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Date : 20th November, 2014
Time : 49’13” (Fastest run in East Africa)
Total Distance Run to date : 340 km
Run map and details : http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/640879056
As I was brushing my teeth that morning, I realised I was nervous about the day ahead. I was off to Burundi and, as I blogged a few weeks ago, jogging – in groups – is illegal there. I’d originally read about this on the BBC website and I wondered if I would really be in danger.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject : In March 2014, President Pierre Nkurunziza banned jogging, due to “fears it was being used as a cover for subversion.” That same month, twenty-one opposition supporters were sentenced to life in prison for using “jogging” as a way to organize “an illegal demonstration that turned violent.” As of June 2014 in Bujumbura, “the authorities have since restricted jogging clubs to certain areas. All sports must now take place in nine parks in Bujumbura and other designated football pitches.”
Not that reassuring. And, adding to my concern, was that the fact that I’d noticed that my previous blog on the subject had been read in Burundi – a place where I have no contacts. I’d written the blog as neutrally as possible but could I have offended Burundi officialdom?
We landed in Burundi to be met by the usual Ebola temperature check and then a blizzard of paperwork. A health form followed by an entry form followed by a visa application form. The visa form went through one person and then another – both of whom seemed to spend a long time looking at my passport. And, unlike Uganda and Rwanda, no-one was smiling.
My paranoia grew. A third and then a fourth person looked at the form. By now I was telling myself that the worst that could happen was that I wouldn’t be allowed into the country.
But eventually I was sent through to another person who checked my passport yet again – and waved me through to baggage pick-up. I collected my bag, navigated one last piece of paperwork – the man who collected the baggage tabs off our boarding cards – and I was in Burundi!
Now I had to find somewhere to leave my bags while I went on my run (I was only in Burundi for 6 hours). I struck lucky and found an official who’d look after them. The only catch was I had to be back 3 pm.
By this time it was after 2 pm so I told my growling stomach that I’d had a large breakfast and set off. The plan was simple. Run 5 km towards Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital, and then 5 km back. And I had to do it quickly (by my standards) if I was to get back by 3 pm.
By the time I’d run 5 km, I was really beginning to feel the effects of the previous two runs. The second 5 km was a real grind and I just put my head down and focused on keeping my speed up and taking it a kilometre at a time.
As I approached the 10 k mark, I began to wonder where the airport was. I had to be back at the airport by now – unless my Garmin was playing up or I’d turned round at the wrong place.
I finished my 10 k and I still didn’t seem to have reached the airport. I walked on a bit further – by now very conscious of the time – and still couldn’t see the airport. It didn’t make any sense.
I asked someone – and he pointed behind me. I’d sailed past the spur road that led to the airport without noticing. By now it was three minutes to 3 and I realised, with a sick feeling, that I was going to have start running again. As fast I could to get back to the airports by 3 pm.
In the end it was 2 km back to the airport – an extra 2 km of running that I really didn’t need given that I had to do two runs (n Kenya and Malawi) the next day.
And, just as I got back to the airport, there they were. A large group of men singing and jogging together. Either the law didn’t apply to them (they could have been military) or the law was a fiction in the first place.
I scrabbled to get out my phone but my hands were so sweaty that I couldn’t get it into camera mode in time – hence the picture above of the backs of a group of joggers.
I got back after 3 pm to be met by a smiling official who’d stayed behind after his shift to keep an eye on my bags – thank you!
Leaving the country was almost as difficult as getting in. There was some problem with my booking – I never found out what – and then my passport and boarding card were carefully checked by 4 different people. All within 5 metres of each other and all with different questions.
In the lounge I got to talking to the Reverend Peter – a Pentecostalist who been visiting friends in Burundi. He took me through the recent history of Burundi since independence. 6 civil wars in the last twenty years between Hutus and Tutsis and 300 000 killed. Not quite on the same scale as Rwanda but still a huge number. Unsurprisingly, the country is one of the poorest and least developed in the world with widespread malnutrition.
The political situation remains tense in the lead up to elections in 2015 and the Foreign Office advises against travel to certain parts of the country. And, yes, as you will have gathered, the government is highly suspicious of everyone – even runners.