Watching Robin Hood

By “Bjorn in Burundi”

Entertainment options are, to put it lightly, slim in Cankuzo. On an ideal day I spend my 2 hours at lunch and 3-4 hours between getting off work and going to bed in some combination of eating, watching a movie or show on my laptop (the constant search for novel material in this sector constitutes a defining aspect of the expat experience), reading something on the Kindle I stole from my mom, or watching exercise videos with silly names on my laptop (and usually follow along with the exercise as I watch). I say ideal because this really is a pretty nice situation, to have a decent amount of free time and relatively redeeming activities with which to fill it. The repetitiveness doesn’t get too old because at this point I’m not often here for more than 5 days at a time (well that’s a lie, there’s only so much P90x Yoga one can take, but the repetitiveness of movies and reading and eating is great). Sometimes I even resent it just a bit when colleagues invite me out for beer/brochette, or an interesting soccer game forces my life out of its two building radius in pursuit of the Holy Trinity of Cankuzo: TV, cable, electricity. Recently Gym Tonic has reentered the scene but that’s once a week. There’s a ping pong table around the corner but that requires friends, and I don’t have many here, although I did play my uncle Ted when he came up and definitely won so that’s cool.

I’m not all alone in Cankuzo though. There’s my housemate. He spends his free time working on sermons (he is a pastor) and watching videos on the small TV in the living/dining room. The videos fall into two genres: there are religious “music videos” produced by Burundian church choirs that consist of dancing on the beach or in front of the big car dealership in Bujumbura – where wedding pictures are also taken, I think given that it has one of the only manicured public lawns in Buja, but don’t really know, it’s just a thing – and unbearably repetitive music. Otherwise there are the Tanzania soap operas that present a mildly more interesting mix of weak production values and boilerplate drama inevitably involving a lot of men yelling at women in living rooms and on cell phones, driving around in cars, and eating at mid-range restaurants with other guys. I watch, but they are in Swahili and the forced acting creates this weird feeling that leaves me wanting them to add in musical numbers or something but they don’t, and it’s frustrating so I can only watch for so long. Up until the other day this pattern had only been broken once, when I came in to find him intently watching Capote, which I had apparently left around somewhere. That was weird.

Well apparently Jérémie got lonely during my visit to Uganda because now he invites Innocent, one of our drivers (who drives very cautiously and does this thing where he slows down whenever he sees I’m about to take a sip from a water bottle – another addition to the continuing qualms of special treatment for being white), over for lunch and dinner every day. This brings us to the second time divergence in household entertainment and the reason I’m writing this post.

The other day during lunch Jérémie put on the 1938 version of Robin Hood. At first I didn’t know what it was and tried to silently stand up to this disturbance of my reading one of the magazines Piaf let me have as a prize for being the most isolated fellow (boss), by remaining stretched out on one of the living room couches. Eventually, however, I noticed that Jérémie and Innocent were gasping in unison so I peered up to find what I guess these days would be a fairly cheesy fight scene with dramatised choreography and a clear lack of sword-to-flesh realism. Instead of sneering, however, a big smile spread over my face as I saw my two colleagues go through a coordinated process of craning mesmerised towards the screen and then, at every blow, shooting back with their legs kicking up in the air and letting loose classic Burundian expressions of shock such as “shaaaaa”, “wa wa whaaa” and “eyh eyh eyh” then returning immediately towards the screen in silence. As the process continued I was about to feel a little guilty for the potential condescension in finding their enjoyment so amusing but then I realised I had started watching the movie too and was pretty transfixed myself. Turned out it was a great movie.

It’s hard to describe why I found such pleasure in this moment, or why I felt the need to write about it, but there are random moments of sublime connection with my surroundings here that are valuable as memories, especially in a context where I so often feel removed and ill at ease with my surroundings. This one was one of them and I have no idea if I was able to communicate the scene in writing, but at least I won’t forget it. I also need to get in the habit of writing about day-to-day occurrences instead of what goes on in my head because the latter can be exhausting.

This text was taken from the blog, “Being in Burundi:” 

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