I was drinking in every sight and sound on the journey yesterday. I was in the middle of the backseat of the car, watching out the front window as our driver negotiated the Burundian roads with more confidence than I would have been able to, swerving around potholes and cyclists as we made our way across the country.
I saw a man on a bicycle with five bags of wheat stacked up on its seat. I saw mud bricks laid out to bake in the hot sun. I saw painted signs for renting wedding dresses on one shop wall. I saw the coiffeur and boulangerie and boucherie, and mentally thanked my French teacher for her persistence.
Forty five minutes from Bujumbura, we turned off the tarmac road and bumped our way across the red dust tracks to the community we were heading for, one whose name I’ve known for over a year. It’s a community of Batwa people, a disliked minority in their own country. When they’d been given this land to live on, they’d been told to move their houses to the other side of the hill, so that they couldn’t be seen from the road.
We pulled in, through a newly-painted gate to the newly-built school, to the sound of loud singing. The women and children were welcoming their visitors with song and it sounded glorious. We smiled and shook hands and greeted Amahoro, amahoro! Peace, peace! to each person we met.
And then we were at the well, before I’d had a moment to catch my breath or take it all in. Four taps at a pipe that has brought water up the hill from the spot they found water deep deep underground. This was the well the She Loves women had raised money for, gathering together our circles of grace until the target was left far behind.
And so I stood alongside Idelette and Kelley and Claire and Tina and thought of all the other women across the world that were with us in spirit, waiting expectantly with us for this water to flow. The Bantu women stood with us with their jerry cans ready, and we counted down together, three, two, one, and turned the taps on.
Clean clear water rushed from the taps into those jerry cans, and splashed out on me and my skirt, and I saw the water darken the material and just loved that I was wet, loved that it was possible to have water spilled on me here in this place.
I stepped back out of the middle of the throng to stand next to Rasmus and smile at him with amazement at what we were seeing and then the tears came. Just joy joy joy. That we were here, that clean water was here, that the women were here – not walking three hours to collect still-dirty water – that the children were here, in the school that would soon be finished and hold the sounds of their learning and growing.
I can’t articulate everything that is running through my head right now, coming out of a week of fascinating and challenging conversations with brothers and sisters from Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Rwanda. And then to be here, in Burundi, seeing with my own eyes what I’d only imagined.
The joy is all mingled up with sadness and shame and hope and frustration and confusion. But it bubbled up and over when the water flowed, and I’m holding on to that moment.