On May 7 in Nyakabiga quartier, Jean, who was a member of the ruling party's youth wing (Imbonerakure) was seized by a mob of supporters of the opposition, killed and burnt. It was definitely an own-goal by the opposition, who had been claiming the moral high ground in what was framed as a David v Goliath battle for the future of Burundi.
As I looked at a number of pictures of this young man – his lifeless body, charred face and protruding hand – I thought of his Mother, his Father, and his sisters. What must they be going through? How totally senseless!
And then on Sunday, Armel was buried. I went on his Facebook page and saw what he'd written last Christmas, little knowing within six months he'd be six feet under. I haven't been able to glean much information on his life, but he died representing the opposition – fighting for the cause of the other side to his already buried burnt countryman Jean. I guess Armel's Mother and siblings' tears are fresher, but no doubt both families are grieving deeply.
I highlight these two lives on purpose as I continue to tread a delicate path of wanting to stay in country and not be labeled 'pour' or 'contre', for or against a third term in office. I just love this nation and weep at what is happening. We are all losing, and both sides are becoming more entrenched in their positions, which bodes extremely badly for our chances of recovery.
I found Armel's words deeply moving, as he whispers them to us now from the grave. This is what he wrote on Christmas day 2014:
Each morning, when you wake up, begin by thinking of joy and love. Instead of turning your mind to all the day's chores, say 'Lord God, I thank you that I'm still alive, that I can breathe, eat, walk, see, hear, think, love, for these are incredible gifts.' Then get out of bed joyfully. And learn to even be thankful for each problem, which is the best way of overcoming it. If you begin by complaining and getting upset, you'll be even more weighed down. But if you say 'Thank you Lord, there must be a reason for this obstacle, I need to learn something through it', you'll find your difficulties turning into precious stones. Nothing can resist gratitude. And so keep thanking God until you feel that all that is happening can be for your good. Thank Him for what you have and what you don't have, for what brings you joy and what makes you suffer. Even when unhappy, find something to be thankful for. That is how you will embody the flame of life.
On Sunday the East African heads of state met and came out with a declaration calling for a delay of a minimum of 45 days for the elections, amongst other things. The opposition has made it clear that their people aren't dying for a paltry delay in elections but for a change of regime. More friends are fleeing the country. Random grenades are going off in the centre of town spreading further fear. The Burundian Franc is losing its value fast. The economy is grinding to a halt and the effects will be felt in the months and years to come.
It doesn't have to be lose/lose. God help us, whether we're with Jean or Armel, to seek peaceful and creative answers. Otherwise, an eye for an eye will simply lead inexorably to us all being blind.
In the meantime, as Armel suggests, even if overwhelmed and discouraged, I choose to find something to be thankful for today...