“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD”.
I got that from the mayo clinic’s website, (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967) and it sums it up quite well. Now that we are done with the definition…I am talking to Burundians, of every age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic group, province of origin, religion, color and class. We all have some sort of PTSD, whether severe, mild or extremely light. I am not a psychiatrist to diagnose anybody. Yet, as far as I can go back and look at the different generations of Burundians, they all lived through civil war at some point in their lives. If you are Burundian and you are reading this, you have known war yourself or your parents have, or your grandparents have.
1965 – 1972 – 1988 – 1993 – 2004 – 2015.
Those are dates of conflict and massacres in Burundi. I may have forgotten one or two, but the list speaks for itself. Every decade is represented since 1962, which was they year of independence. I am not here to say who is right, wrong or who got the worst of it, apply blame, etc. I believe historians would like to still have a job at the end of this text, so I won’t engage into that fruitless and hyper partisan debate.
There was a major conflict every decade since 1962!! Think about this! No generation born after 1940 has known a decade of peace! No wonder today’s Burundians don’t care about the Coronavirus; they have seen worse! Who can blame them? We all have been so desensitized that we don’t care how or why someone dies. A death isn’t a tragedy anymore, it is considered a relief for the departed. We even make jokes about death. I myself am guilty of that. Well, those jokes are usually funny! And somehow, it’s a defense and coping mechanism, used to delay or ignore our true feelings. Yeah, all this sounds mighty fucked up.
Imagine all the orphans created by those conflicts, imagine how many lives were ruined, imagine how many kids stopped going to school and fled, imagine all the refugees, imagine all the people whose possessions were taken and sold, imagine being a perpetual victim because of your name, ethnic group, looks, gender, province of origin. Just imagine how broken we are. How can a broken people build a strong country or a functional society? The answer is, WE CANNOT.
I guess that is why we drink so much, apart for cultural reasons (imanza, etc.). Perhaps, that is partly the reason we don’t take care of our bodies and minds. That is why we have lost our optimism, to a certain extent. That is why all these false prophets and charlatans proselytize and promise miracles to a tired, hurt, and desperate population. That is why we long for revenge, that is why we don’t trust others, that is why the “other” is the enemy, not our countrymen. Yes, we are broken.
Yet, amid all this negativity, there is always a speck of light at the end of this long dark tunnel. It represents hope. It represents that our “UBUNTU” isn’t dead. It might be wounded and flat on its stomach after decades of abuse, but it has not given up on us. How about we do not give up on our UBUNTU either?
The speck of light is all around us. You only need to look. I have seen people helping others. I see young and old Burundians trying to heal themselves and others. I see people fighting for human rights, for justice, for collaboration, for compromise, for UBUNTU. I see artists fighting to create and help share our fabulous identity with the outside world and the future generations. I see charities created to help those in need. I see community organizers thrive. I see young men and women teaching kids who don’t live in Burundi how to dance like their ancestors. I see people who fight against crazy odds to live in dignity. All that represents hope, resilience, forgiveness, courage. It represents the opposite of all the negative things that we have happened to us or that we did to each other. All that is part of UBUNTU.
We all have some sort of PTSD. It is a shame we don’t even enough therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and a system that supports them. We need therapy. We need to talk about our trauma, about our pain and sorrow. We need to recognize it in others. We need to accept that others, those who don’t look like us have suffered as well. We need empathy now more than ever. And what is UBUNTU without empathy, I ask you?
I am sorry I didn’t offer any concrete and definitive solutions to the problem I just talked about. I do not and will never have all the answers. Sometimes, I will just talk about an issue without offering a solution. If I can make anyone think just by writing these lines, it’s better than nothing, I guess. Writing like this, let’s say is part of my own therapy.
Just one man’s opinion.
Now smile and go on with your day.