My mind goes blank when I think of ways to describe this world to you. Completely blank. There are no words, which is why it is my temptation to just go silent. I am fighting it. For me, for you, for everyone. Finding a way to communicate to you how different this life is from the one I was living three weeks ago seems impossible to do. How do I tell you about the streets filled with bicycles, motorbikes, trucks, cars, and people on foot. How do I tell you what it’s like to navigate these roads… roads FULL of people. FULL of bike taxis. FULL of potholes. I nearly run SOMEONE off the road every day. On Friday, Ben did run someone off the road. Once I get where I am aiming to go, chances are I will be surrounded the minute I pull up. Surrounded by people wanting money, wanting to sell something, wanting to look at me.
Once inside the shop, I struggle again. How do I buy something when I don’t speak any French? I can’t even count to ten in French yet, let alone tell someone I want “100 grams of meat.” There are not very many places here where you take things right off the shelves either, instead you tell the guy behind the counter what you are after. Which means communicating. In French.
I need to learn French. Fast. I feel completely arrogant entering a place and asking “English? English?” as if it is not my responsibility to communicate in the language set before me. I wish there was an injection, a shot, and that in one piercing blow I would know every single one of these words that are all so foreign to me.
There is also the small challenge of being white in a black world. Let’s be honest, we all talk about being color blind, but nobody really is. Everywhere we go we are stared at and shouted after. Chants of “Mzungu! Mzungu!” (white person) follow us throughout the day. I have never had people shout, whisper and boldly speak my differences out loud. Daily. All day long. There are also special prices, just for Mzungus. Prices that just happen to be double or triple the price any local would get. At first it feels like a festering injustice. Like racism… and then it just begins to feel normal.
In addition to the external stresses of living here, there are a few internal ones too. We have moved into a construction site. Literally. The house is under construction. This means some men, women and even two children mix cement, pound, yell, bang, and STARE all day long.
As we celebrate the first Carlson birthday in Burundi, Ben’s, I have realized just how foreign the way WE live is to those around us. Cocoa powder? No way. Icing sugar? You would have to fly to Nairobi for it, or so our house helper says. Cinnamon? What’s that? I used THREE of my precious Lindt 70% dark chocolate bars to make Ben a birthday cake today. These bars cost about $3 in America, $6 in South Africa, and (if you could even find them) a whopping $25 here. We live in a foreign land, but more glaring than that, I am realizing just how foreign we are.