For Séraphine

Ugiye he?

Ugiye he, where are you going, you ask
Kw'isoko, I say, I am going to the market
You laugh when I can't get the tone right,
when I don't say isoko but isooko, which means ‘source’,
like the source of the Nile.

N'amahoro? Is there peace?
people greet us as we walk past the new election billboards
Children giggle and call me umuzungu.
You've told me it's a word for white person, it means someone you only ever see going past,
like explorers, slave merchants, colonials
and aid workers in cars.
I guess the word has not lost its meaning.

We stop to look at the newest wax hollandais, the latest fashion prints from Congo,
while local pagnes, wrapped in green, red and yellow, parade by.
We work our way past rickety stalls made of tired bamboo
They sell bright orange palm oil in bottles, rice in any quantity you can imagine,
and beans, beans and more beans.
Amahoro ni meza, yes, there is peace, all is good.

This market is as busy as a red anthill
We buy fish capitaine, Nile perch,
but your kings live in the green hills, you say,
never see Lake Tanganyika
for fear of death.

You don't greet the Batwa vendor

Then a word spreads through the crowd

‘Events.’ How very Burundian,
this euphemism for ethnic killings.
Vendors pack, vehicles toot and beep.
The crowd thins.
We follow the crowds across the street, past
Belgian shops, remnants of the past
People empty the shelves in fear,
compete, for sugar, flour, rice, tea
and beans, beans and more beans.
For days the city pretends to be asleep.

N'amahoro? No, there is no peace
There is fear in your voice
Don't worry, I say,
we are here to bring peace
See — elections are coming
Multiparty democracy
You'll win, everyone will win
You shake your head
You don't know this country, you say
I can't wipe the fear from your almond spiced eyes.

What happens next only the tall grass on the hills can tell.

Ugiye he — where are you going
Umuzungu — the one who is always on the move
N’amahoro — is there peace?
Amahoro, umuzungu, ugiye he?

Tineke Van der Eecken (Western Australia)

First published in Marginalization (Blackmail Press 2012).

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