"Our Names Are Written Down" – Burundi Day 3

On this morning I was really excited about spending the day in Matara witnessing 10 Batwa weddings. One of the things the Batwa has lost over the many years of discrimination is “Official” marriages and Birth Certificates. They were so discriminated against that the government would not even recognize that they existed. No birth certificate would be issued to them, which meant no health care and no marriages, among many other things.

So this day was an amazing day! For the 10 couples to have an “Official” marriage meant they were acknowledged. They had been living together as a married couple for years, but were never able to make it official. I try to place myself in their shoes and imagine a presence that did not even warrant acknowledgment, and it’s impossible for me to even fathom it.

As we drove up to Matara, all the couples were dressed up in their wedding clothes; the men in a suit coat, tie, new shoes and the women in traditional African wedding attire. I wish you could picture it, the men stood TALL with their chests out and the women looked so pretty and I could see they were a little shy.

At the bottom of the hill was the place where we did the civil ceremony. There was a little tent set up there and we sat to observe. A government official had come to Matara to do the ceremony and have the papers “signed.” Claude interpreted to us, “by this man coming makes them feel very special.” And then I realized, WOW – not only has the government allowed the Batawa the privilege of an official marriage, but he personally made the journey to the actual village himself to do the paperwork! It was a powerful, significant moment in the lives of these 10 couples.

We watched as all 10 couples came down to the tent with their maid of honor and best man and stamped their fingerprint into the official book.

Wow, “official”…how many Batwa can say that! I remember watching as the best man and maid of honor placed their hands on the shoulders of the couples as they recited vows to each other, and then they all placed their stamp in the book and I was thinking to myself, I wonder if these particular couples two years ago would even be able to imagine the way they’ve changed their own lives this past year. Of course I cried for each one with tears of joy!

After the civil ceremony, we climbed THAT hill {lol} in our dresses to go to the top to have the religious ceremony. We sat and watched as the pastor did the ceremony and the sweet Batwa couples faced each other. You could see the women and their shy faces as they stared into their husbands eyes; so sweet and so powerful all at the same time.

Afterwards we went to shake the hands with each couple and congratulate them. Then we had lunch with them. We had Goat meat and Kasava {which is a root type of thing with not much taste}. Kelley reminded us how important it was to receive hospitality from our friends. Typically no one would ever eat with a Batwa. Etienne said once that he ate with a non-Batwa and they broke the plates afterwards. So us receiving a meal from them would be a powerful statement. So we ate.

After the ceremony there were a few speeches made. There were a few that were very significant. One of the local area zone leaders {Matara is part of a larger community that is divided up and is governed by Zone Leaders} actually attended the wedding. He is not Batwa. He mentioned in his speech that it was wonderful what the Batwa are doing here and he acknowledged them by saying that it used to be that there were Hutus, Tutsies and Batwa, but then he said, “We are all Burundian.” Wow, powerful statement. I was in tears.

Next the government official stood to speak. I thought it was a strong statement that he stayed for the religious ceremony. He talked about all that the Batwa were doing in Matara. He mentioned there were plans to put a road in soon that would be beneficial to the entire surrounding community. He said that the Batwa of Matara offered on their own, to help build the road. The official said, “We will build it together.” This was significant to me because it meant that they truly understand that this land is theirs and that they want to be a part of the community to help better it. Then the official addressed us and said, “Thank you for what is happening here, you are showing us our prejudices. We are ALL Burundian.” WOW, there are no words to describe this and how powerfully quick God is working here. The official went on to say that all the Batwa in Matara now has birth certificates, which means they are acknowledged as people by the government.

Included in the 10 couples that got married was Francois, the leader of Matara. I had been watching his sweet face throughout the process. He was sooo happy. I watched him in his suit and how he stood so tall and proud.

After everyone had spoken, he stood up to speak. He said, “I was so proud to be standing there like a man in my new suit, getting married officially. I am so happy. OUR NAMES ARE WRITTEN DOWN! You saw it {motioning to us}! If there is now any problem with Batwa, the government has to acknowledge it. You saw it, OUR NAMES ARE WRITTEN DOWN!” I can’t describe the joy on his face. To KNOW that for the first time ever, he is acknowledged as a man in the eyes of others. I just can’t even begin to imagine what this day felt like for him.

The bible says in Micah 6:8 – “…And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” We have been studying this passage with Kelley, and I am so proud to see justice happening here. She asked us to imagine justice flowing like a river and pouring like a waterfall – I’m seeing this in Matara and it’s a beautiful thing.

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5 thoughts on “"Our Names Are Written Down" – Burundi Day 3

  1. Pingback: Hope is Sprouting Here | sherrynaron.com

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