By Winnie Mills

Last year I visited Burundi my beloved country and was stunned by the improvements that had taken place while I was away. Compared to 10 years ago, you can see tremendous advancement, especially in the business and tourism sectors. While there is always room for improvement, I was gladly impressed by the spirit of hope and patriotism which I saw in some people, especially amongst the youth. They all thrive to get an education (à tout prix), and although they don’t always end up in careers they wish or get hired in their fields, at least they have realized the importance of being educated… I met more young adults with Master’s degrees in Burundi than in the Burundian diaspora I have met in North America so far; our elderly are enrolling in part-time school to earn their 1st or 2nd degrees, or even Master’s; others totally change careers: for example, one of my uncles who has been working in the Banking sector for as long as I can remember is now studying Law to retire as a lawyer, his long-time dream… #Impressive. People are expanding their horizons by continuing to educate themselves and staying up-to-date. My old man, although he has achieved a rewarding career at 55 years of age, has started a Master’s program at one of Burundi’s private Universities. Twice a week, he attends evening classes and has projects to submit, in addition to his homework. Let me tell you, the joy it brings him is beyond real! As John Dewey once said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself”. When I’m about to complain that I don’t want to continue further in my education or that it’s hard, I remember this and I quietly shut my mouth.

However, one thing inconveniently bothered me, and maybe you can enlighten me a little: most of the young ladies I met (19-25 years) all had a common language, or a common interest which was to find a boyfriend, get married, or in some cases, to find a sugar daddy (reference to the article: Prostitution: a full blown epidemic). It seems like there is, between girls, some sort of competition with unwritten rules, to catch the next single guy, or even better (some will say), another woman’s man (married or not). The worst is that no one seems SHOCKED when it happens. Married men leave their wives and children to go restart their lives with newer, younger, better looking chicks, who can be their daughters, as if the grass is really greener on the other side. Men as old as my dad can come up to you, in simplicity, ask you for your number and you’ll know exactly what they want… I almost turned violent on one of them who knew who I was and my family, but still had the guts to approach me! I’m telling you I discovered a lot of indero and patience that I didn’t know I had #LOL.  It’s gross; it’s disgusting; it’s disrespectful… but only to me apparently.

My friends from Burundi, or those who live outside Burundi but visit often, told me it was normal and couldn’t understand why I was so disturbed and annoyed. But my question here is: WHY IS IT NORMAL?! Why do we see the problem and ignore it?! Or is it just me… Am I overreacting?! Why can’t I just walk to the next police officer I see to file a complaint?! Because the policeman is probably checking me out too; OH LAWD! There is too much of a laisser-faire mentality, and those men get away too easily. I suspect it has been happening for centuries, perhaps it was an undercover thing back in the days, but now it’s in the open and in your face! I can still tolerate the close to non-existent customer service I get when I walk into a bank, but when a man sees me and sees only what he can get out of me and almost forces his way, and I’m expected to just smile and pretend like nothing happened, then I HAVE A SERIOUS PROBLEM WITH THAT!

While busy asking young ladies my age, in our conversations, what they wanted to achieve in life, if they were living their purposes, achieving their goals, who they wanted to impact in the world… I would get that stare like, “what is wrong with you?!” The conversations would always come back to finding a man first, as if a man defines the identity of a woman. So I gave up asking questions without wanting to give up… which is maybe the reason why I’m writing about it now…

Being a spiritual person, my #1 wisdom book is the bible: Proverbs 18:22 states that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the LORD”. Was it revised to “She, who finds a husband, finds a good thing” and I didn’t get the memo?! Hah!

I was so impressed with how young people are becoming more and more aware of their spiritual life, which I think is a great thing. It takes them out of the world to focus more on their identity in God, and I believe that once you know your identity, it becomes easier to know your purpose. When you know your Creator, you know why he created you and the talents and dreams He gives you to bring into this World. He knows your needs as a woman; He knows that one of our purposes is to create a family and be its solid foundation. Don’t mistake the time he’s moulding you into the person/wife/friend/sister he wants you to be, into a time to focus on unworthy or materialistic based relationships. What is the rush for getting married in Burundi? Some act like it’s the jungle: Qui va à la chasse, perd sa place!  It’s sad! When you don’t know your worth, you easily accept the first person that knocks, whether they have good intentions or not… This partly explains why the divorce rate in Burundi has exploded in the last decade or so (reference to: Les mariages ephemères à la pelle à Bujumbura). The solution: Uwitonze amira ibinoze!

… After all this wonderful blog was created to “tell stories of love, hope, sadness, irritation, happiness and confusion; stories of what life in Burundi, or as a Burundian, is really about”… This was my story, please don’t shoot the messenger!

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Winnie currently lives and works in Ottawa, Canada