Lundi méchant à Bujumbura

It’s Monday night – which anywhere else in the world mightn’t be the most auspicious night for partying but here in Burundi thanks to a local institution known as lundi méchant (mean Monday?) its normally a good night to go out for both expats and locals alike. Tonight especially more than any other Monday promises to be a big one as tomorrow is a jour ferié, a national holiday.

I had barely heard of Burundi, probably couldn’t locate it on a map and until I got there didn’t know its capital was called Bujumbura – or Buja as it known to the local expats – but having exhausted all other avenues of entertainment in the short time that I had been there I was open-minded and eager to check out the nightlife.

Burundi is Rwanda’s twin state with which it shares much of its history. Both countries have some of the highest population densities in Africa, straining resources and food production and both share a similar colonial legacy of racial tension between Hutus and Tutsis. Burundi was racked by civil war for most of ‘90s and even now peace is tenuous. However Burundi’s genocidal episodes, being overshadowed by the sheer scale of the genocide that took place over the border, received far less international attention than Rwanda’s and consequently far fewer aid dollars flowed into the country afterwards for rebuilding. As a result of the war and widespread corruption Burundi is now somewhere near the bottom of the ten poorest countries in the world; hard to say where as they stop ranking them once you’re into the bottom ten. In any case over eighty percent of the population live in poverty and the economy is essentially one of subsistence agriculture.

Unsurprisingly there’s not too much to see or do in Burundi – unlike Rwanda it lacks populations of wild animals like mountain gorillas to attract tourists – and even most of the handcrafts on sale in the markets come from across lake Tanganyka in the DRC. After a couple of days in Bujumbura I have done pretty much all there is on offer in the way of tourism. I’ve visited the empty and dusty tourist office, bought some of the most boring postcards I have ever seen for the incredible sum of $1USD a pop (more than the average daily wage). I posted them at the post office but they never arrived at their destination, the stamps were probably lifted off the postcard as soon as I left with the cards discarded and the stamps resold [edit: actually, all six of them turned up stuck together in a soggy clump at one address around six months after I wrote this. I have no idea what they were doing in the interim]. I have visited a market where I was warned not to take my wallet or camera because of the risk of theft. There was nothing much worth buying or photographing anyway, but I did provide entertainment to hordes of locals who happily pointed and yelled ‘Mzungu! Mzungu!’ at me. I have visited the ‘zoo’ where I appreciatively tipped my guide for fulfilling the wish of every small boy who has ever got frustrated at the lack of action from the animals in the cages by alternatively prodding with a stick or kicking the cage of any animal that wasn’t doing anything. I had my reservations when it came to antagonising the chimps but didn’t say anything, secretly hoping the chimps would catch the keeper’s hand as he taunted them and rip his arm off. Evidentially my camera has more of a conscience than I do though as it chooses this moment to die, just as a chimp throws a handful of sand at me. We shrug and move on to the crocodile cage where we both get in and I get to tug the tail of a fourteen foot monster. I don’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved when he doesn’t do much in response. Apparently on feeding days you can buy a guinea pig to feed to the crocs. I was glad it wasn’t feeding day.

Now it’s Monday and I’m still here for a few more days. There is pretty much only one entertainment avenue as yet unexplored; going out and getting drunk. This is an area where Burundians shine; pretty much their only distinguishing national characteristics that I have been able to make out are friendliness (what country doesn’t claim this as a national trait?) and being good drummers. These two factors could spell the makings of a good evening I think, if combined with their national pastime which seems to be drinking judging by the number of men I have seen drinking the day away in the shade while the women work the fields. Apparently Burudi’s one surviving industry is the national brewery. It produces Primus, an eminently drinkable brew. Banana beer is the cheapest intoxicating liquor but they also produce a spirit called bourasine made from pineapples. So far I’ve stuck to the Primus.

I meet a bunch of expats; a collection of UN and NGO workers plus a handful of private sector workers (here the private sector workers are mostly in telecommunications – Africa’s boom industry – but there are also visitors from Congo where they mostly work in mining or in ‘private security companies’). We eat at an Indian restaurant and ponder the mystery of how Indians ended up here. Afterwards we go to someone’s house for someone else’s leaving party. Apparently there are a lot of leaving parties – young UN and NGO workers come and go without ever staying for long. There are a few Burundais at the party too, wealthy kids from the elite.

So far the evening has been fairly tame but there is an whisper of anticipation in the warm evening breeze as everywhere we go people are talking about one bar in particular – the 5/5 , cinq sur cinq or ‘five on five’ as one girl helpfully translated into English via a thick Belgian accent (never mind that we were already conversing in French). Cinq sur cinq is apparently the bar to be at for lundi méchant.

Around midnight we finally depart for this now thoroughly hyped-up bar. Everybody drives; apparently driving drunk is less dangerous than the alternatives of walking at night or taking a taxi, although the state of the roads – many unpaved, even in the capital – and the stories my new friends tell me about near-accidents or ending up in the deep culverts bordering the roads cause me to doubt this wisdom. The bar is located in a neighbourhood described to me as being “populaire”. This doesn’t translate as directly as I initially think, I guess “decidedly working-class” might be a better approximation although even that doesn’t give an accurate sense of the place. Burundian working class? It’s a slum. I think of Heart of Darkness as we drive through the night and feel a bit melodramatic.

We’re riding dirty in a huge armour-plated and bomb-proof (blindé motherfucker!) Nissan Patrol that belongs to the local US marines so I’m about as secure as its possible to be, ensconced as I am with three others in the boot of this huge two-tonne tricked-out whip, behind two sets of doors, one bullet proof one with glass so thick that it barely emits a clink when I tap it. The windows don’t roll so we’re sealed in.

Arriving at the nightclub, the car is immediately surrounded by a crowd of jostling men who either wanted to steal shit from the car or to get paid by us to protect the car while we are in the nightclub (or ideally both). They jostle and tap on the windows but I can barely hear them through the two inch glass so it all feels rather removed and therefore funny. As soon as we step out though the reality hits me with more force than the steamy equatorial night after the air-conditioned interior; there are people surrounding us who would like nothing better than to separate me from my wallet or even my shoes.

“Are you sure this place is safe?”

“Well it’s on the UN’s list of places that UN personnel aren’t supposed to go to but then so are all the places worth going in Buja.”

“Why aren’t you supposed to go here? Is it dangerous?”

“I’m not sure, probably because of muggings and stuff.”

Reassured I follow the others and push my way through the crowd, hands stuffed into pockets tightly and we head to the bar.

The bar is an unpromising looking one story corrugated iron structure. It’s packed and there is music and people spilling out onto the street. We pay cover and make our way inside through a dense crush of bodies. It is dark, stiflingly hot and humid and reeks of sweat, cigarettes, beer and worse. The stench from the toilets – conveniently located next to the dance floor – radiates out in ammoniac waves.

“Ugh, this place smells like the ass sweat of a thousand Africans in here.”

The marine who drove us here spits in disgust and promptly leaves. He’s right on – the body odour in here is certainly unique – though I can’t understand why he came in the first place if he hated the place so much. I can’t stand it for long either at my current level of sobriety and head outside for a drink. I need to get blindé d’alcool – armour-plated with booze – before I can handle it.

I order a beer and get asked whether I want it cold or warm. The locals prefer their beer warm, (perhaps making a virtue out of the frequent lack of electricity for refrigeration) but the bar tenders know that mzungu like their beer cold so at more upscale drinking spots you get the choice. I go with a cold one and take it outside where I get chatting to a young Burundais guy called Patrick. Patrick is around twenty. He’s fashionably dressed, flamboyant, well spoken and surprisingly, openly gay. A recent law change re-criminalized homosexual acts and there have been protests in the streets of Buja against homosexuals. Patrick says he just wants to be himself and live in a place where his individuality is accepted and I admire him for his courage in being open and out in such a closed society.

Later on the dance floor thins out a bit, the smell cools down a little inside (or am I now too desensitized to notice it?) and the mzungu join the dance floor. There’s something beautiful about the music that lets it sound both joyful and mournful at once, like the feeling of nostalgia in a song. The rhythms are great too and everyone loves dancing.

Straight away I have two girls grinding on me, one bumping her ass in my crotch as she bends over nearly touching the floor the other grabbing me from behind, whispering in my ear promsing me very good sex if I come outside behind the fence with her. I’m under no illusion as to her primary motivation and, according to one of the expat guys, a foray behind the fence with her would cost me the princely sum of around two bucks).

I buy one of them a beer in the hopes of getting rid of her but she latches on firmer. “I love your beards,” she purrs as she tugs at my face, “you are my Jesus”. With this masterful line it looks like the other girl has lost out in the struggle for my attention but at then she steps in and whispers in me ear “don’t go with her, she has SIDA [HIV]”. The first girl knows the other girl has said something mean and things look tense. It’s time for an extraction and one of the expat girls comes to my rescue, pretending to be my girlfriend and dragging me away. This works to a point – I am now grinding an expat NGO worker instead.

The dance floor pretty much looks like that scene from Blacksnake Moan where Samuel Jackson is playing guitar in that bar and everyone is getting their freak on. It’s pretty sexy, bodies writhing in unison, locked together at the crotch, asses bobbling around at speed, groping and grinding. Two girls turn on an impromptu simulated sex show, making out, spanking each other and generally getting the guys worked up. One of them is down on all fours twitching her ass rapid fire and rocking her pelvis at speed and the other girl first pretends to mount her and then presses her face against the first girl’s ass.

Eventually I stagger outside for a cigarette and catch the beginnings of a lurid dawn. To my now jaded eyes it appears mournful. Perhaps its the illumination of the poverty around me, juxtaposed against the fresh beginnings of a new dawn; the sunrise framed by a tangle of power lines above rusted red corrugated iron roofs, mud buildings and a red mud road. While taxi drivers vie for our business, we dither, transfixed in the moment. Five minutes pass before the spell is broken and we pile into someone’s ute – again too many crammed in the cab and the rest sitting behind on the tray. My somber mood evaporates in the first rays of the sun as we drive home through a city waking up in front of us. It’s not even five and already the streets are lined with people, no cars just pedestrians, up already and going somewhere. Judging from the baskets of produce they carry on their heads or the implements in their hands they are off to market or to tend to their crops. We lean out the windows as we drive along, laughing and waving at the people who shout mzungu.


19 Comments on “Lundi méchant à Bujumbura”

  1. […] to a pretty sexy party and I’m guessing that whoever searched for those terms ended up at my post about […]

  2. everyday says:

    You Obviously didn’t like the place. But How the hell did you end up there ? Or why shouldn’t you explore more?

  3. everyday says:

    My point here is : If you had done more researches about that country, then you knew that it was POOR already ( if you know what poor means). So don’t act like you didn’t know where you were at. Deal with all that then you smart ass!! I’m an American, but you’re definitely a retard! Stupid scants leave their homes simply to show themselves up abroad! Couldn’t anyone tell your smart assness and put a bullet in your flat face?? Next time learn what cool means because all this has nothing to do with it.

    • nzcampbell says:

      I’m sorry, I don’t understand your point. I can tell you are upset by what I wrote but I’m not sure by what exactly. Or was it more the overall tone that you didn’t appreciate? How would you have written it differently?

      • umutamakaz says:

        I like How you’re still trying to act smart after approving who you are on the social media (a simple coward). You know you’re an ignorant! What people like you call good tend to usualy not be good at all. You could be a prostitute or a gay. Your so called story is full of nothing but negative description about that country/the place you ware. Like…what else did you forget? When you can’t respect yourself in the first place, who the hell do you expect to be responsible for that? prostitutes don’t jump at every person that they see in the middle of the street, But you must be one of them or whatever you do that engross them must be related to what thosse prostitutes prefer in their small world. Even though you’re a coward, you still had a chance to realize that not every country is fortunate as we are in US, so that alone shall let you know that not every place is going to be like LA or NY. It’s clear that you expected that place to be certain way and then got mad which led to all those lack of respect talks (I mean the “graphic Description”). I wonder what types of researches you do when it comes to leaving your home to a differet territory. Next time you dream of going back there, be a gentlemen not a prostitute as well.

      • nzcampbell says:

        You sound like a bigot. What have you got against prostitutes or gays? Maybe you should save some of your judgments for yourself. I won’t publish anymore of your hate on my blog, if you want to spew insults about someone you don’t know (I’m not American by the way) get your own blog and send me the link.

      • everyday says:

        Not being American doesn’t make much different dude! Read your “story” VS my Coments and then re-try to find out who sounds more likely one. For your mindless information, I have decided to give this crap read by different types of my people including comments. None of them knew that I wrote them comments, but guess who was found to sound beyond bigot? YOU!!! my friend! Now it’s up to you to learn what professionalism means and keep your crap that you call “story”. The world don’t want to hear it ! thanks

      • nzcampbell says:

        Ok, your reading comprehension clearly isn’t too good – that’s ok I don’t think English is your first language (despite you claiming in an earlier comment to be an American) – so because I’m feeling charitable I’ll spell some things out for you:

        “A bigot: someone who is chauvinist, partisan, sectarian; racist, sexist, homophobe, dogmatist, jingoist.” You came to my blog and made disparaging comments about prostitutes and homosexuals. This is the very definition of bigotry.

        Why do I need to learn what professionalism means? This is a personal blog where I record subjective experiences. There is nothing professional about that, it’s the opposite of professional. I don’t need to ‘keep my crap that [I] call story’ (whatever exactly you mean by that) because it’s my blog. If you’ve got a problem with that, I’ve got a novel suggestion to you – fuck off. If the ‘world don’t want to hear it’, then no one will read it, simple as that, the theory of competition of ideas is one of the cornerstones of free speech. You don’t have the right to speak for every human on the planet, let them decide what they want to read.

        You haven’t raised any substantive points about what you didn’t like about my story in any of your comments except that I can’t expect things to be like LA or NY when I travel (despite the fact that even a cursory reading of my blog, or the fact that I use British spelling would tell you that I’m not American) and that you thought my description of Burundi was negative. I don’t think it’s a negative description, I aimed for realist and gritty but you probably would have preferred that I wrote something disingenuous about a tranquil little paradise in central Africa. That wouldn’t be true. I went there with an open mind, had some great experiences, made some friends and poured a little money in the local economy. I’m not going to be doing the country any good if I write some bullshit about how great it is there. I just recorded what I experienced, I haven’t passed judgment on it – I didn’t say it was good or it was bad. If you don’t like a foreigner writing honestly about his experiences in another country then maybe you are racist as well as bigoted.

        You have commented four times on this blog post this year. Yes different names but you gave the same email address each time – oops. Your unique brand of English and unusual punctuation also reveals you to be the author of the same comments. Not once have you tried to engage with my replies, you have just insulted me. You’ve suggested someone put a bullet in my flat face. I suspect you’ve lied, claiming to be an American when I believe you have far more of a vested interest in the country I’m writing about. You’ve called me a coward, yet you’re the one who is writing anonymously using different pseudonyms. My Twitter handle is linked to this blog, the whole world can see who I am. I’m not hiding behind multiple aliases online.

        Do you want to be honest, reveal what your interest is in this story, which is, I suspect, that I have wounded your national or regional pride, (again, ‘jingoistic’ or another sign of a bigot) and engage in a discussion about why you feel this way and how you think I could better express myself on my own blog? Or do you want to keep slinging incoherent insults? Because if it’s the latter I will kindly invite you again to fuck off.

      • everyday says:

        Oh! Wait..In other words,…since I found some misspelled words and some mistakes grammarly (that I tried to use simply to alliviate the complex), let’s disgress and jump on whether you spelled them right or wrong. you’re such a retard! Yes I know! It is obviously the same person replying, and if I happened to put a different name it is because it’s possible. Don’t feel smart because if you re-read those comments, it’s obvious that I was building what I started. Speaking on me being American, I will leave it to you so maybe you’ll affiliate with the topic here. I can feel your revulsion rising as I try to point out your stupidity. I am not on your blog to attack you, but to show how We (excluding you) normal human react on matters .

      • nzcampbell says:

        Can you guess which Clash album I’m thinking of? It’s not Cut the Crap.

  4. A stranger everywhere or strange person you are.

    I am dutch and french speaker excuse me for my English,
    I come from Burundi.
    You disappointed me with your negativity talked about my country check look this : Indeed you should do what others tourism do , not only going to the ghetto bars like 5/5 about the girls i don’t said much comment but you are talking like you live in planet Mars or Jupiter where you come from there is no prostitute as well you tested HIV with your only eyes !!!even doctors cant look someone and said (he or she )have aids you still far a way with knowledge .
    the most boring postcards you posted i live in Europe every times my family send something they arrived at their destination .
    I am Burundian and i never been to 5/5 in fact intellectual or respect person you will never meet them there i traveled some countries in Europe or America they also have Ghetto bars . The silly you are how you can said the place smells like the ass sweat of a thousand Africans !!! remember it was including your little white ass sweat then it was sewer gas smell .
    your negativity sound like a person come out nowhere sorry .

    • nzcampbell says:

      Hi Larissa

      Thank you very much for your calm and reasoned comment on this story, I do appreciate your feedback.

      I’m sorry if my story offended you, particularly after I enjoyed the hospitality of your fellow countrymen. I try to write without judgment to honestly report the things that I experience. I’m sorry you didn’t find this story to be representative of your lovely country. In my defence, it wasn’t supposed to be; it was a story about going to a pretty wild bar. I included the background information to give context, but perhaps I should have kept a closer focus?

      Regarding your specific points:

      Thank you for the link. I look forward to watching the video when I have a decent internet connection.

      Yes, of course we have prostitutes in my country. In fact, I believe New Zealand was one of the first countries to legalise prostitution.

      I naturally realise that you cannot tell whether someone has AIDs from looking at them, I just reported what the girl told me. The inference in my story was that she told me this to scare me away from the girl. As it was I wasn’t interested in having sex with anyone, paid for or otherwise; I had a girlfriend at the time.

      Regarding the postcards: around six months after I posted the postcards, and long after I had written this post, the postcards arrived in New Zealand. They had been soaked and had stuck together. All six of them arrived at one address. So yes, perhaps I should offer retraction about my speculation as to why the postcards never arrived before I wrote this. I apoligise, but will leave the story as it is, because that’s what I assumed (wrongly) at the time. This I suppose, is revealing of my own prejudices.

      I can tell you there actually were plenty of ‘intellectual’ and ‘respect[ful]’ people at 5/5. In the story I talk about meeting the young man who is persecuted for being homosexual. We still keep in touch. It’s for experiences like these and for the people I meet that I always like to go to ‘ghetto’ or dive bars, whether I am at home (wherever that is) or out in the world. Please don’t take it as a slight on your country that I described the bar so graphically.

      Your last point I would like to correct you on. I never said the bar smelt like the ass sweat of the a thousand Africans. The marine who drove us to the bar did. That is why the sentence is in quotation marks. I found his comment offensive too; that is why my next line talks about me wondering why he even came to the bar if he hated it so much. As you rightly point out, the smell was coming from a sewer.

      Finally, again, I’m sorry you didn’t like my story. I want to stress though that I still believe it was an honest and, as far I was able to do so, judgment-free account of one night in a bar. A bar that you haven’t been to. Perhaps I should write another story about watching the sunset over lake Tanganikya with Congo in the background and hippos in the foreground while drinking a Primus? That was also a memorable Burundi moment.

      Feel free to email me if you would like to correspond further, I would be happy to continue a dialogue.

      Merci et bonne journée


  5. strawberita says:

    For what it is worth: I was a regular of 5/5’s lundi mechants 10 years ago and I have to say that the place is quite as it is described in your blog entry (except that at the time there were almost never white people there; it seems it’s become more popular since).

    I enjoyed reading your blog entry; thanks for bringing back those good memories (by this I mean vibrant ambiance; rough but welcoming place; funny people; great music and dancing)

    • nzcampbell says:

      Thanks Strawberita, I’m glad you got something out of my blog post. It’s nice to know that not everyone thinks I’m a total asshole for writing about my experience there.

      • strawberita says:

        You are welcome. I found your blog entry honest and to the point. Your post may not be “politically correct” (which may explain the unfortunate insulting comments that you got as a result) but lundi mechants at 5/5 surely were not either.

        Whether people like it or not (or refuse to see it) 5/5 is your typical bar/dancing in a slum (or should I say: in a capital city’s poor neigborhood.) One can find many simillar places in the outskirts of cities like Kinshasa, Nairobi, or Dakar.
        There is nothing wrong with it. And there is nothing wrong with a mzungu writing about it.

      • Andrew says:

        Thanks for a refreshingly fun description of nightlife in Bujumbura. I must say I am impressed by your patient feedback to the verbal abuse you received earlier in the blog, which must have been authored by persons lacking basic mental faculties.

        Personally, I have never been to Bujumbura but am planning to go. In fact, I came across your story during my search for information. But I have worked in this part of Africa for several years now, and find your description of 5/5 very close to how I myself would have described similar venues in Congo and Rwanda where I currently live and work.

        Has absolutely nothing to do with any sorts of racism, it’s just a fact that many dancing venues – even nice restaurants – in Africa often lack clean sanitary facilities, to be very diplomatic. The best way to change that is to start cleaning up their countries, rather than blaming the messenger – in the given case you – for merely describing what is the widespread reality of going out here.

        Keep on writing about what you experience, and just take hateful outbursts against your observations for what they are: Infantile expressions of frustration and lack of basic education.

      • nzcampbell says:

        Cheers mate, I’m pleased if the post is of interest to you. You living in Rwanada or Congo now? I may have a trip there coming up in January, perhaps if we cross paths you could show me your local dive bar?

      • Andre Hein says:

        Hi mate, would be great to go for a beer or five together when you get here! I am based in Goma, DRC, and only occasionally visit Gisenyi and/or Kigali in Rwanda. Let me know when you know your approximate dates. Be aware though that I won’t be able to stay out all night as my organisation has a 11 p.m. curfew, but that should nevertheless suffice to introduce you to some nice places to go. There is, as you probably know, a considerable presence of NGO and UN agencies in Goma, and they have to do something after work:-)

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