I would give up Mexican food forever
Last month I shared many, many photos from my time spent in Rwanda with family and friends. I am always thankful for the amazing people present in my life. Those who came to share are some of the most special people I know of on this earth. And not just because they were the select few I invited, either! Of course, amazing food was how we really got people to come.
The photos went by so quickly, I felt like there was a novel behind each one, yet with so many to share, there could not have been enough time. So we fanned the pages of ’Rwanda’ and I tried to put into words what the photos could not show. Especially Burundi. You may have read the post I made after visiting the Batwa. At the time, I was moved by the bleak conditions the people are living in where the most basic human needs are struggles. Being back in the land of opportunity has made the contrast all the more significant. At our Saturday slideshow, there were five different flavors of soup for the twenty or so folks to gorge on while seated in The most comfortable home surrounded by some of the most amazing people that exist on this planet. And then I tried to share stories about experiences I still haven’t completely grasped.
At the end, I meekly shared the hopeful possibility of improving the lives of citizens in Bubanza. $10 for a chance at life! Seemed like everyone would jump on board, but there were lots of details to be sorted and questions I hadn’t thought to ask. And Burundi is so very far away that my detective work took much longer than expected. As with many things, time has allowed the embers to be fanned into a flame!
“Batwa occupy the role of second-class citizens. They lack marketable skills, having neither access to their traditional forest economy or to any public services. Education, healthcare, landownership, and equal treatment by the justice system are all less accessible to the Batwa than the general population. Without the availability of traditional or state resources, the Batwa became the most vulnerable and the most easily exploited population during the conflicts that began in the 1990s.” This is taken from a ten year old article you can read for yourself, but it could easily have been published today. People in Bubanza are young, starving and in serious need of housing. Well, ok, things are improving. Now there are five hundred Batwa attending secondary school and ten have graduated from university. That’s ten total, by the way. Ten Batwa have obtained university degrees. Not just this year. Ever.
I have been trying to think of all the things I need identification for. Buying beer obviously came to mind. Driver’s license. Ok, so they don’t have access to booze or cars like we do, no big deal. The more I thought about it, the more I realized my life has been built on a birth certificate. It’s how I got into primary school which allowed me to graduate to high school and then apply for all those scholarships that got me through college, then the passports and airline tickets and an internship with African Road that took me to Bubanza, Burundi. Voting! Job applications. My own bank account. Property rights, civil rights. The recognition of being a human being. My ID is something I use so often, it is completely taken for granted. It is hard to imagine not ever having had one. They don’t have the right to ride on public transportation without ID, not even the back of the bus!
For the 8.6 million people living in Burundi [if they have identification], health care is free.
There are over 87,000 Batwa in Burundi. Really there are 17,000 Batwa, because 60,000 of those are estimated- they do not have ID cards. Some simple math; Batwa make up one percent of the population with 75% of those not having access to any of these rights.
And then there is the problem of being born to unidentified parents. Marriages are not recognized without identification, but that won’t stop people from making babies. Teenagers start living together in a common law marriage scenario, build their Home Sweet Home, move out and start family construction. With only one out of every five babies growing up to be adult sized ignored citizens, these are not OSHA approved building regulations. These kids obviously cannot be real people unless they come from a legitimately identified, married couple. We can assume a larger percentage of men have ID, so that makes for many unobtainable marriages. Generations are stuck at the hazy margins where the government does not have to acknowledge them.
As the babies come and go, there is no prenatal care, no ultrasounds, no baby books to read, no adding an extra nursery room to the house and definitely no baby shower. (Really, they are truly the lucky ones- Blessed with not ever having to play baby shower games!) The couple squeezes more and more life into their tiny 5×8 home and will eek out a life on cassava and water over the course of their next 20 or so years until their children inherit their estate. Considering my grandparents’ estate and how prized a cherished appliance can be, I wonder what happens when a family has only one cooking pot for so many children to fight over?
What am I rambling on for here? I have an amazing life! I am blessed with identification, a roof over my head to protect me from these arctic nights, nice, clean, warm clothes, deliciously fattening food, good health, an outstanding guardian angel, great family that doesn’t abuse me too much, live in a land full of bountiful harvests and am completely surrounded by love! We all do, and sometimes giving a little bit away helps me to realize just how great my life is. And maybe you feel the same way. Ten bucks will change a life and make you feel great even longer than a [insert coveted ten dollar item here]. Yup. I gave up the best Mexican food lunch Friday in honor of my Batwa friends.
For all those reasons, issuing identity cards for Batwa citizens, parents, children and marriage licenses is a big deal. To make it happen, Flo and Evarist agree it would be best to start with one group in one community- that’s about 50 families or 300 people. At $10 per person, that’s $3000 just to get this off the ground! I don’t eat out often enough to be able to save enough money to pay for all of them, but I sure wish I could!
As I’ve been organizing for PCT hiking, I am forced to consider the bare necessities. Researching has told me I can expect to pay more than $3000 just for 5 months of trail food. Eeek! And gear on top of that? I haven’t been able to convince myself it’s ok to spend money on myself when I could be sending it to the Batwa. And I haven’t been able to define what exactly will allow that freedom. So far, the gear that has been loaned to me has me thinking I can hike without investing in new gear. One of the big three has been crossed off the list (backpack) and I can manage with what I have, although it won’t be light- I won’t be weighed down with the guilt of the money I spent on myself :)
What will I need for a week on the trail before making it out to a resupply point? I am definitely planning to pack identification! Food and clothing and shelter. That’s it. I don’t need GPS, a fancy camp stove, hiking poles, camera, untra-lightweight trail running shoes, tent weighing less than 2 pounds, bear canister or a hot chai every morning. Sure, those things would all make the trek MUCH easier and more enjoyable. And I am finding there are more affordable options than I had expected, which is awesome! So… I have my hand out. Humbly asking you if each of you could donate ten bucks. I love the idea that my little family and friends can come together to build a community in Burundi! And then maybe even volley this along to a friend or two. Or three or four or twelve! If half of them donate ten bucks… Then I don’t have nearly enough friends to make that pencil out. But this is exactly why I must go hike the PCT!! ;)
Ok, one last story. There is an amazing man I’ve met since returning to America. He also visited Burundi and wanted to connect with local leaders while there. Contacting them was easy enough, but he said they never seemed to manage to actually meet face to face. One of his last days there, he mentioned he was in Bubanza, visiting the Batwa, but definitely wanted to introduce himself. When the local leader heard that, he severed the connection and has never spoke to my friend again. The simple visit to a Batwa village put him into the same, lesser class of humanity. Like ‘untouchables’ in the Hindu caste system, Batwa are at the bottom of the bottom. That story shattered my heart! Having seen the conditions those beautiful people live in and then knowing their own Burundi leaders don’t care to see them elevated means I have to do everything I can to help!
Please, help me help!
You can use PayPal to DONATE, write a check and mail it in, or if you would rather hand over some cash, I promise I will not spend it on Mexican food! When you donate, make sure to add a note specifying it is for the Batwa or Burundi IDs (and then you have yourself a nice tax deduction as well)…. Or Mexican food for Sarah ;)
I will thank you for helping me change the world, welcome you to the ‘untouchable’ Batwa tribe and ask you to share this with everyone you know.
I love you all and thank you for being a part of my quixotic tribe!