On the last day of our time in Burundi in February 2013, my dad and I had an opportunity to speak to a large group of people at the Village Health Works Clinic. We heard stories from people of the hardships they faced, particularly with sick children. One man stood up and told us about his child's epilepsy and how difficult and scary it had been before coming to the clinic to receive a diagnosis and treatment. People were in tears as they recounted their stories.
My dad and I had an opportunity to speak. My dad, a priest by training and an eloquent speaker, started by talking about our family. We trace our history to the Great Lakes region of the United States, from the midwest where my family immigrated generations ago. We still spend our summers on the banks of Lake Michigan.
In Burundi, not far from where we were, stood the banks of the Great Lakes region of Africa where one of the deepest lakes in the world, Lake Tanganyika, boarders Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, one sees the mountains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo across the lake, and the sight is breathtaking. The serenity and beauty of this place is reminiscent of the Great Lakes we know, but bordered by extreme poverty and the tragedy of war and violence.
My dad spoke to the people about our journey from the banks of our Great Lake region to theirs and our connection to each other across time and space. The sense of the universality of the human experience felt so raw in those moments as I imagined myself as a parent of a child who was sick and whom I could not help. Permeating the conversation was the realization that, perhaps more than anything, the sense of feeling forgotten or alone is one that holds its own sense of grief. The fact that we were there, and the acknowledgment of existence and suffering seemed to offer a sense of relief and solace.
Here are some pictures of these moments: