Voyages & Découvertes

A visit at Tankoma displaced camp in Gitega

Monday 17 November 2008 by Stephan Mardaga

On a trip to Gitega, Frederique Lecomte, a theatre producer, asked me to go along with her for a workshop. "Whenever you are in, you can not come out until the program ends", I am told accordingly.

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L’atelier théâtre

The displaced at the camp are in fact refugees in their own country : what a paradox ! They are people who committed atrocities. Point of correction ! They are survivors of massacres. The assassins are in jail or are still on the hills. The displaced has nothing left : bulk on his family has disappeared, his dwelling place, his wealth and his parcels are in the hands of thieves and criminals. The displaced is encamped with a minimum means of survival, a roof which is subject to the will and caprices of mother nature, no doctor, no copy book, a deplorable situation in perspective. He is only left with his nightmares, the spoliation of his wealth and the official non-recognition of his status as a victim.

However, they are people with pride and dignity, sincere and ready to forgive if the culprits plead guilty. They are left-over and most often applar in losses and gains publication. They are afraid to go back home because death. Awaits them there.

We brought sugar, oil and soap for participants at the workshop : no school materials. Mendicancy is so acute that it turns to aggressive whenever the beggar is left with no hope of getting something. The hopeless youth in the camp requested to take part in the program, they also want sports hard wears, books and music.

At the entrance of the camp, a 8 year old boy named Emerite held me by the hand. Slowly speaking French that I could barely understand,
He said : shoes ? - I don’t have shoes, I replied.
A pen ? - I don’t have a pen
A copy book ? - I don’t have a copy book.
Speaking then to a another kid, I asked : your name is Emilie ? You ’re a big girl now ! With a remorse of conscience, I realized that these kids need no woods, but deeds. What to say then ? What to do when you are surrendered by fifty children around you, each of then begging just for a little ? What a miserable situation in the camp !

A the end of the workshop, Emerite and other kids surrounded me again. He received then a slap by another kid for being to close to the guest ; starting to cry, he is now left behind. In a angry mood, I turned around and went for him ; at this time I held him close to me, and assured him of my keen consideration. His camp mates burst in laughter.

Few times later we were now gathered into a hut, around a drink. Crowds followed us a they were posted at windows and doors.
Sun light flashed through the roof, enhancing a fine, warm and general mood.

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Among the people, I spotted Louis : a man with an imposing height and dignity. I decided to offer cigarettes around, politely he turned down the gesture. After a moment, I sow him tearing a piece of paper and wrapping some local tobacco in it. He then walked out and started smoking while still within my range. With keen interest I walked out to him. The previous day, I had purchased some local tobacco in a market ; I asked him to have a taste of his cigarettes : his tobacco was delicious and sweet. I demonstrated more concern to it and he then showed me a piece of newspapers containing the tobacco ; he said it cost 50 burundi francs ( 2 cents Euro). During out conversation, I went through substantive topics, self- explanatory ones ; blinded by my self-pride. I did not give him my ears. Did he have something particular to tell me ?
Was it to be so special ? At the end of the cigarette, I realised that I missed the target. His desire was not to communicate with theMusungu in Burundi guilty in advance, but to a man with his feet on the ground and his head straight on his shoulders. Our interaction has been a great lesson of humility for me.

A the time we were departing, Emerite ask me for some money. Taking a hard line, I declined to satisfy his request as a single kid, opting for equity to all. What a useless philosophy !

Gitega November 10 , 2003

The most unbelievable : theatre workshops were organised also at the Gitega prison with the prisoners along with displaced people. During these common workshops, a displaced woman felt in love with a prisoner, eventually they go married.

Theatre workshops were sponsored by Frederique Lecomte, producer.
I suggest that you visit her web site : Le Château de Barbe Bleue - Théâtre et réconcilation and especially the Burundi dossier

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Prison de Gitega

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