Some countries have produced a wealth of literature that has been translated into English. Other countries, not so much. Burundi is in the latter category. Fortunately, Burundian journalist Roland Rugero wrote Baho!, which recently became the first novel from Burundi to be translated into English.
Baho! is the story of Nyamuragi, a young man living in a village in rural Burundi. Nyamuragi has been mute since birth. In his mind, the reason he was mute initially was simply because he did not want to speak. After his mother took him to a local healer, however, whatever procedure the healer undertook to cure him made it physically impossible for him to speak from that moment forward.
Nyamuragi’s muteness has caused him a certain amount of trouble over the years, but nothing like the trouble in which he finds himself when he is out walking and has an urgent need to go to the bathroom. He runs toward a young girl, Kigeme, who is drawing water for her family, to ask where he can find a latrine. Without words, his question must be asked by gesturing, which Kigeme misinterprets as a prelude to rape. She screams for help, bringing the villagers out of their homes, and they all begin to chase Nyamuragi in order to bring him to justice.
Descriptions of the injustice and inhumanity Nyamuragi suffers at the hands of the townspeople are juxtaposed against references to the changes in the village brought about by Burundi’s civil war, which began in 1993 and lasted until 2005. “The green fruits that life intended to bring to maturity were carried off. Men were torn apart, ripped to pieces by machetes, pierced by bullets, eaten away by poisonous death, and violated by the unspeakable.” The repercussions of that war are still felt deeply by the characters in this book, changing forever their relationships with one another and their view of humanity’s place in the world. “Too many deaths have taken away the people’s beautiful, united soul.”
I searched the Internet to find out what “Baho,” the title of the book means. I found an article in which this question was posed to the author, and he explained that the title means “to live”:
“Baho! is an exclamation to a country consumed by death and violence: Live!”
There are many references in this book to the fruits and vegetables grown in Burundi: beans, sweet potatoes, corn, apples, cassava, peas, squash, and rice, for example. In other words, there are many ingredients to work with in order to create a delicious vegan meal. I found a Burundian recipe for beans with coconut and cilantro on the Fandom Recipes Wiki. Although it was suggested that this dish be served with green vegetables, I chose to serve it over rice instead, after reading this passage in Baho!:
“Above all, Nyamuragi adores rice—white, copious, beloved. To eat is to savor the present! It is to quench hunger, to fully possess the present, to carry life on in peace…”.
I was a little concerned when I was adding the large quantities of spices listed in the recipe that they might overwhelm the other ingredients in the dish. They didn't, and this turned out to be a delicious meal. I loved the taste and texture of the coconut in combination with everything else. Also, this dish involved minimal chopping, always a plus for me. I will definitely make this again!
GlobalGiving’s website lists eight different projects in Burundi, all of which sounded very compelling. The one I chose was a joint project of BeyGood4Burundi and UNICEF to help take clean, safe water to half a million people, mostly women and children. According to the project description, “Burundi is the second most densely populated country in Africa, the fourth poorest country in the world, and is facing a major water crisis.”
When she is approached by Nyamuragi in Baho!, Kigeme is collecting water for her family, a task that is performed almost exclusively by women and girls in Africa. According to UNICEF, “Globally, girls and women spend about 200 million hours every day gathering water.” In many cases, they have to walk long distances along unsafe routes, and with so much time spent collecting water, they are forced to miss school.
This project “will support building water supply systems for healthcare facilities and schools, and support the drilling of boreholes, wells and springs in order to bring safe water to districts in grave need.” Bringing water to the people “enables girls to stay in school developing critical skills and women to spend more time focusing on other vital priorities in their lives.”
More information about the BeyGood4Burundi safe water project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/beygood4burundi/.
NEXT STOP: CAMBODIA Burundi is the second most densely populated country in Africa, the fourth poorest country in the world, and is facing a major water crisis.