Bill Ryerson: Blog from Burundi

September 10, 2012 • Family Planning, Serial Dramas, Africa, News

Bill Ryerson recently sent me this blog entry from Burundi.







Greetings from Kigali, Rwanda. I am just finishing a week of meetings in Burundi and Rwanda regarding new projects Population Media Center is planning.  I was accompanied on the visit to Burundi by Theo Nzeyimana, PMC’s Rwandese producer.

We arrived in Bujumbura late on Saturday night, September 1, in a pouring rainstorm.  I had flown from Lagos that day, and Theo joined me when I changed planes in Kigali [capital of Rwanda].  We arranged for a taxi to take us to the hotel.  When we got the bags loaded and got in the car, I noticed a strong smell of gasoline fumes.  The driver immediately lowered all the windows, so we could breathe, even if we were getting soaked by the rain.

As we left the airport grounds, I noticed the driver had no working windshield wipers and no defroster.  So through the pouring rain, he was creeping along wiping the fog off the inside of the windshield.  As we left the area that had streetlights, I noticed the taxi also had no headlights.  The driver struggled to stay on the road and to avoid oncoming vehicles.  Then in the middle of a swamp, the car stalled.  The driver opened the hood and moved some wires around and then asked Theo to push the car, while he tried to jump start it.  That did not work.  The driver then took a hammer to some part of the engine, and the dashboard lights came on.  Another push by Theo, and we were off to the hotel at 5 miles an hour.

We survived the taxi ride and after trying three rooms at the hotel to find one with a working air conditioner, I hit the hay at 1:30 am.  By this point, I was really missing Lagos.  Breakfast the next morning added fuel to the fire.  The waitress brought me a bowl of cornflakes.  When I poured milk on the cereal, I disturbed a cockroach that came scrambling out of the cereal.  I had the waitress take it away, which she promptly replaced with another bowl from the same box.  Since the second bowl appeared to have no inhabitants, I ate it as our 9:00 am meeting started.

The worst thing about the hotel was that I could not get an internet connection except at the open-air front desk, where in the evenings, I swatted mosquitos while checking emails.

On our final day, four days later, I showered by flashlight because no one at the hotel was awake early enough to notice that the power was out and start the generator.  When we left the hotel, check out took about half an hour, as the one person at the desk had to manually add up all the meal tickets and convert them to dollars.  Most of the way through this process, I noticed that the math did not seem to work and had him do it over.  Then I got my calculator and redid the math.  Indeed, his calculator was wrong.  He let us use his calculator (and we got the results he had gotten).  He then explained that his calculator did not always give the correct answer, because it had some “problem.”

Despite the issues we had with creature comforts, the trip was quite worthwhile.  Also, UNFPA provided us with a vehicle, driver, and staff member to accompany us to all meetings, most of which they had scheduled on our behalf.

Burundi has made progress in getting uptake of family planning in the last 15 years, going from 1% of married women using modern methods of contraception to 18%.  There is still a long way to go.

The total fertility rate in Burundi (which is the average number of children a woman will have during her childbearing years) is 6.4 children per woman, which is one of the highest in the world.  As a result of large desired family size, use of family planning services remains extremely low in Burundi.  There is a critical need to change social norms with regard to ideal family size, acceptability of family planning and self-efficacy with regard to decision-making about family size, and to provide correct information regarding the relative safety of contraception compared to early and repeated childbearing. Addressing the status of women in Burundian society will also empower women in reproductive decision-making and lead to an increased level of reproductive health.  Addressing these underlying cultural and informational issues can best be done through carefully designed communications programs, such as serial dramas.

We had a very successful mission in Burundi, with several agencies expressing strong interest in supporting the initiative and requests for a longer visit in the near future.  While I may pick a different hotel when I go back, I look forward to that visit.

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