I will serve you
I am Burundian, and I am proud to be so. Historically, Burundi was born from events whose details are not known to us today, but which resulted from decisions and actions of my ancestors. The physical Burundi which we have today is the fruit of a chain of decisions and actions along centuries. It had undergone profound changes, but some aspects which were shaped by our ancestors still. It is the only territory in the whole world which connects me to my historical roots. It is the only physical point of contact between me and my ancestors, the only ground I can walk on which my ancestors also walked on. Where I am in Burundi, the mountains I hike are the very mountains my ancestors used to hike, the lakes I contemplate are the very lakes they contemplated, the rivers I cross are the very rivers they crossed, and the valleys I admire are the very valleys they admired. The territory of Burundi links me to my origins; and no other country does this to me!
I got my mother tongue and its philosophical dimension from my ancestors. The western education that I got did not delete my concept of time, space and other aspects of the abstract world of my ancestors. I float in a linguistic and cosmological universe shaped by my ancestors. It is always very interesting to me to see that, even after years of western education, seven am (7am) is always 1 am (isaha imwe yo mu gitondo) in my thinking. I know “logically and scientifically” that the day begins at midnight and one second, but something in me keeps on saying that the first hour of the new day begins when the sun rises. That these two ways of understanding time coexist in me simultaneously, without creating any problem, is a mystery. And, considering the aggressive nature of the western education, only the depth of my ancestors’ concept of time can explain this.
I am a fruit of a past which is compressed in me. Through phenomena I cannot explain, I was granted a genetic heritage which makes me the person I am. I am at the end of a long chain of progressive and complex genetic shaping, which connects me to all the people to whom I am directly or indirectly connected by blood, though I will never know most of them. The life that moves in me was transmitted to me through the mystery of procreation, but I got it from those who got it from others. And when I try to go upward, the fog of history prevents me from going far – but I know that the chain is very, very long. If my people had not existed, I would not be here today. And if my people had not been what it has been, I would not be what I am.
It is my people who gave me a sense of identity in this world. My passport is not just a bunch of artistically crafted paper, it is the materialization of a deeper reality. True enough, I could acquire another country’s passport, but that new identity would only be mental. It could not be real at the historical, physical, biological and cosmological level. And even if my new identity could reach these levels, it would not be as deep as the one I inherited from my ancestors. My people gave me an identity which enables me to know who I am not, and thus, who I am. It is my people who gave me a name and an identity in the big human family. It is thanks to my people that I am not an unknown individual in the human crowd.
My people are known for being very poor, and not only today. They have not always been poor, they were impoverished by their ungrateful sons and daughters. And, in their pain, their did not refuse to give whatever they had so that I could be who I am. I will always remember the warmth of my neighbors, the hard-working teachers and the nurses who did their best with the little equipment they had. I see the peasants who, from the little they had, always gave their contribution to the national revenue authorities, so that the government could provide the services I badly needed to be who I am. With their wounds and misery, my people did not shy away from sacrifices for my sake!
There is a multi-dimensional and profound link which connects me to my people, a link which cannot be broken by political instability, poverty or war. Today, I cannot see my ancestors, but I can see those who, just like me, are their descendants. Seeing them is not just an exercise of the eyes, it is an indirect act of mental touch with those who produced them – and who produced me. My ancestors are the connecting link between me and my fellow citizens, since we all come from them. If I and my fellow citizens are fruits, our ancestors are the trees which produced them. We have the same roots; our destinies are connected with strong ties. I enjoy looking at my fellow citizens like that because that allows me to fly above anger and “reasons to hate”, and gives me the capacity to see all my fellow citizens as members of one single family, a family that should not be divided.
A prelate of the region used to say that when confronted with the madness of hatred, we should release the madness of love. Faced with the madness of selfishness, we need a never-ending stream of altruism. To counter the sinister songs of hatred and violence, a mighty and never-ceasing flow of charity and peacefulness is all we need. For decades now, my fellow citizens suffer. It all began when the seeds of ethnic superiority and inferiority were planted, through were crafted myths and theories. That insidious seed divided the family, by producing hatred and mistrust between the descendants of the same ancestors. We began to look at each other with a new perspective. Fear and mistrust began to be the hallmark of our attitudes, our relations and our actions.
The horrible logic of the spiral of evil came in and speeded up the going down. Some among us began to believe that for them to live, others had to die, that they could not be happy unless some other people suffered. From being children of the same family, we became enemies in the same house; and we hurt each other terribly. As we rejoiced in the suffering of our brothers and the pain of our sisters, we became the laughing stock of the world. We got trapped in a senseless fight which humiliated us all. We fatally wounded each other, we created a huge balloon of devastating emotions and emotional wounds which control and guide us; thus, producing irresponsible and devastating actions.
In the beginning, realizing that we defended our inhumane attitudes and criminal acts so seriously, I believed that there had to be reasonable reasons behind our behaviors. But the more I thought about it, the more I was bewildered by the superficiality (and sometimes, the falsehood) of our arguments. At the end of the day, I understood: we are victims of a trick that has become a whirlwind which blows at a high speed and does not give us time to rationally analyze it. Our negative emotions lead us; and when we think that we are grounding our actions in logic, it is a logic which is imprisoned by the whirlwind of emotional wounds and all kinds of destructive emotions.
Today, despite all this long history of pain and division, despite your disfigured face and the fact that you are fragmented, you still are my only people. You are the only people from whom I have my identity. I am not called by any other people in the whole world – you are a special people to me. I am connected to you by a long history which is stronger than all the evil that you have done to one another, and all the suffering that you have inflicted on each other. You are still divided, and you want your children to take sides, but I will not! You may not understand me, but I always owe you understanding – even when your attitudes and actions hurt me by hurting some of my fellow citizens. You may not accept me, but I am internally obliged to accept you as you are, and I do it with joy. You can go on hating and hurting each other, but that will never make me cease to do that which I have to do: to help you, as far as I can, to become again the united and harmonious family you used to be. Yes, I will do my best so you can have the most peaceful life that is possible.
You are precious to me, and your suffering is my suffering. When one of you suffers, that takes away a piece of my happiness. I cannot look away, that would be unbearable. I have understood that you are one people and that each division will take you down the valley of humiliation. United, you will be happy together. Divided, you will be unhappy. If the one on whom pain is inflicted suffers, the one who inflicts pain does not suffer less. He must first lose part of his humanity to be able to do something so base (and that is not a good thing), and he cannot be happy in a family of which some members are mourning because of him. I wish you all understood this basic truth!
I have been watching as you move, for the last years, I have taken time to go back to your history of pain and injustice. I have understood that you carry a heavy load, but a load that you are able to get rid of. You are not cursed, you have just reaped the normal fruits of the evil that was sown and taken care of deliberately. We are reaping what was sown. I do not mean that the suffering that some of us are experiencing is necessarily the outcome of their actions; I mean that whatever we go through as a people comes from what was done or not done, said or not said somewhere in the recent or remote past. We are experiencing another basic universal principle: the law of sowing and reaping.
But, I am fully convinced that you have the capacity to get rid of your present shape and usher yourselves into a new and better era. Clouds can hide the sun for a whole day, but this does not mean that the sun exists no longer! You have the potential to change your most unrealistic dreams into concrete reality, to the amazement of the world. This, I fully believe. And I also know that one day, you will conquer the monster which divides you and puts you at loggerhead. One day, you will convert the energies which you use to keep the family fighting itself into a huge mass of constructive energy, for the welfare of each of you. We may have to go through a few more dark valleys, but this does not frighten me anymore. The hope of tomorrow is heavier than the hopelessness of today. I will not be distracted, for my eyes are scrutinizing the horizon. And, regardless of the number of years it will take before the sun or justice rises, I will wait.
You are a great people, and the world will understand this one day. You have gazed into the smoke of the last five decades for too long, and you find it hard to recognize your greatness. But the explorer who landed on the shores of your biggest lake, and who saw your grand-parents enjoying life, more than a century and half ago, now, could not believe his eyes. Your political stability and economic welfare blew up his mind! You surely know that when the current world superpower was being torn apart by a bloody civil war (second half of the 19th century), you were enjoying regional hegemony and political stability like never before. And when the war of Prussia was raging – before modern Germany existed, you were an example of political genius. Your humiliation of yesterday does not nullify the exploits of your before yesterday, and yesterday is not enough to determine your future.
Oh, No! You are not just any people, you are not a people with neither a history nor a future. You have a history that you should be proud of and, therefore, you have the capacity to create a future of which your children will be proud and for which they will bless you. That is within you reach, but it will cost you. You must first consider the welfare and unity of the family as more important than the interests and caprices of groups and individuals. You first must find that part of your humanity which escapes you often, and which will allow you not to seek your happiness in the suffering of your fellow citizens. You must first learn to respect life and protect it, and stop helping death in its awful work. You must first learn to value your great men and women, regardless of the shape of their nose, and entrust them with responsibilities that match with their noble character. You must first all learn what your ancestors had understood long ago: you are one people, with no choice but a common destiny – good or bad!
I know this will not come in one day; it will take time. Meanwhile, I will serve you, I will speak to you. I will talk of hope a future of shared welfare which, I know it well, resonates with the depth of the hearts of most of you. I will talk of the lies which decimate us and which some of us cherish – unfortunately; so that we may throw them in the dustbin of history. I will talk of the universal truths which we have irresponsibly rejected, and whose rejection caused us so much suffering; so that we may change them into cornerstones as we build that splendid Burundi which evades us today.
I will speak because, you are too precious and important to not deserve my efforts and sacrifices. You do not need to do anything to deserve them; you deserve them already by just being my only people in the whole world! I will speak because I owe you more than I can pay back. You are the ones God chose to use to give me an earthly identity and a history. Your ancestors are mine; and that means a lot to me. Imperfect as they were, they gave me and you a common sense of belonging, a common history, a common culture, a common language and a common sense of identity; and all the missteps of our disgraceful past are meaningless compared with this sense of camaraderie which binds me and you together. You are many, but you form one body of intricate relationships and actions which, though not always as good as I wish, have been shaping my unique history which is behind my earthly identity. You deserve my sincere and unreserved services, as long as they can help you live a better life as a people. This is why I WILL SERVE YOU!