Burundi: Live!

Another challenging country when it comes to finding books translated into English. Luckily Roland Rugero has written Baho! It’s a beautifully written short novel, or a novella, set in the beautiful country of Burundi. It has been skillfully translated by Christopher Schaefer. It is almost lyrical, and quite beautiful in all its brutality.

Burundi has a turbulent history with Hutus and Tutsis, but they are only mentioned once in this book. It is quite refreshing that the one book which has been translated into English is not about genocide, or civil war, because so many books from countries with only one or two books translated into English are about these matters. I fully understand the reasons why these kinds of books are popular, but it is a nice change to read about something else.

Well, there is a bit of these in the book, but in a larger, more universal way. The main character, Nyamugari, is a mute man, whose parents have been murdered, but he is part of a community in a fictional village in Burundi. One day he asks a woman for directions to the privy. Being mute he gestured his question, and the woman misinterpreted it, and thought he was going to rape her. Unfortunately for Nyamugari there have been several rapes in the region, which together with the drought, puts everyone on an edge.

Nyamugari becomes the fall guy for all the tension in the village, and once a friend of everyone he suddenly becomes the villain. Killing him would end the drought and the women in the village would be safe. Killing him would be a feather in the cap of the mob leaders in the village. Poor Nyamugari went from being a likeable young man to being the scapegoat in his own community. A sadly universal theme. An innocent attempt is being misinterpreted, and suddenly all hell is loose.

Baho means to live in Kirundi. This explains a lot. Even though the book is about killing, violence and blame in the own community, the book is above all about living. It is important to stay alive and live. It’s a simple novel about justice, the justice we seek in our own community, the justice a whole community can stand behind. Live your life and read this novella!

It is sad that these things happen in real life. I guess mostly it’s one mistake that opens up the gates to hell, but it Nyamugari’s case it wasn’t even a mistake. He simply did not have an effective way to communicate, and it was all downhill from there. Even though the book is not about Hutus and Tutsis, or any other ethnic groups fighting, it is still a book about failed communication, and overreacting leading to unspeakable actions by people not involved with the whole case to begin with. Universal, indeed.

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