A few of my fellow PULSE volunteer were able to arrive to an already sorted accommodation or to share a house with other volunteers based in the same town. As the first and only one sent to Burundi, my story was a bit different.
Finding a place to live is usually based on two major criteria; budget and location. How much money does your dream house cost and how much time are you ready to sacrifice to your daily commute. Most of the time, budget is the main constraint and this was also the case for me but finding a place to live in Bujumbura resulted to be a bit more complicate than the simple equation of budget and location. Let’s me take you through the process.
First location, your place of residence has to be in the UN security zone, a set of districts that have been vetted as fine to live in as seen in the map included; funnily enough the giant colossus of the US embassy is out this perimeter! Budget wise, housing in Bujumbura is much more expensive than you may think not only for the overseas community but also for the locals.
Le Centre Ville or downtown Bujumbura is in the “safe zone” and while brilliant to do your shopping and access the multiple staples of the thriving cultural life of Bujumbura (irony!); there are hardly any place available to rent so this is not much of an option.
Second on the list is the district of Kinindo, in the south east of the city and by the shore of Lake Tanganyika. The district was built in the 1960s for the junior officers of the national army and is now really popular with young local professional couples or families. Simple two or three bedrooms houses are the norm with a patch of garden around them. Rent is in budget and there are a few houses to let; so far so good. There is no water between 10 am and 4 pm and the power goes down at 6.30 pm (for reference, it is pitch black by 6.15 pm), so you probably need a water tank by the side of the house as well as a generator.
Another option is the district of Kiriri, up in the hill, thirty minutes by car from work. No need of a generator in this area as this is the only place in the whole of Burundi not to suffer any power cuts whatsoever as the President of the Republic lives there. Rows of mansions with amazing gardens and beautiful views are on offer, inhabited by the grand and powerful of the country. Definitively not in budget!
Following is the (simple?) choice between a house and a flat. Rent wise, there is no difference and houses are much more prevalent in the city and will give you a private garden. However, the house will come with a gardener/day guard and a house maid/cook (Domesticity is the second source of employment in Burundi after the State). Not being sure how comfortable I am with being an employer on top of my day job during the next six months make the flat option quite appealing.
Last but not least on the list is the security. Your house or flat should be surrounded by walls of at least 2m50 tall and equipped with glass shards or barbwires. A day guard and two night guards from one of the multiple security company should be employed for the length of your stay.
When asked about the necessity of all these measures, a colleague told us the story of one French National working for the UN who moved in into her newly built house before the wall was fully completed, only to be robbed on the next day!
Taking all of these in consideration, the option of a “soon to be finished” flat within walking distance from work, bills and breakfast included in my actual hotel is looking like a really attractive proposition. Best of all, the rent is competitive, so my longing for a kitchen will have to wait until the furniture is built!
I leave you under the gaze of the Burundi Presidential Guard who happened to be waiting for me when I turned up in one of Bujumbura hotel for a workshop.
Clement Douault, PULSE 2014, Volunteer at UNICEF, Burundi