Christine's Story: One Mother in AfricaKristy Carlson
It was dusk when a knock came at my friend Samantha’s gate. I was staying for the night with Samantha’s family so that I could photograph the sun rising over the coffee hills of rural Bukaye, Burundi the next morning. The knock persisted, and on the other side of the compound was Samantha’s friend Christine. Christine said she was hungry and couldn’t feed her kids Abdul (5), Dada (3) and baby Emaline. Samantha hurriedly gathered up some food for the small family and enthusiastically asked, “You want to meet my friend Christine?” In the small dirt road in front of Samantha’s house we met. Abdul wore a sailor’s hat on his head made out of plastic packaging. People waved as they walked their cows and goats home, and we walked along the dirt road to Christine’s house.
After meeting Christine I couldn’t help but notice how very different our lives were. When I was 8 months pregnant with my first baby, I cheated the system a little bit. You are not really supposed to fly anywhere 8 months into your pregnancy, but my little brother was getting married 30 long plane hours away from my home and I needed to be there. The flight back was one of the most uncomfortable flights of my life. Swollen ankles, aching back… but at least I knew where I was headed. I was headed home. To a safe place with a prepared baby room and a safe hospital to deliver in.
When Christine was 8 months pregnant she was also traveling. She was forced to leave Mtabila refugee camp in Tanzania, along with 38,000 other refugees. Mtabila had been her “home” for most of her life. She was placed on a crowded bus on route to Burundi, where she had no family or friends to speak of. She had no idea what her future would look like after that day. Christine was dropped off rather unceremoniously in the town of Bukaye, Burundi… pregnant and alone. Supposedly she had a grandfather there, but after asking around, nobody knew of him. In addition to being pregnant, she also had Abdul and Dada literally hanging on her skirt. She had nowhere to stay and no possessions to her name. There was no prepared baby room or stockpile of baby clothes waiting when her baby arrived. After her baby’s birth, she was was brought home to sleep in the animal stocks behind the community center of Bukaye, a generous gift from the community leaders of the town.
Growing up I had a huge backyard to play in and parents who were there for all my big moments in life. I never really even knew until I was grown what being “unsafe” felt like. Christine, on the other hand, was orphaned at the age of 7. She was brought to Mtabila refugee camp in Tanzania after witnessing both of her parents shot in front of her during the height of the Rwanda/Burundi genocides in 1993. One of Christine’s parents was Hutu and the other Tutsi, and they were killed because her father was concealing her mother’s cultural background from a group of soldiers passing by.
There are a million more differences between my story’s and Christine’s, and yet we are both linked by motherhood. Meeting her was a “moment” for me. There is something about who she is and this little family she is holding together that is inspirational and motivational at the same time. Christine is a survivor of genocide, an orphan with courage and a mother with hope. I believe that mothers like Christine can provide more, be more and give more back to their families with just a few more skills under their belts. My friend Samantha believes the same. She is pioneering a program to help Christine provide for her children and I can’t wait to help. It’s a program full of hope and I, for one, am ready to see Christine and her lovely little people out of the animal stocks and living a better life.
Read more from Kristy at Long Miles Coffee Project. For daily updates of her adventures in Africa, be sure to follow her on Facebook, Twitter and especially Instagram. To buy Burundi coffee that aids the coffee farmers of Burundi, visit Dogwood coffee and order online.