As Eteinne and I took our first walk in our nation’s capitol that brisk February morning, I noted the sheer wonder twinkling in his eyes. His first time off the African continent, his first time in Washington D.C. and the first time he ever saw snow (which he described as ‘the sky raining rice’). As we neared the cross walk, trying to keep pace with our friends who had longer strides, he told me of what my eyes could not as easily see – the heavy load on his back. He said that he believes he is the first Mutwa person to walk these streets, literally. And there is a strong chance that he is right. And he added, “I have the hopes of all the Batwa people with me as I walk” as he motioned to the invisible pack affixed to his petite frame. It is a heavy load, indeed, the hopes of others.
I walked with him often in the days to come. I watched him carry that pack of hope with such grace and glee. He was excited to be here representing others, to be the one chosen to share their story with Americans, their senators, foreign dignitaries and other distinguished guests from around the world. He spoke of the Batwa history, one filled with discrimination and hurt and loss. But he also told of the Batwa hope – the bright future of their students, the land they will receive and learn to steward, the new friends who are shouldering the hopes with him. At times he was luminous, as if he was beginning to taste the future goodness already. Just being here in the center of this city and speaking his testimony was like a hint of the promises to be fulfilled.
Friends invited Etienne, the Batwa member of Burundi’s parliament, here. And he was escorted down the halls of the Washington Hilton and even the corridors of the Capitol Building in the spirit of friendship. And friends of all variety (Hutu, Tutsi, Californian, Texan…) introduced him to their friends so that the story could be told yet again. I watched Etienne, awash in friendship, and was thankful for the hospitality that covered him like a heavy cloak. He was well received and so were the hopes of the Batwa people.
Hospitality is woven into the fabric of Burundian life, and yet so often denied to the Batwa people in their own land. But here, outside the homeland prejudices, he was embraced by gracious welcome. I hope it healed his heart, I hope it helped him carry the heavy load of all those Batwa expectations. And I pray our on-going friendship with the Batwa of Burundi will call us to help shoulder their load and allow them to see that the yoke is lighter and easier in stride with friends.