(by Greg)

Since our return to Burundi, I have been slowly coming to terms with another one of my phobias.  I have a fear of children.  Not all children.  I am not afraid of my children, or really most children.  But as a child is brought into the operating room, my perspective on them changes immediately from “cute and cuddly” to “instrument of terror”.  Why is this?  

For the past 10 years, as an anesthesiologist in private practice in the U.S., I have become quite comfortable taking care of adult patients in the operating room, even very sick ones.  But my time spent taking care of children in the OR has grown more and more sparse.  There is a growing movement in the US to stop taking care of pediatric surgical needs at community hospitals and instead to transfer them to a children’s hospital, where they can be taken care of by a pediatric surgeon, a pediatric anesthesiologist, nurses and techs who take care of children every day.  In fact, research has now demonstrated that children, especially those under the age of 2, have better outcomes at hospitals that specialize in pediatric care.  The result has been that in the US, I rarely anesthetize children, and almost NEVER children under the age of 2.  

It turns out there are a lot of ways you can damage or even kill a very small child during surgery and anesthesia.  These include medication errors, dosing errors, airway mismanagement, even temperature management.  And so you can imagine my, let's just say discomfort upon my return to Kibuye, where I am presented almost daily with children who need to be anesthetized.  There is no pediatric hospital in Burundi.  My suggestion on day one to transfer a sick child to a “tertiary care center” (specialty hospital) was met with stares of confusion and awkward silence.

On Monday this week, I entered the OR to find that we had scheduled a 2 day old, followed by a 3 day old, followed by a 21 day old, all needing emergent bowel surgery under general anesthesia.  Pretty much a full on nightmare from my point of view.  

Some people with whom I have spoken over the past several years have suggested that if you are not qualified to do something in Africa, you should not do it.  I understand their perspective from a theoretical standpoint.  However, from a practical standpoint, if we do not offer surgery to these children at Kibuye, they will most certainly die.  So, when does one go from being “underqualified” to “disqualified”?  Is it simply a numbers game?  If half of your patients are surviving, should you keep going?  I can tell you that this week has led me to seriously consider going back to the US to do a year long fellowship in pediatric anesthesia.  But even that would likely mean hundreds of kids left without an anesthesiologist for a year.  

Thankfully, all three of our tiny patients on Monday survived surgery.  I am not sure they will all recover completely, but for now, they are alive and awake.  Their anesthesia was not perfect, but they survived.  I prayed for each of them.  I can only thank God for the fact that they survived.  For ultimately it is God who holds their lives in His hands, and uses those of us who are far too underqualified.  


A Forest, A Flood, and an Unlikely Star

by Rachel

This month marks the release of Jennifer Myhre’s 3rd book in the Rwendigo Tales chronicles.  Our family has already read and loved the first two books in the series, “A Chameleon, A Boy, and a Quest” and “A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue”, and I was really excited to read her newest book, “A Forest, A Flood, and an Unlikely Star”, which might be my favorite one yet.  

What do I like about these books?  I think they show a real side of Africa, presented by someone who has lived here and loved the land and the people.  So often, the only side of African life that is presented in the news, books, or movies is broken, desolate, impoverished, and hungry.  And, truthfully, the countries where we live ARE those things.  But those of us who live here know another side of Africa, too.  Incredible beauty, amazing perseverance, community, joy, love.  Jennifer’s stories capture that.  They are set in Uganda, but the language and culture is similar enough that my kids love seeing “their home” in the stories as well.  In this book, a young boy named Kusiima is caring for his grandmother and young sister, who is severely malnourished and developmentally delayed.  His mother has died, his father has abandoned them.  Kusiima gets mixed up into a tale of “forest poachers” and gorillas and has to make difficult choices about what it means to do the right thing, how to love, how to forgive.  There are no talking animals like in other stories, but still an element of the mystical in the friendship Kusiima forms with a homely donkey.

As always, Jennifer is able to weave the story in a realistic but hopeful way—these countries that we love are broken, full of broken people and tragic stories, full of AIDS and war and injustice.  BUT, and this is an important but, there is always redemption.  There is always hope.  These is always God working for His people.  Towards the end of the book, Kusiima is told: 

“All of my struggles and all that you’ve suffered because of me and this broken world, well, they are all a part of our story. They always will be. But they aren’t the end of our story.” 

And because the struggles are not the end of the story, Kusiima can keep going.  He can keep forgiving.  We can keep working.  Those of you who know Jennifer know that she is not just an author whose book I am reviewing—she’s my area director for Serge.  And I’m not just writing a good review for her book because of that.  I can tell you in all honesty that she writes these books from personal experience in multiple hospitals and countries around East Africa.  To her, to us, this is not just a made up story of a fictional child, but this is a story that could represent many people we know.  And, bonus, part of the proceeds from this book go to a fund to benefit kids just like Kusiima, living and working in hope and tragedy, working for a better life and a better world.  If you want to buy a copy, check it out here and here.


Short Term

While we do have many visitors who stay for a few weeks or a few months, in missionary terms 2 years is still considered short term. There was a time when I may have questioned that definition but, now that I'm coming to the end of that term in Kibuye, I affirm it wholeheartedly.  I've heard it said that when living in a new culture you learn 1% of that culture each year. In those terms I'll leave with a 2% comprehension of Burundian culture, which sounds about right.

Over the last 2 years our team has regularly been blessed with new teammates and visitors and each come in with new perspectives and new inquiries that remind me anew how little I truly understand.. I know the general expectations at the hospital and at most events and ceremonies - staff meetings, church services, dowry ceremonies, weddings - but on many occasions realize I have come to accept my limited understanding without questioning. This culture is so different from the one I grew up in that it can generally be expected that any assumptions I make based on my world view will be wrong. How this culture functions on a societal level is completely fascinating and incomprehensible to me.

Here are just a few glimpses into my 2% of understanding:

morning staff devotionals
There are devotional books used on most mornings which involve reading a portion of Scripture, reading an explanatory paragraph, and answering some designated questions.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to understand this process and I still don't understand anything that is being said..
(I shouldn't say nothing, sometimes I'll pick up that someone said the number 6 or some other obviously crucial word)

I have been to many, many Burundian weddings. It usually involves a choir singing, a sermon, someone to throw confetti at the bride and groom, some sitting/standing/kneeling on a pillow, many amateur photographers (the couple holds their hands in the air when they put the rings on, I assume so everyone can see over the heads of said amateur photographers), paper decorations, and very somber expressions. I follow the basic pattern of when to sit, stand, pray, give the offering, and present gifts but, because of our team guideline of returning to the compound before dark I rarely make it to the reception so there are many more traditions I could be confused about.

women's day celebration
Last year I had the privilege of attending the local celebration of International Women's Day. It involved a parade, signs, singing, speeches and dancing. The only speech that was translated for me seemed to be something about calling women to be perfect but, who knows what was really being said or how it was to be understood. Overall everyone appeared to have a great time. When I asked why our group from the hospital didn't have a sign in the parade they said 'we have you!', it's always nice to feel noticed I guess..


There and back again

(from Eric):  

A couple months ago, with heavy hearts, the Baskin family, in collaboration with team and Serge leaders, decided that God was calling their family back to the United States for the foreseeable future.  This has meant major transition for their family and significant loss for both Kibuye Hope Hospital and the Serge Kibuye Team.  I am very grateful that they have been willing to share from their hearts during this transition.  Please continue to pray for their family in this new phase, and our team as we feel their absence.


(by Darrell)

For I know the plans I have for you.  

In light of the changes my family has seen this summer, I have often reflected on this declaration and on one of its corollaries, namely that Darrell Baskin does not know the plans God has for him. If I had, I might have assailed their logic and questioned their cost. A price precious both in sacrifice and treasure.

After over a year of language training in France and then following nearly a year of learning to live in Burundi, my family returned to the US this summer in order to seek healing in mind and body.  But now we know that it wasn't just for the summer, it's for the foreseeable future.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil. 

And now I ask, do I trust Him and His plans now that they no longer align with the dream He once instilled in our hearts?  Now that I have returned for a week to pack up our beautiful house in Burundi. Now that my children have wept and sought solace in their pillows upon seeing videos of their friends who remain at Kibuye.  Now that I’ve seen the patients I can no longer care for and the eye staff who have been saddened by my absence. Now that I walk a lonely and poorly understood road few, if any, of my peers have ever traveled.  I find myself asking if this is what welfare should look like.

...to give you a future and a hope. 

My future, for now, is in the US where I see friends, churches and people who supported us, and I respond to them sometimes with joy, sometimes with sorrow, sometimes with shame and grief over this nearly insurmountable loss.  At times, it has been a loss of calling, even identity.

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

In our grief and wrestling, we have turned, over and over, to the Lord. And He has heard us.  He has met us in our place of need. We don't have all, maybe not even a few, of the answers for why we're here now, but we remain steadfast in our belief that He alone brought us to this place.  We never would have chosen this convoluted path on our own. Someone asked me last week how I would proceed if I were to have a chance to do it all over again.  My response then was that I would obey God again and follow His direction even if it seemed counterproductive or confusing or wasteful.

When I was a teenager, my mom once told me that Abraham was obeying God when he took Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him. And he was obeying God when he sacrificed the ram instead of his son. If Abraham had stubbornly held on to the original plan from the Lord to its final conclusion, he would have actually disobeyed God and missed the whole point of walking with God in a dynamic relationship. Even more, would it have been faith if Abraham knew what was going to ultimately take place?

I can't pretend to know the plans God has in store for us, but I do know the One that has engraved me on the palms of His hands.  I know the One who went with us to France, then to Burundi and now back to Texas.  I am convinced that He will never leave us or forsake us.  And He is enough for me and my family.

Crate Fate

(From Caleb)

It is a significant challenge to utilize every cubic inch inside a 40-foot container destined for Burundi.  Since the initial McCropders arrived in country we have received a total of 5 containers full of medical equipment and supplies, tools for construction, a hammer mill for making Busoma flour, school supplies and many other items essential to the work here.  Of course, we have added some things not so essential to the work exactly, but very helpful for our mental health such as hammocks, motorcycles, and some super-sized jugs of Chipotle Tabasco sauce.

When shipping a 40-foot container the cost is not dependent on the total weight of the container as long as it is under 40,000lbs.  Thus it is the most cost effective to stuff it as full as possible.  One of the most efficient ways of doing this is through the use of crates.  More than 5 years ago, Jason and Heather hosted the first crate building party.  Since then a few similar ‘parties’ have ensued.  The magic of the crate is three-fold: they allow a container to be loaded and unloaded fairly quickly, they protect the items packed inside, and you can pack on top of them thus filling the container to the very brim. 

So what happens to all of this precious dimensional lumber (otherwise not available in Burundi) when the container arrives and the crates are disemboweled? Below are some examples of how these crates will live out their years here at Kibuye:

First Generation Incubators

Eye Unit Operating Tables

Sterile Instrument Storage for ORs

Stand for Vital Signs Monitor

Daily Surgical Line-up Board

Steps for certain 'Vertically-Challenged' Kibuye Surgeons

Stands for positioning a leg during SIGN-Nail Procedures


Shop Bench



Lofted Bed with Desk

Baby Bassinet Holder



Straddling Cultures

(By Alyssa)

If you read Lindsay’s blog post below then you will understand why my usual answer to the question, “What are you most looking forward to about being in America besides family and friends?” is “Anonymity!” I long for the day when I can go on a hike or walk without attracting hoards of people staring at me and calling out “muzungu.” I look forward to shopping without the chaos of a Burundian market with all its stressors of both people staring and having to barter awkwardly in Kirundi. And I eagerly anticipate driving around by myself in a land where the traffic rules are clear and there are no goats, small children, or huge potholes to avoid white-knuckled while simultaneously being aware of all the roadside attention bestowed on the rarity of a white, female driver. 

But now I’ve been in America for two months of my home assignment, and what has surprised me has actually been the isolation of life here. I walk my parents’ dog in their zero-lot line neighborhood and rarely come across another person. Does anyone actually live in all those climate-controlled houses? I run errands and sit in traffic alone in my little bubble with just a quick greeting to the cashier. And in waiting rooms and checkout lines I join my fellow Americans in quickly pulling out my phone for work or entertainment or to make sure I haven’t missed anything. 

Maybe the grass is greener on the other side. (Course it literally is greener in Burundi where green banana palms greet the eye in all directions instead of the concrete of development!) 

But I feel torn in observing this great cultural difference. Burundians prioritize relationships and would probably find the independance of American life strange. It seems when I walk alone there that people want to join me because they can’t fathom why anyone would want to be alone. They live with their extended families and even all share the same bed, so it must be hard for them to fathom why I would live by myself. As for me, I think my first phrase as a toddler was “do by self!” And I’m embarrassed to report how often that is still my first thought! But as much as I was looking forward to anonymity in America, I actually find myself missing the more constant people time in Burundi. Lives are intertwined there to a greater degree than is comfortable for most North Americans. But there’s beauty in the messiness and our hope is to welcome others as Christ welcomes us. And as we fail at that, we remember once again how much we need the gospel - for Christ to redeem our hearts that often struggle in welcoming others at inopportune moments. In the end I think the communal vs. individualistic cultural differences are just that - ways of life that are different but neither right nor wrong. I long for both at different times of my life, and I feel privileged to get to experience the unique life of two different cultures on a regular basis. But I also no longer feel fully comfortable in either culture. I eagerly anticipate the day when God will bring each of us and all cultures to full redemption in his eternal Kingdom and we will finally truly be home. In the meantime, living cross culturally isn’t always easy in Burundi or North America, so please pray for more peace and grace for our team and for those we live and work with as we encounter cultural differences. 


African Owling

Our surroundings in Kibuye lend themselves to wonderment at God’s creation and an inclination toward engaging one’s natural curiosity. Fortunately for the large number of kids on our team, learning is not isolated to the classroom at Kibuye Hope Academy. Only a week and a half ago, the school year began, but already the students are extending their learning beyond the schoolhouse. Friday was our first Learning Experience day at KHA, one of the new elements added to the school curriculum this year.

This summer, a family of owls moved onto the compound. One young owlet was soon visible in the groove of a nearby tree with the parents in constant watch over the nest. This family of owls was the focus of the Learning Experience. The day began with a reading of Owl Moon to learn about owling, or how to find owls in the wild. On the nature walk that followed, the students found evidence of the owls: feathers, owl pellets, the empty nest. It was not until everyone was walking back to the school that we sighted the owls high up in a tree. Everyone had a chance to watch the owl as he watched us and flew from tree to tree. Ella (7th grade) remarked, “everyone was super excited to see the owl.”

After the nature walk, each class dissected owl pellets that were carefully collected over the summer for this purpose. The children were able to identify bones from shrews, rodents, and at least one small bird from the different owl pellets. “I liked dissecting the pellets and finding all the bones,” commented Matéa and Anna (8th and 7th grade). Later in the day the students transitioned from empirical investigation of owls to exploring owls in art and literature. “Studying the owls and learning about owls in literature,” was the best part of the day according to Micah (6th grade).

In the afternoon, the students had more hands-on activity as they learned about composting and garden maintenance. Discovering how "trash" can be used to cultivate the land and provide delicious vegetables or beautiful flowers gives feet to the command to "subdue the earth" as we become a part of God's overall plan to restore what is broken. It is a privilege to be a part of this kind of learning here with our team and our children.

Not only do all of these situations serve to engage the kids and make for an enjoyable day, it makes education a worshipful experience and opens eyes to the greatness of our God. As we watch owls soar and wonder at the soft down feathers of the over-stuffed looking baby owl, we see God's handy work and the beauty of our Creator. It connects us to this amazing place to which He has called our team and our kids.


Remember Who You Are

(from Lindsay)

In Kibuye, we are the mzungu or white people. We are often reminded of this identity as we hear “ma-zoooon-gu” rising up from the valley on a breeze from a disembodied voice. In this case, the speaker is far away and is usually shrouded in the banana trees below. Even driving down the road at high speeds, groups of children remind us of who we are in this place as they yell, “mzungu” in a staccato-like fashion so as to get it all in before the car passes. Then, there is the up close and personal, “Mzungu, give me…” that has a more demanding tone. No matter how or when it is said, most mzungu feel annoyed on some level by the term – even though, generally, we make light of it.

In order to illustrate why a low-level annoyance surrounds these situations, I will share two stories. A couple of months ago, I talked to our daughter and some of her friends about the danger of telling secrets. Our daughter and Girl One were whispering and Girl Two heard her name – nothing else, just her name. She burst into tears, convinced that these girls who were supposed to be her friends were saying mean things about her. More than that, she felt left out by people she loved and wanted to be loved by.

This “kid drama” was solved in one conversation, apologies were issued, eyes were dried, and all was right again in their world as they played together that afternoon. The above scenario is a microcosm of life in Burundi for the white westerner, however. When I walk into church, rows of people turn around and stare – several times, often tittering to one another, smiling, and staring again. Though the adult drama plays out differently (we smile and wave or greet the onlookers with “Amahoro” rather than bursting into tears), the confusion in my heart is not dissimilar from my crying five-year-old friend. Even when I can enjoy the moment for what it is or make silly jokes about feeling like one of the Big Five that safari-goers hope to see in places like Kenya, it does point out the obvious – I am other, the odd one out.

More than being the odd one out, though, this situation brings up questions of identity. To most in Kibuye, I am a white person. Within our missionary community, I am a teacher. Many American churches associate me with the role of missionary. So, I am a white missionary teacher. Or, am I?

Crossing cultures is a constant process of deconstructing and reconstructing one’s identity. It is about facing the loss of who you’ve always been, evaluating the things that demand to act as a replacement for those aspects of my identity that need to be or can be forsaken, and seeking the truth about who I actually am. Moreover, it is about seeking the truth about who God is and who I am in light of who He is. False identities (white missionary teacher) threaten to overtake me daily, but they are not who I am.

But God is faithful. He will be faithful to give me more of Himself, more of His love, and more security in my identity in Christ as I continue in the process of crossing cultures. He will remind me that I am not an object, a role, or even a dispensary of goods and services (“Mzungu, give me…). He will continue to remind me that I am His child – safe and secure in His love.

The challenge for me (and I suspect for many missionaries) is to live into my identity in Christ rather than under the burden of any other identity that does not reflect my wholeness in and unity to Jesus. This is the only way I can love my neighbors – outside or inside the wall of our compound, outside or inside the boundaries of Burundi.


Househelpers: Kibuye Kitchen Heros

Julie’s recent blog post described the rice and beans and other creations that come out of our Kibuye kitchens.  Today I’d like to tell you who is instrumental in Kibuye kitchen work.  It’s our househelpers.  God bless them.  We love them.  They play a significant role in enabling our families to eat and live and thrive here. 

Darius masters the chapati.
Why?  As Julie mentioned, there are almost no prepared foods available here.  Almost no canned vegetables, so we wash off the dirt and cook them ourselves. No dishwashers, so every dish is washed by hand. For bread, we start with proofing the yeast. For rice, we start with sorting out rocks from grains of rice.  Obviously, these tasks, and every step from start to table, take a lot of time.  We need help in the kitchen so that we all can work outside of the kitchen and still eat every day.

We now have a cadre of nine capable, trustworthy, helpful folks who work in Kibuye missionary houses.  They generally work from 9am to 2pm, cooking, baking, washing, and cleaning.  And smiling.  It appears that every one of them enjoys the job.  They certainly have lots of bonus entertainment as we all need to speak Kirundi with them. 
Juvenal and Liam sort beans. Juvenal works hard and loves kids.

Salvatore has cooked for McLaughlins almost 4 years
Yes, there are challenges, including language blunders and a steep learning curve for everyone involved.  There are occasional mix-ups like confusing curry powder with chili powder.  We also have regular Amelia Bedelia moments, so we learn to specify very clearly what we mean by our requests.  But with work and attention, we all keep learning, and the househelpers become expert cooks with several recipes perfected over the years.
Christophe, expert bread-maker, is househelper by day, security guard by night, and pastor on the weekends, supporting his wife and 8 children.

As these househelpers help us in our homes, they also help us to understand the local culture better.  They answer our questions, and some of them correct our Kirundi.  They invite us to their homes and to cultural celebrations.

Delissa got married last summer and now continues to work 3 days per week.  This is her wedding reception.

This summer Krista attended Delissa's Guhekereza ceremony for her new baby.

Francine called us to visit in the hospital when her new baby was born.

Emelyne watches little Liam and coaches him in Burundian basket-carrying.

Our kids like to visit the home of our househelper, Amon. 

All of these Kibuye househelpers are a great blessing to us, and we are thankful for them.


Last Words

(from Eric)

This morning, after I finished morning report with my medical students, I walked outside and was approached by a stranger.  He was a man about my age who addressed me in decent French.  

“I want to ask you something.”  Hmm, these conversations usually don’t go well.  I don’t recognize this man, and the odds that I’m the person to help him are slim.  Often, this situation is where someone with some education chooses to approach me randomly in order to try and get some special treatment, which is something that I’m neither in favor of nor very good at effecting, even if I wanted to.

I try to not let my frustration at this interruption show.  He starts to tell me that his pregnant wife was seen by Rachel for a problem with her placenta.  That she had an appointment for Monday, but was told to come back sooner if something went wrong.  She’s about 30 weeks along, and she started having contractions last night, so they came to the hospital.  Rachel’s not at the hospital today, but one of our Burundian partner doctors is on the maternity service.  I tell this guy that this doctor will see his wife shortly, and he will decide what is necessary.  He seems OK with this. 

As he leaves, I examine my own frustration.  I guess, in the end, he was just looking to take care of his wife by making sure Rachel was informed, and he incorrectly assumed that I was the best route for this.  However, he seemed willing to be redirected.  I hope that my annoyances didn’t show, and that he overall felt like I had responded in a caring fashion.

A few hours later, I pass the hospital canteen, walking with a student to go and get the ECG machine.  The husband is sitting on the half-wall that separates the sidewalk from the canteen veranda.  I think about greeting him, but I don’t really want to be seen as the point of connection for him, so I walk by without saying anything.  He didn’t seem to notice me.

One hour after that, I’m getting ready to go home for lunch.  I notice one of our medical students crying in the arms of another student, which is a notably public display of emotion in this normally stoic culture.  When I come home, I ask Rachel how her morning was.

She tells me that the wife did deliver prematurely, a little baby about 1.5kg, which hopefully will be big enough to survive in our NICU.  Then, while they were working on delivering her placenta, her blood pressure dropped out, and she was struggling to breathe.  At this point, they did call Rachel to come in, and she ran to the hospital, only to find that she had died.

We don’t know why.  The blood loss doesn’t explain it.  In the end, we can formulate hypotheses, but we can’t think of anything we could have done to prevent such a death.  But she’s gone.

Unexpected interruption.  Peevish emotions.  Controlled response.  Maybe kind?  Early birth.  Gentle hope.  Shocking tragedy.

Among other things, I continue to replay my little conversation with the husband in my mind.  His world has been so changed today that I’m probably the last thing he’s thinking about.  Yet it feels important to me that I treated him kindly, that my little role expressed somehow that God loves him and cares for him.  That though God has given him a world that has devastated him today, that hope hasn’t disappeared forever.  That though his baby will never know his mother, he might still grow up to be a joy for him.  That death will not be the final word.

I’m quite sure that my conversation didn’t communicate all that, but it’s what I find myself desperately wanting to say.  I wonder if I’ll think about this the next time that someone interrupts me with a random request.

At the end of the day, I’m walking out of the hospital, along the little concrete retaining wall next to the dirt road.  It’s pretty quiet, and a group of boys are running laps in the soccer field in front of the church.  I haven’t seen the husband.  Maybe he’s gone.  Maybe he’s with the baby.

What comes to mind are some old Rich Mullins lyrics:

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens
so few inches apart
We must be awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are.


Kibuye Kitchens

by Julie

When people ask me what I miss about living in a developed country, my answer is usually: restaurants. I love going out, looking at menus, visiting local dives, trying new things, sitting in coffee shops. I love traveling to new places by soaking in the atmosphere of a restaurant – the lighting, the music, the smells, the sounds of sizzling coming from the kitchen. And ok, I’ll admit it, I like going out because it means I am not cooking or doing dishes! I finish my meal and someone magically whisks away the dirty dishes and I enjoy a cup of coffee and possibly a yummy dessert. Going out to eat has always been a treat, but since living in rural Burundi for almost a year, I have really come to appreciate the luxury of restaurants!

So what DO we do for meals here at Kibuye? Without restaurants or any prepackaged, frozen, or boxed food options, planning ahead is a must for every meal. I am definitely not a chef, but I have learned so much about cooking – and life in general – from the other women on our compound.
With limited ingredients available locally, these women amaze me in their creativity and “can do” attitudes! What they can prepare, some days without electricity or running water, is inspiring.

We all hail from different parts of the US, Canada, or UK, so each of us have different dishes that we cook to make our homes feel like “home”. For me it’s cornbread in a cast iron skillet when I’m homesick.  For Lindsay it’s the days-long process of making sauerkraut. Even with our different “specialties” and “go to” dishes, we all use the same basic ingredients, so there are some similarities in our weekly menus.

Breakfasts are usually oatmeal or zucchini bread, eggs and whatever type of fruit is in season. Bananas are plentiful and always a favorite! Very rarely someone will make a treat like donuts on a weekend, but ohhhhh, there is nothing better than biting into a piping hot homemade donut! Unfortunately (or fortunately?) they are very time consuming to make, so for the most part – we try and keep it simple.

All the Kibuye families seem to have the staple “rice and beans” at least one day per week. There is one type of bean produced locally and we all buy about 1 kilo dried beans every week. The dusty beans must be carefully inspected by hand before soaking because the bag is peppered with sticks, rocks, dirt and little bugs who love to burrow inside the beans. But they are very affordable, as is the rice. Many families have a big batch on hand not only for their family, but also to help feed the Burundian househelpers, gardeners, and night guards who help us with everyday life.

Another dish that appears almost weekly in most of our kitchens is pizza! Pizza has always been a favorite of mine. But I must admit I liked it because it was so easy. I could order right from my phone, wait about 40 minutes for the doorbell to ring, serve it on paper plates, and voila! Easy delicious meal with no clean-up!

Here in Burundi, “pizza night” is still just as fun, but it is anything but easy. If you have ever made your own pizza dough, you know it must rise, be rolled out, and placed on a carefully prepared pan. None of us have pizza stones, so most pizza at Kibuye is baked on a rectangular cookie sheet. We make our own pizza sauce from tomatoes grown locally, but Italian seasoning is not something you can buy here, so we have all packed some in our suitcases (or asked visitors to bring some with them!).

The cheese stands alone
We can purchase only one type of cheese in a shop about 30 minutes away. It is generic in its flavor, probably best described as a cousin to Colby or perhaps a very mild cheddar. So it’s not exactly mozzarella, but it’s our only option, and it works for us! Popular pizza toppings among the families are green bell peppers, onions, pineapple, and sometimes imported canned mushrooms or olives. Pepperoni is a rare treat from America that gets used only for special occasions!

Making pizza by flashlight
All meat, for that matter, is sort of a “special occasion” thing. There is a boucherie (butcher shop) about three hours away in the capital city, Bujumbura, but getting meat up the hill to us is no small feat. Someone from our team goes to Bujumbura at least once a month, and they may go by the boucherie, but there are many obstacles. The shop is not open on Sundays, and we tend to go to Bujumbura on the weekends. When we do buy meat, we put it in a freezer bag, which sits in a hot car for a few hours driving up the hill. We must put it in the freezer the moment we arrive at Kibuye, but often our refrigerators are without power for 12+ hours, so the meat may not sufficiently freeze quickly enough. I have unfortunately thrown out more precious meat than I would like to admit, so we have learned not to buy that much, and don’t depend on having meat a lot. The whole compound is either full-time or part-time vegetarians, by necessity if not by choice.

We make sure our families are getting protein from non-meat sources, but this highlights one of many reasons there is so much malnutrition in Burundi. If our families, who have refrigerators, electricity, cars, and money, struggle to get protein into our diets, imagine how much more difficult it is for the average Burundian to incorporate meat into theirs!

Some Burundians might periodically buy a goat kebab, or brochette, sold at a local stand in our village. They are really tasty, and it’s fun to watch them cook, but you need to buy them on the right day, at the right time, if you want good meat!

Some days I can allow my mind to drift away to large grocery stores and cool restaurants. I can even feel sorry for myself at times that I don’t have everything at my fingertips like I used to. And yet, when I look around me, it seems almost ridiculous the amount and variety of food that I do eat here compared to the Burundians we see every day. It is a paradox. In some ways we feel like we “do without”, but we know we also have much more than is necessary. So this is what we grapple with. Even food reveals our sin nature. But we carry on, being thankful for what we have and letting ourselves splurge on occasion without guilt.

We appreciate your prayers as we daily face the severe poverty around us, wanting to help, but wanting even more to help empower the future leaders of this nation to care for their own. Pray for our families. Pray that our homes and dinner tables will be places of peace, laughter, and thankfulness.

And if you ever come visit us in Burundi, you will have the opportunity to taste African rice and beans and goat brochette from the village, but you may also be surprised by the culinary creations you will find in any of our homes!

Bon appetit!