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A Letter from Jodi (September 2011)

Dear Family and Friends,

I'm back in Burundi now, after an absence of almost five months. How wonderful to have my feet back on the ground!

During my time in the US and Canada, I founded a charitable organization called ON THE GROUND IN BURUNDI to support education and grassroots community development in rural Burundi. Its purpose is to raise awareness in North America about the struggles and great potential of rural Burundi, and to engage North Americans and Burundians alike in developing a rural community finding its feet after decades of war, injustice, and extreme poverty. ON THE GROUND IN BURUNDI is incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and has applied for status as a 501(c)3 charitable organization. We have five excellent board members, and the support of St. James's Episcopal Church in Cambridge, MA, and St. Anne's Anglican Church in London, Ontario.

We also have a website: www.onthegroundinburundi.org. It's still under construction, but there's much worth viewing there already, including my blog, in which you'll find the text that follows below, illustrated with photographs.

I arrived in Bujumbura last Sunday evening, to be welcomed at the airport by my former MCC supervisor Paul Mosley, and Father Alphonse, the Bursar of the Grand Seminaire de Burasira, from whom I rent my house upcountry. I spent the night with Paul and his wife Rebecca Mosley and their family, and drove up to my home at Burasira on Monday afternoon with Father Alphonse and my housekeeper Hélène Nyandwi. Hélène has left a good job in Bujumbura to work with me again in the mountains. I am so grateful for her loyalty, hard work, and cheerful company.

We stopped en route near the provincial town of Ngozi to greet the Rector of Burasira, who was at a meeting there. Sitting in a hilltop restaurant, looking out across the valley and surrounding hills, mist beginning to ensilver the valley floor by late afternoon, I felt my heart lift and open and my feet connect firmly with the earth. It's so good to be on the ground again in the country and region I love.

Since it was evening when we arrived, I spent the night at the Seminary. The next morning, Hélène and I began the arduous task of re-creating my household, which we'd packed into one locked room in April. Tuesday is a market day in our little center at the Ruvubu, so I stayed at home during the day, knowing that if I set foot in the market I'd be there for hours greeting people. Many were still there when I walked Hélène home in the early evening, and all the way down my hill and up hers, I was shaking hands, hugging women and children, and discovering that my Kirundi still works pretty well. I think I walked about three feet a minute.

As we entered the main market area, Astérie Kaneza, one of the Hope Pre-School teachers I'd worked with closely last year, saw me, cried out, covered her mouth with her hand, and seemed about to burst into tears. Astérie generally projects a fairly tough image, so I was surprised and touched by her reaction, and hastened to embrace her, patting her repeatedly on the back as I intoned the traditional greeting: "Amahoro, amahoro, amahoro" -- Peace, peace, peace. We were joined immediately by Astérie's colleague Rénilde Ndayizigiye, with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Bella on her back. Astérie's daughter Monia, now in kindergarten, came rushing over with her friends, and before I knew it, I was surrounded by little girls enthusiastically kissing my hands with great smacking sounds.

Why did I stay cooped up in the house all day, I asked myself? This is why I've come back -- to be with these people again, on this dusty red ground. I stayed in the market until dusk, greeting parents, teenagers, small children, and new babies. Then I climbed the long hill up to the Hope School to find internet reception, sitting on a tiny chair in the dark, looking out over the silhouetted hills with the half moon rising, beaming a message halfway round the world to my family and friends: I've arrived.

I'll be in touch with you soon about the work we're undertaking in rural Burundi, and how you might support us in it. In the meantime, please know how happy I am to be back in the heart of Africa, and how much I appreciate your continuing interest and encouragement.

Much love,   Jodi