Striking out to Burundi

Contributing editor Kari Costanza and photo director Jon Warren are on assignment. Kari writes:

This is my first blog. It literally is. I’ve never blogged about anything before. I’m not on Facebook (although my dog is) and I don’t Tweet. This may not be a good blog or even a blog at all, maybe just a paragraph or two. But whatever it is, it was supposed to start differently.

Chaos for travelers.

Chaos for travelers. (Jon Warren/World Vision)

Sunday, August 16, 2009, I was supposed to wake up in Burundi. Instead, I am surrounded by travelers from all over the world, weighed down by their suitcases, backpacks, rolling bags, strollers, crying babies, tall wooden-carved giraffes—all trying to get out of Nairobi’s International Airport.

No one could get out yesterday either. Kenya Airways, called the Pride of Africa, went on strike, leaving what seems a good portion of the world’s vacationing and business population scouring Nairobi for cheap hotels and searching for their luggage rolling around baggage claim on conveyor belts. Like most of the throng, we were finding neither.

Fortunately, we ran into a well-connected young man named Nicholas who set us up with a reasonably priced place to stay and a driver to take us there. We arrived after midnight and tried to sleep a bit before we came back early to the airport. The morning news report focused on the Kenya Airways strike, but that’s all we could tell as it was broadcast in Swahili. So, we came early.

When we arrived, we were met by hundreds—perhaps as many as a thousand—travelers waiting to get into the airport. Television news crews were covering the event. There we found out the good news—the strike is over.

Kari (in pink) waiting for a flight.

Kari (in pink) waiting for a flight. (Jon Warren/World Vision)

The bad news—flying to Burundi is low on the priority list today. As I write, British-sounding Kenyan Airway representatives are calling out: “Accra, Lagos, Amsterdam, London.” Anyone on those flights can go into the airport. Those going to Burundi will wait outside on the cement sidewalk.

I’ve never been to Burundi but I am anxious to go. Photographer Jon Warren and I are covering the birth of World Vision US child sponsorship in a place called Gasorwe. To prepare, I’ve been reading an incredible book by Robert Krueger and his wife, Kathleen, about their years in Burundi with the State Department—From Bloodshed to Hope in Burundi.

One of the pictures Mr. Krueger includes shows tens of thousands of refugees from Gasorwe fleeing after a terrible massacre that occurred there in 1995. I’ve been to dangerous places before—Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia after the war, but Burundi makes me a little nervous.

It also makes me sad that it’s so difficult to get to Burundi. It started at the airport in Seattle. The ticket agent asked me, “Burundi? Where’s that?” She looked carefully over my Visa and deemed the dates on it incorrect, even though it was perfectly processed. When she tagged my bag, I wasn’t sure I would ever see my luggage again and so far, I haven’t. Maybe it’s in Brussels. Or Bulgaria.

And, when we arrived last night to find that every Kenya Airways flight had been cancelled, including our flight to Burundi, we called our travel agent back in the States to find an alternate airline. There is none. Only Kenya Airways, the Pride of Africa.

So far the things I know about Burundi are these: People who work in international transportation don’t know where it is and only one airline flies there from Nairobi. It makes me want to do a good job on this report. No country on God’s earth should be forgotten. If we can ever get there, we’ll find out more.



Filed under Burundi/Rwanda, On Assignment

2 responses to “Striking out to Burundi

  1. Nice job for your first post, Kari!

    We’re looking forward to hearing more. Hope you find Burundi. (Maybe you can rent a bicycle if you need to?)

  2. carriedavis1

    Agreed Kari! What a blessing you are. Thank you for using your God given talents to inspire us all. Your stories give us the opportunity to help change the world.

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