Sunday, April 19, 2009

Butare, Burundi and back

A few weeks ago I went back to Butare, this time to give a lecture
at the National University there on the `History of Fermat's Last
Theorem'. After that I took a bus to Bujumbura, the biggest city
in Burundi. It was about 5 hours on windy hilly roads. Not for those
prone to carsickness. As the bus came into Bujumbura on a four lane
city street, traffic was backed up in our two inbound lanes. The bus
driver solved this problem going into one of the outbound lanes.
When a policeman whistled for him to stop the driver just screamed
at the cop and continued. I really wish I understood what he said!

Bujumbura positively bustles compared to Kigali. It reminded me of
Bombay. In town there is a huge covered market, maybe the size of
two football fields. It is completely filled with vendors selling
stuff from food to suitcases. I bought a suitcase to bring home
all the stuff I have bought here. I got it in Burundi because
prices are lower than Kigali. The vendor started out at 45000
francs and I ended up paying 30000, about $24. He was probably
very pleased with the deal.

I went to a beach on Lake Tanganyika and just hung out. It was very
pleasant. I also went for a short canoe ride on the lake. The lake
is one of the rift valley lakes, remnants of the geological thingamjig
that almost split Africa in two. I think Bujumbura is about 2000 feet
above sea level, but parts of the lake go below sea level. And it's
ringed by mountains that must go 3000 feet above it.

I mostly spent my two days walking around, soaking up the
atmosphere. While walking down by the port area I saw a couple
hippos hanging out in the water. It was weird seeing them in a
heavily populated area. From reading someone's blog I heard the
university was up on a hill, so I walked up towards some big
buildings, half on the road, half on trails. Up there I found a
restaurant with an amazing view of the city and the lake. It was
incredible. The only reason I don't mention the name is that I would
rather mention that I had what was truly the worst margarita of my
life there. It was basically straight lime juice. But check out the
view. The covered market is on the left.

I did walk up to the university. Like Cornell it overlooks the town
and the lake. Unlike Cornell a guard tells you to put away your
camera before you enter the grounds. Just beneath the university
is this place:

I think it has something to do with independence. After I took the
photo a guard came up to me and told me not to take any more
pictures. That seemed to be his entire job: Sit up in a place where
there might be five tourists a day and tell them not to take photos.

Finally, to those who think Obama is a socialist, I should point out
that anyone who so cravenly trades on his fame to sell his image for
profit has to be a capitalist.

In Uganda the next week I saw a car plastered with pictures of the
guy that was the `Obama fast food mobile'. I wasn't able to get a

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