Over the course of 2 days we visited 3 Batwa villages.
The Batwa, as you may be aware, are indigenous to East Africa and make up approx 1% of the population of Burundi. Traditionally hunters and gatherers who lived off the land, there has been a struggle for recognition and therefore income and rights.
We were in Burundi to see our friends, Batwa leaders who are campaigning on behalf of their people and working for their economic empowerment.
Whilst there, this amazing Batwa community were harvesting maize, a crop that I had up until this point, zero excitement about or knowledge of. I’m a city girl. I grew up in a decent sized town, I live in central London and agricultural success for me is keeping a basil plant alive for longer than a week.
This harvest was apparently a not so minor miracle, given that the country, and in fact much of East Africa is grappling with a severe drought.
It was therefore my job to document this harvest, the new storehouse that had been built and the joy that resulted. This was not a difficult task. These are people who greet you with singing and dancing; you don’t have to ask them to smile for the camera.
Having documented joy, harvest, celebration and community we were ceremoniously sung out of the village and on our way. However, what became apparent 10 minutes into our car journey was that my memory card, with 90% of the photos taken that afternoon was not in my camera bag. It was not in the car, it was not on the floor and it was not in my pockets. (I’ve told this story to other friends who shoot stills and all of them immediately feel sick at the thought of this situation).
It was agreed that we would return to the village to try and find the card. We had walked the best part of 6 hectares of land, including through entire maize harvests. Needle in a haystack is an understatement.
The chief of the village was called and by the time we returned, the entire Batwa village was searching for my memory card.
Having retraced my steps, I found our team, Evariste, Kelly and Doreen sat on a hillside, surrounded by half the village praying, singing and looking worried. Upon enquiry, I was told that a small child from a neighbouring village had found my memory card and run away with it.
Now, I had serious issues with the idea of scapegoating a small child in a neighbouring village for my general stupidity, but half a village were on a hillside praying and it didn’t seem like the moment to mention it.
So I nodded and agreed to wait patiently.
What followed was an extraordinary combination of voice -calls across the valley and mobile phone calls, tradition and technology working in harmony. I was, I confess, disappointed not to see smoke signals.
This was followed by a couple of runners who met with Evariste, our friend and Batwa leader-extraordinaire to say that the card had been found and we’d be needing some money.
Evariste asked where the child could be found, and in almost Monty Python-esq unison they all pointed in the same direction and said “THAT WAY!”
At least, I assume that’s what they said because it was in Kirundi.
Either way, I’m in hysterics in the corner of the maize field, partly at the possible loss of a day’s work and partly because an entire Batwa community are praying for the safe return of my memory card.
The praying got louder, approx £2.50 exchanged hands and the runners, Olympiad-like disappeared into the valley.
After approx. 30 minutes, runners appeared from the valley, arms raised in celebration. The singing and dancing that was already vigorous got more jubilant. My well-established British cynicism didn’t allow me to believe until I saw. Batwa Olympiads were dancing, women were dancing, crazy muzungus (a foreigner) were dancing, I stood still, I wanted to see the memory card.
By an action of intelligence that makes MI5 or the CIA look frankly a little average, a small child in a neighbouring village had, in fact picked up my memory card and the work of an entire Batwa village had brought it back.
Then, and only then, did I crazy dance.
I have not been that moved by the deep kindness of a group of people in a very long time.