecting some of their good stories to populate the blog before launching it “officially”…

*… and then something happened*

Mr. Charles Onyango-Obbo from the East African published his infamous “Why Burundi needs a sex scandal to be noticed”. The article didn’t please many (myself included) and I felt compelled to react. I wrote a piece and so did Ketty (who had expressed enthusiasm about the TBL project). We posted our texts on the blog, on the 26th of June 2013, and TBL went live. I wasn’t really ready but the Onyango-Obbo saga had me review my plans and rush things. A good thing!
Our responses drove incredible traffic to the blog (Ketty’s article is still the most read article to this day) but best of all, Onyango-Obbo’s article highlighted the necessity that Burundians needed to tell their own stories. I hadn’t asked for it, but this was the free publicity I needed!

For the first few weeks, This Burundian Life was just me and two or three fellow bloggers writing. We had material and the feedback was good so I wasn’t complaining. Then we got some of our friends to write… I also allowed anonymous and pseudo submissions, so that those who weren’t yet comfortable with putting their names to their opinions and stories could write. The Facebook page helped a great deal, as it made it easy to share the stories… And then things just happened… Here we are today, 365 days later, with 123 stories published, written by 42 authors and read over 93,000 times… way way more than we could have expected!

A few months ago, a friend of mine who runs a popular Facebook page congratulated me saying that I should be happy about the popularity of our page, considering that we don’t do news, photography, “celebrity” gossip or jokes. That was back when the page only had 500 likes and the same number of subscribers to the blog. Today, the number of Facebook likes has doubled and currently more than 2000 readers, from all over the World, are subscribed to our blog… Now if that isn’t an achievement! And I didn’t manage all this alone!

This project has only been successful because some excellent writers shared their talent with us, because people dared to tell their stories and express their opinions, because readers appreciated and shared the stories!… But behind all that, because of the ideas that contributed to make this adventure fun, engaging and worthy of the attention it has gathered. These ideas came from Millie, Rachel, Alain and Judicaël, the awesome team without which I would probably still be posting stories randomly and without any order. They are the ones behind many brilliant ideas like the #myBurundianDream and #ikosaSiRwaboGusa hashtags. Guys, you are awesome!

If there is anything I have learnt from this experience, it’s that we can tell our story! No need to be a professional writer, journalist or anything… a personal experience told just the way you lived it, in your own words can make a huge difference in how the world looks at you… at us. When our stories are brought together, we can change how the whole world, including ourselves, sees Burundi. I have learnt so much from reading the stories we’ve shared, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I am happy for what this blog has become: a platform to highlight that there isn’t just one type of ubuzima, à la burundaise” but that a true Burundian spirit should really be about celebrating our differences and our struggles, and using them to build our nation, instead of allowing them to break us. This Burundian life is awesome!

Now, what next? Well, keep writing and reading! I’m not going to tell you about our projects, but there are plans to take this adventure beyond the Internet so that those who do not have access to network may as well be part of it. You just keep writing, reading, following and spreading. Every click, every like, every comment and every share makes this initiative grow bigger! This milestone isn’t just for me or my team; it’s for all of you; it’s for Burundi!

So people, allow me to sincerely thank you all for this great adventure that only keeps growing, and to wish you a very Happy first Anniversary! 🙂

Karl-Chris R. Nsabiyumva

(image source: ajscookingsecrets.com)

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