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We landed in Zanzibar at 11 pm, still hot and exhausted from our airport battles. The next hurdle to jump over was, would our bags be there? The last time we had seen them was in Burundi and in our experience, whenever a flight is canceled… the bags go on a little vacation of their own. Thankfully, the bags were waiting for us. They were locked up in a dank musty room, but they were all there and we exited out of the airport into the night air five minutes after we arrived. We looked at each other and said, “Wow, that was easy!” We hailed a taxi, jumped in, and drove off!

Something was going to go smoothly for once, I thought, not at all like the rest of the day had gone. Then the taxi driver pulled the car over into a dark empty lot. He turned to us and said, “We are going to switch cars now.” Coffee Guy and I looked at each other, then back at him, and in unison said, “No, sir, we are not.” Except that I left out the “sir” and Coffee Guy, ever the gentleman, didn’t. The driver hesitated and then said that he just needed to get something out of the other car. My brain really does have a mind of its own, and I was thinking, “What, like a gun?” He jumped out, grabbed his cell phone, jumped back in and we were off. Dark alley crisis averted.

Five minutes down the road, the driver brought the car to a rolling stop on the shoulder of the very dark highway. It was dead. Not us (yet), but the car. The driver hopped out and got on his cell phone. Coffee Guy tried to get out to see what the problem was, but his door had been child locked. The driver peeked his head back in because we were the definition of back seat drivers by this point, yelling at him to try again. He made a half-hearted attempt to start the car from the outside, and it didn’t turnover. Meanwhile, I am trying to keep my silly brain from thinking that he has stalled the car on purpose. Back home, in South Africa, if you are in this type of situation…. the likelihood of your immanent death far outweighs the likelihood of your survival. Am I right South Africans? Holler for me!

The driver started pacing outside of the vehicle. Was he waiting for his other henchmen? Then, with no warning, he waved down another car, jumped in, and left us on the side of the highway. In that moment, in the stillness of that dark highway, in a taxi with no back window, in a country that I didn’t yet know, with a firm belief that this could quite possibly be the last place on earth I see, I prayed the most fervent prayer of my life.

Out loud. Loudly. While crying buckets.

I prayed for the little boy asleep I my arms, I prayed for the little boy tucked up in his bed in a country far away, I prayed for life. I prayed to live. I prayed for God to see us in that moment. I told God I was scared, more scared than I had ever been. In my entire life. I was angry. Angry that we were so vulnerable. Angry that there was nothing we could no, no place we could go. We had to wait.

A few minutes later, headlights appeared behind us. Our driver re-appeared and put petrol in the petrol tank, jumped in, and started driving.

I was still crying silently in the back seat. I didn’t trust that this guy was actually taking us to our hotel. Then, suddenly, the streets were full of celebrating Zanzibaris and traffic came to a halt in the middle of Eid al-Adha celebrations. People were banging on the car, jumping over the car, shouting around the car. The streets were impassable. Finally something gave, and we began weaving through the small alley-like streets of Stonetown in Zanzibar… to our hotel. As we arrived safely, our driver was not the murdering type after all, I vowed not to leave the hotel room until we departed for home. Which, of course, I didn’t do. Zanzibar is a photographer’s feast, but that’s tomorrow’s story.

Luv,

me

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It has taken me several days to conjure up enough emotional mo-jo to write this post. When things go wrong, I’m a “don’t look back, move on ahead” kind of girl. When I think about Zanzibar, I don’t want to look back. I told Coffee Guy when we got home that maybe I would skip writing about the trip all together, because then I wouldn’t have to mention Zanzibar. Anyway, fair’s fair and I promised you I would. Here’s the story…

We left Burundi tired out by all the new experiences our tiny little brains had taken in within days. As we arrive in Kenya, I half wish we were flying straight home. I was missing our little terrorist and feeling ready to be in my own bed. Plus, by this point, Neo and I both had full on diarrhea. But, we had decided early on in our trip planning that we need to go to a place and “process” Burundi together before going home.

We scooted up to the transfer desk to get our boarding passes and found out that our flight to Zanzibar had been canceled. “It’s been WHAT?!?” I said loosing my cool quick and jazzy like. Things got a little heated at the transfer desk after that, which Coffee Guy and I both admit to with a pinch of shame. In the end, a very annoyed Kenya Airways employee issued us boarding passes to KILIMANJARO with the name of a lady who was going to meet us as we disembarked, to show us to our Zanzibar plane, scribbled down the side of our boarding passes. We were supposed to meet her and head directly to our next plane which was set to depart a half hour after our arrival. Oh Lordy, we should have known then!

Once we arrived in Kilimanjaro… there was no one waiting for us. We asked around, and no one knew of the lady whose name was scribbled on our tickets. We headed into the airport building, and it was there that we realized we were in Tanzania. Duh. New country = new visa. We were supposed to fill out miles of paperwork for the Tanzanian government… meanwhile we have no pen, no boarding passes, no meet n greet lady, and our plane is departing in twenty minutes. In a mad panic I grab hold of a random airport worker and say. “We are supposed to be connecting directly to Zanzibar…RIGHT NOW!” I think he saw the red in the whites of my eyes and knew we needed some help. He rushed us through immigration (without stamping our passports) and took us into the fray. Five major flights to international destinations had been canceled that day. The airport was a sea of angry tired white tourists. It was total chaos, and the airport worker left us in it. We had no idea where to go to get on our next flight. Then, we saw the plane leaving without us.

For four hours we battled with the people in the Precision Air office for boarding passes. They took us behind the ticketing counter, and began to work on our boarding passes, until the people the a loooong line in front of the counter screamed in outrage. Back to the office. Back to the counter. The passports disappeared with someone. They re-appeared. Back to the office. Back to the counter. More angry people. More sweating. More crying babies… oh wait, make that just one crying baby, and it was mine. People came and went. Some victoriously holding boarding passes for the last flight out of Kilimanjaro. Some loosing their tempers and coming close to decking the airline employees. Some sweating through their clothes in frustration. Some envisioning a new life in the Kilimanjaro airport.

what it really says is “we know our service is really crappy, but please don’t hit us.”

A group of laid back blinged out Tanzanians trying to fly standby to Dar El Salam made plans for us in case we didn’t get on the flight. They made fun of us for having so little faith… The departure time came and went and we had no tickets, but “it was all ok” they said, because the plane had not even arrived yet. It was over an hour late. Twenty minutes before the late plane departed… we got our boarding passes and so did our pimped out friends. People cheered as the plane took off and jeered and laughed when the airline appologized for inconveniences.

We left Burundi at 9am, and at 11pm we finally touched down in Zanzibar… and the day’s not over yet!

Love,

me

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My four-year old son stood up in front of church this morning proclaiming the arrival of baby Jesus while dressed in a superhero suit. He was one of three very wise looking superhero suit clad kids. Everybody knows the wise men dressed as superheros. Duh. On the way home he said, “Mom, did you see me? I was a superhero and everybody clapped and I bowed!”

We all want to be seen every once in a while, and thanks to WordPress publishing Day 2 of our Burundi adventures on Freshly Pressed, this blog has seen more traffic than the red light district in the last two days. It feels great to be seen, but now that the company has left we can stretch out on the couch and put our feet up a little. I have loved all the comments and the help, the blogging community really is amazing.

The story continues tomorrow. I promise. I know I’ve said that before, but now I pinky swear promise. Zanzibar or bust!

Luv,

me

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I made a deal with God, which, you really never should do. My deal? I’ll move to Burundi IF…. we see a house we could live in while on this trip. Please God, please God, PLEEEEEAAAAASSSSSSEEEEEE! Ok, so maybe that’s begging, not dealing. I never have been really good at making deals. I was the girl on the playground that started trading marbles and ended up with zero in the end. My brothers and I used to “trade” baseball cards, which really meant that they shoved my head between their armpit and their forearm and shouted, “Give it!” Which, not only traumatized me, but left me with zero negotiating skills. My brothers have instilled in me a belief that has served me well in my nine years in Africa, “If you have something someone else wants, they could beat you up for it. So, watch yourself!”

Anyway, we woke up on morning four ready to hunt some house. Hunt we did. After trudging through the rain over pot holed roads to house after house after house… I began to re-negotiate my one-sided deal with God. “Ok God, maybe if we could just see something that slightly resembles the type of house where LIGHT streams through the windows and the bathroom tiles aren’t pink and the furniture isn’t a complete disaster.” We didn’t. We didn’t see a place that we would live in all day. We don’t want some grand old house either, we just want a simple house where light actually comes through the windows and the yard has space for growing boys to build a tree house and where there’s space to grow some veggies. Nothing major. No luck.

We did visit some friends of our South African hosts, Jesse and Joy, who live in our-kind-of-place, so there is hope. I ended up shooting a newborn session of their new baby Elliot while we were there. Isn’t he adorable?

We also looked at places to have our wee ones educated. We had good luck there. There are two schools that look good enough to pass our super duper high educational standards. An english speaking school run by the English (duh) and a french speaking school run by Belgiums (huh?). So, our kids will either shout “Hiya!” or “Bonjour!” Or maybe “Hiya! Bonjour! Howzit.” Howzit is a South African staple. I love South Africa, have I mentioned that? Once or twice? Maybe?

Our South African hosts were so great. They drove us to all these crazy houses and places and ended the day with us at Bujumbura’s only coffee house, Aroma. Here’s a video of Coffee Guy chatting away as we drive along. Prepare to be seasick.

Next? Hold onto your hats, I’m taking you to Zanzibar… if we don’t die on the way, but that’s tomorrow’s story. If I did die, then I’m truly a ghost writer (hah!). Ok, I’ll stop now.

Luv,

Me

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by Ben Carlson

Coffee Guy here stepping into a guest blogging role.  Kinda fitting for this day.

Our first full day in Burundi was all about exposure.  Wikipedia explains two types of exposure:

Exposure may refer to:

  • Publicity, an activity designed to rouse public interest
  • Outing, exposure of someone’s secret sexual orientation

Lets be clear.  It was the first definition.  Thanks Wiki.

So the interest we were rousing was our own.  Burundi was laying itself before us and begging us to ask… Can you live here?  Specifically on day one we asked ourselves “Could we make it in the Burundi hills?”  Throughout the day it became evident that we shouldn’t live in the hills.  My coffee cupping, exporting and networking would not best be served there.  Oh, and the coffee hills are NOT “Out of Africa” sprawling-savanna. It does not have that enlarge your family, breath in the clean air, sit on your colonial wrap around veranda while watching your boys run amok type of feel… Burundi is just not that type of place. It’s green and dense and life is difficult there. Daily life is a challenge, and in the hills, without being able to speak Karundi… we would be isolated.

Foreground, left: banana trees surround almost every home. In the distance… coffee hills.

Day two began with the coldest shower of my life, but despite the cold I had a giggle remembering a conversation in bed with my wife the night before.

Kristy: Something is nibbling me. It’s either a mosquito or bed bugs.

Me: I hope it’s not a mosquito! You could get malaria.

Kristy: Right, so you hope we have bed bugs then?

Me: I guess so!

Waking up in the hills.

After breakfast we began a race down the mountain (much to my wifey’s frustration at all the missed portrait opportunities, but she did her best shooting on bad roads out the car window with a baby in her lap) to get to a US AID meeting.

Tuckered out in the land cruiser.

I won’t bore you with details of meeting with US AID and follow up meetings with the Burundi Investment Board and the dialogue with Food For The Hungry about what they need and how we could step in to help. Our thoughts by this time were already turning to the absolute beauty of this place.  A visual delight. But how could we make it work to live here?

The drive from the hills to Bujumbura (“Buj” to expats living there) was filled with calla lilies, rolling plunging hills, death-defying bicyclists, goat meat hanging from roofs and then the view of the looming Democratic Republic of Congo hovering over Lake Tanganyika and Buj in the valley below us.

Kristy got a day of meeting the Food for the Hungry Burundi staff, walking the “nice” park, connecting with the South Africans who were putting us up for a couple of nights and adventuring into the heart of Buj to find the milk pasteurizing guy (yummy…. err, scary).

Got milk?

It was a long day for all, but ended spectacularly together by the banks of Lake Tanganyika as the rains rolled in.  The air cooled.  The waiter tried to over charge us.  Then we had a real Buj experience with our SA host driving around Buj’s neighborhoods, which are all on dirt roads with plenty of pot holes, in the pouring rain looking for available houses with the mandate “Look for houses with no lights, those are the ones that might be available. That’s how we found our house!”

The day ended with a much-needed bath in a plastic bucket for baby Neo.  A bed with no rats or bed bugs. And the anticipation of house and school hunting in the morning.  What else do you do in Burundi?

Cheers,

Coffee Guy

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This day should be titled “The Day We Waited At The Nairobi Airport” because, although Bujumbura is TECHNICALLY only 6 hours away by plane, we were in transit from 6 in the morning until 2 in the morning the next day. When we arrived in Nairobi that morning I remember thinking, “How are we going to spend 8 hours here?” There were people wall to wall. Sleeping on floors, stuffed in corners, taking up every single restaurant table. There was nowhere clean to set Neo down and my arms were killing me! Entering the airport from the beautiful day outside felt like entering a really dark tunnel stuffed with hot sweaty people. We were in Dr. Seuss’ The Waiting Place. Then the dear God above smiled on us and we discovered that THERE IS A KIDDIES PLAYROOM in the Nairobi airport! I almost cried I was so happy. I could set Neo down! It was quiet! His hands and feet were covered in dirt from the grotty carpet, but who cares about that?

Midnight finally came and we were waiting down in a dirty dank dungeon like boarding area (it was only fitting at that point) for our plane to arrive. Little did we know, we were going to be waiting for planes to arrive a lot in the coming week. Finally, the flight went off without a hitch.

As we arrived in Bujumbura’s tiny airport and a crabby man checked our passports and yellow fever cards I felt a weighty anticipation. What if I didn’t like it here? What if communication and life were just too hard for me? What if I was the reason our plan for an adventurous life failed?

When we walked out and met our hosts their first question was, “You are not speaking French?” My heart dropped into my stomach. How would we survive here? We slept a short night on a disgusting bed with Neo rolling around between us… and the rest is for tomorrow.

TRAVEL TIP

Whenever you are traveling in third world countries it is a great idea to pack your own duvet cover (or, for you Americans, sew two top sheets together) to sleep inside like a sleeping bag. Just pop it on top of the existing bedding and “viola” you feel clean and snug. Pack your own pillow cases as well, and in our case, we should have even packed pillows. These are hard to come by in Burundi.

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Day 0. To Burundi and Back.

I tried to stay cool, but there was a moment when I thought maybe the trip wouldn’t even happen. We sent our passports off to the Burundi embassy in Pretoria (for those of you who come up a little short on South African geography, that’s waaaay far away from Durban) to get visas stamped in them over a week before our departure time. Now, the day before our early morning departure, they had not arrived. We phoned around.

The Burundi embassy said they had never ever LIKE EVER even seen our passports.

Courier company: “Oh, you were supposed to pay extra for delivery to an embassy.”

CG: “Why wasn’t I told about this? Where are the passports now? You realize we leave tomorrow! You NEED to sort this out! Now!”

Coffee Guy was seriously fierce.

Courier company: “We’ll phone you back.”

Burundi embassy: “Oh, THOSE passports. Yeah, the guard at the gate signed for them. They’ve been processed for a while now.”

Courier company: “We don’t fetch passports after noon.”

CG: “Well, you are going to fetch these.”

Courier company: “Nope.”

New courier company (DHL): “We’ll have them to your house by noon.”

Noon comes and goes.

Two comes and goes and Shelley, a director and videographer comes to visit. She’s working on a teaser (sounds dirty, but it’s not… except that Coffee Guy’s shirt was all slobbery on the shoulder from little Neo’s biscuit mouth) thingamabobber about our potential move and life in Burundi. Might be nothing, might be something.

Amazing fact. Shelley has shot entire commercials using her Canon 7D, the camera I shoot with, with the 35mm f/2.0 attached. Whodathunkit? Very cool.

Shelley wishes us luck and CG phones the courier again.

Courier company:  “The guy has them and he’s out doing deliveries. You’ll get them, don’t worry!”

Three o clock. Four. Five. Six.

CG decides to go to DHL and wait in the office.

Seven.

They close for the night, CG doesn’t budge and he doesn’t let them leave saying, “You’ll leave when I get my passports.”

Sigh. My hero.

Eight. Nine.

The delivery guy arrives at DHL, saunters in, finished for the day.

He still has our passports.

Meanwhile Ben missed out on our last night with Myles for a week. Luckily, Thobe was settling in at our place and he was too excited to notice and, because I am a notorious last-minute psycho packer, I still had a late night ahead of me.

Coffee Guy arrived home flustered and tired, but with passports in hand. We were finally ready for take off.

Do you feel the suspense building? I’m getting the travel sweats (i.e. the awful smell and demeanor of someone who has sat and sat and sat then freaked out and rushed and rushed and rushed then sat and sat again… trust me, I know it well. No amount of teeth brushing and face washing can fix this person. Only a bed and a shower will do it.) just thinking about what I have to tell you tomorrow.

Luv,

me

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