In the Country Where You Shouldn't Go
Burundi. One of the last ends of the world of today. Beyond the banks of the Rusizi river and lake Tanganyika, civilization slowly disperses until it completely disappears in the unpopulated jungles of the Congo basin.
Any ministry of foreign affairs will tell you not to visit this country. It regularly appears on the wrong end of the list of the world’s happiest countries. You can only find hunger, malaria, civil war, criminality.
Is this the truth?
Burundian coffees have charmed many a coffee lover and we’re no exception. When our Rwandan partners at Muraho told us they’re starting cooperation with Burundian producers, we knew we can’t miss this opportunity. The decision to go to Burundi was made immediately!
Getting to Burundi turned out to be easier than one would expect. Mr. Zuberi Matsitsi, the aforementioned Burundian producer and owner of four stations, would pick us up in Kigali on his way home to Bujumbura from Uganda, where he was visiting his second wife in the capital of Kampala. (Note : It is absolutely not common to have more wives in this part of the world, but it is possible.)
Along the way to the Burundian border - which is, by the way, exceptionally flat and straight for Rwandan standards - we are still expecting Burundi to be a bit like the Wild West. Zuberi doesn’t really disperse these prejudices. He’s nervously checking out the 90 on his speedometer all the time, commenting that: “In Rwanda, the police is very serious. In Burundi, you can do whatever you want!”
The border crossing is very relaxed. A soldier checks our temperature preventively because of Ebola and validates our invitation letters. A smooth process is halted by a tiny detail - Zuberi can’t find his car keys.
After two hours of searching and mobilizing friends with backups over the phone, one of the border police officers find it in Zuberi’s pocket.
Finally we’re back in the car. While crossing the border, Zuberi tells me to take photos of the border post: “Take a photo, photo for the police! Now we are in Burundi, now we are home!”
It is fair to say that the world changes quickly across the border - roads are older, worse, the houses more humble, people poorer and you can immediately see the difference from the splendidly clean Rwanda. But in no way do Burundians seem as the unhappiest people in the world. Although life there is certainly difficult - both economically and politically - the people are mostly smiling and respectful. They live in a bit of a vacuum, isolated from most of the world, but still manage to retain a specific grace. Our hotel staff is perfectly professional and we find the dinner served in a humble restaurant in the suburb of Kayanza to be the best we have tried in all of Africa.
Along Zuberi, our main guide through Burundi and its coffee is Amani, an energetic man with many years of experience with coffee as a specialty beverage. It’s him who guides us through three stations and help us to learn everything we need here and get to know the country and its coffee a bit deeper.
The Burundians approach the harvest and processing of coffee just as remarkably responsibly as Rwandans . We are very excited to see how coffee, as pretty much the only thing connecting Burundi with the outside world, sets the positive trends in society here to a certain degree.
We can’t wait for the next harvest in 2020 to start sourcing beans from reliable producers in Burundi. We’ll be honored to prove to them and their close ones that honest work bears fruit and that there are people out in the world who are ready to appreciate it. There’s many people in the world who are able to see Burundi as an equal partner. Let’s together give Burundi a chance to show the world what it’s capable of!