1. Calling the bride a “cow” is normal. Because of their place in traditional society, cows here were (are?) revered animals. In Burundian weddings, the bride’s family usually gives a speech in which they point out that in exchange for the dowry, they promised to deliver the “cow”, i.e. bride. Then they ask the groom’s family to confirm they have made good on their promise. The groom’s family asks the groom whether they have delivered the correct “cow.” The groom looks at the bride and says yes, and the crowd cheers. Also, saying that one has eyes like a cow is a compliment.

Bicyclists Hitching a Ride2. Bicycles. I’m a big fan of bicycles as a carbon free, exercise-included, fun means of transportation, though one of the challenges can be hauling cargo. I was once pretty proud to get to our garden a 40 lb. bag of compost using my bicycle, but these people put me to shame. In addition to regularly carrying passengers, I’ve seen a people carrying a bench and three or four chairs (they have rear racks that are quite a bit sturdier than you find in the US). Also, as you head up the hills out of Bujumbura, just about every truck that has a handhold is also hauling 3 or 4 bicyclists. They’ve got it down to quite an art – they keep one foot on the pedal and then the other leg they loop over the handlebar or over the top tube to keep them from getting fatigued by the need to lean so far forward. You should see them all lean in unison as they round a sharp corner at 30 mph (cue Huey Lewis’ “Power of Love”…)

3. Greetings. Close friends might greet each other with kisses on alternating cheeks like in many other countries, and strangers in some circumstances greet each other with handshakes. But in friendly settings, even strangers will greet each other with little hugs and then handshakes. Also, people here frequently hold hands when talking with each other, including males. I once had a random guy on the street come up to me and hold my hand for five minutes as he cheerfully talked to me and welcomed me to the city.

pineapple, papaya, avocado, egg4. Food. I am growing accustomed to eating giant (7’’) avocados, onion salads (no lettuce, just cucumbers or tomatoes on a bed of raw onion) and absolutely delicious pineapple, papaya, bananas, and mangos. In Burundi one is never too young to start drinking “fanta,” which is the general term for both Coca-Cola and all soda/pop drinks, an inversion of the linguistic traditions of the American South. Also different – just about everyone here eats food that is locally grown, unprocessed, and often organic (fanta aside).

Never too young to start.5. Traffic. Last week in church the pastor wanted to use a metaphor for the signals people receive from God about their leadings, but to do so he had to first spend five minutes explaining that in other countries there are these mechanically controlled lights at intersections, with a red light meaning stop…etc. So traffic lights are a foreign concept. As are stop signs and the expectation of taking turns. Instead, intersections are controlled by a highly complex negotiation, the logic of which has thus far eluded me. For example, if the intersection is of a smaller and a larger road, there seems to be some deference to the larger road, though that may be simply the deference one often gives to a ton of metal heading your way at high velocity.

Now I’ve been to other developing countries before and found the traffic runs a bit differently than in the U.S., but I find riding in cars here a harrowing experience. Not because I fear for my own safety, but because I’m certain we’re going to hit every pedestrian, bicyclist and motorcycle that we pass. Then just as I’m bracing for impact, the sea of human traffic magically parts and we squeak by within inches of people on both sides, none of whom even turns their head. Just another day on the road.

6. Carrying things on one’s head. Burundians seem to carry just about everything on their head, often without using their hands. You see people carrying pots, mats, sugar cane, an umbrella, anything, and man are they good at it. A study of Kenyan woman suggested that they modify their walk in a way that allows them to carry 20% of their body weight without exerting more energy than normal walking (making them far more efficient than any other form of unassisted transport). Last week I saw a guy carrying boxes full of printer paper on his head, stacked 4 boxes high, through the very crowded central market. It was precarious enough that I didn’t stop him to ask why he didn’t just take two trips.