Ottawa, Gatineau, Gatineau Outaouais… I love the sound of Outaouais. In fact, for the purpose of this post, let’s call the Ottawa/Gatineau area “Outaouais”.
Sasa rero, I’ve never seen as many Burundians in one place (outside Burundi) as I saw in Outaouais. Mind you, I live in Portland, Maine. There are quite a few Burundians here too. In fact, most of the things I talk about in this post were taken from a post I had written (but never published) about Abarundi in Maine.
Now, this post wasn’t originally meant to be a happy one. When I thought about writing it, I was pissed. This post was going to be a rant about frustrations, disappointments and unmet expectations from my short three day visit to Outaouais. I was going to complain about (some) Abarundi and (some of) their behaviours. Ariko, naraguye ndagaruka, and realised that my energy and your time are worth much more than just a rant. I mean, it’s not like I was going to complain about anything that hasn’t already been complained about, multiple times, in (Burundian) living rooms, bars, ligala and on social medias. It’s not like my rant would’ve brought anything positive to the table. I would’ve probably gathered some likes and shares from folks who would’ve agreed with what I was going to write, leaving me with a false sense of achievement and wisdom, but at the end of the day, a rant is just a rant. Especially if it isn’t followed by any real action. And what action can really follow a rant about how people behave, or don’t behave? If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the short time I’ve been on earth, it’s that we can complain and kick and shout as much as we want about things people do or don’t do, but at the end of the day, a person only changes when they are convicted from within and make decisions to change themselves. Not because someone asked them to or complained about them over and over (it’s acceptable to complain once or twice, in my opinion). Well, I’m aware there are people who have been trained and are paid to influence people’s’ behaviours, but I’m not one of them, so bear with me.
Bref, let’s get back to today’s business: this post is a happy post.
This post is about the ladies I found at my cousins’ house, cooking and cleaning. When we walked into the clean apartment filled with an aroma of delicious homemade food (am I the only one who thinks Burundian cuisine has a particular aroma?), I turned to my cousins like, who are these relatives I don’t know of? Of course I assumed they were relatives, because who else would come clean your apartment and cook for you? (My cousins are pretty young compared to the ladies I’m referring to, so it never crossed my mind they could be girlfriends). To my pleasant surprise, the ladies weren’t relatives, or girlfriends. Rather, they were cleaning ladies! Burundian cleaning ladies who make a living cleaning people’s homes! I know some of you are probably thinking, okay, what’s so awesome about being umuyaya? What’s so awesome about it is that these ladies didn’t sit and complain that “there aren’t enough jobs in Canada” but instead, saw an opportunity to make bucks (big bucks from what I hear) and seized it. What they do requires a strong sense of entrepreneurship and a lot of humility. I have a lot of respect for them and I was inspired.
This post is about the Burundian community in Outaouais. Man, there are Burundians ev.ry.where! You look to the left and you hear a guy having a phone conversation in Kirundi, turn to the right and see mamas in imvutano carrying ibiseke, probably going kwibarutsa… It’s so heartwarming. You know what the funny part is? I can’t count how many times we were driving around and I’d be like, “Eh! N’urya ari ngaha?!” “Umh! I know him from somewhere”… Outaouais is truly a little Burundi!
Now, most of the time, when Umurundi(kazi) calls a place “a little Burundi” it has a negative connotation. Because, you know… However, once you’ve missed speaking Kirundi, gutera inkuru, using expressions that only make sense in Kirundi, laughing in Kirundi, having someone who can relate to your Burundianess, a room filled with Burundian laughter with Kirundi music playing in the background… you realise how awesome it is to have your people around; in good times, bad times and those in-between times… like when you need help with a task, to fill a form, moving, a ride, a small loan, a recommendation, or watching your kids for a few hours when something unexpected comes up… You know?!
This post is about the Burundians who didn’t piss me off. Those who are trying and succeeding at defying the status quo. Burundians who are doing the best they can, not without resistance and criticism, to raise themselves and our community to new heights. To put us “on the map”. Artists, entrepreneurs, hard-working fonctionnaires in the public, private and non-profit sectors… mums who take themselves back to school and come out conquering new careers, and dads who organise summer activities for kids to keep them occupied and keep them connected to our culture… Y’all have no idea how much joy it brings me to hear that this Burundian just bought a house; that this other one just got promoted, while that one over there just closed a big business deal… and all their kids, little siblings and cousins dance for Ishaka, and play basketball together on Saturdays. It gives me hope. This is the Burundi away from Burundi I want to hear about, in living rooms, bars, ligala, and social medias…
Now this post would be incomplete without giving a special shoutout to some of my favorite ambitious Burundians in Outaouais — the team behind Burundi We Want, and this year’s Burundi We Want Annual Convention which I was privileged to be a part of (and one of the reasons I made it to Outaouais). You guys rock, kandi murabizi! Keep moving kabisa! Imbere ni heza!
By Karl-Chris R. Nsabiyumva
(image source: allevents.com)