Friday, March 4, 2016

Bertie's 2nd Christmas!

We made it out of Burundi for three weeks of scheduled leave on December 12, only 24 hours delayed in spite of about 15 hours of violent fighting in Bujumbura on December 11. After considerable drama and several ridiculous interactions with RwandAir ground crew (including "we issued you boarding passes on unpurchased tickets in good faith, you can't change your itinerary now!" and "I won't deliver the carseat you gate-checked on Ethiopian Airlines (out of Bujumbura) because it's too heavy and you can't use it on the KLM flight"), we arrived in Portland with no bags but otherwise intact (and with the carseat that the KLM flight attendants were happy to see).

Bertie "I'm Not Tired" Runyon Zaur got off a 30-hour flight, said something approximating "Grandma," and hopped into a fab blue cruiser that Grandma and Grandpa got him for Christmas.

The next morning we walked up the hill to an amazing series of puddles that were perfect for stomping and splashing in!

And we looked over the bridge at Spring Creek and admired the enormous amount of d'eau (water in Bertie's French).

Because Oregon is so amazing, it turns out there is water on both sides of the bridge. Who would have guessed!


Bertie, Ian, and I spent a short week in Seaside to decompress and get over jet lag. The weather was predictably unpredictable, but when it was nice we spent time on the Promenade. Luckily there were no crowds as the baby drunkenly pushed the stroller!

Seaside is easy to get to from Portland, so it's one of the touristy beach destinations. The carrousel in the mall was open, but the two times we rode it, Bertie was the only client. While the horse was moving, he said very quietly but very clearly and repeatedly, "vroom vroom!" This was a much more successful carrousel experience than the one in Montmartre!

There is a small aquarium on the Promenade, and Bertie and Ian enjoyed the touching tanks. Right after we took these pictures, a black lab came out of the office, causing us to lose all interest in cold water.

Rainbow on the ocean!

We met a mall Santa Claus at the outlet mall! Bertie was not convinced, but we got some reasonable pictures anyway.


Bertie met his first real Christmas tree and helped decorate it! Grandpa assisted with some of the higher ornaments.

Mama helped with ornament theory: put the loop here. Here. Here. Try it here. Here. Here.... The only near mishap occurred when Bertie pulled a tiny rocking chair ornament out of the box and showed it to me. I said, "oh look, a chair," and turned away for a second. When I looked back, Bertie had positioned the ornament under himself and was about to sit on it!

There were stairs to climb and Grandmas to meet!

Grandma came on a short walk with us, and she and Bertie both found sticks! Oregon is amazing.

Back in the car. Bertie collected things from around the house and drove them around in the car. He liked having his own car.

Nana (Great-Grandma) gave him an easel, and the first best thing about it was assembly with a screwdriver!

Did I mention the screwdriver?

Eventually we convinced him to use it as an easel rather than a screwdriver performance zone.

The best thing about Christmas Eve was the wrapping and the packaging!

Who knew life held such marvels!

Christmas morning penguin footie pyjamas and a Mrs Potato Head!

The tool kit was perplexing at first, but pretty soon he figured out that it's for banging on.

Great-Aunt Sonia in the sliding chair.

Uncle Willis with Grandma by the car.

Four generations of Bensons! We do other things besides photograph well....


The day after Christmas, we flew to Chicago for an all-Zaur holiday!

Chris was a good sport about his pumpkin hat.

Pat, Ian, Lisa, and Chris.

The Zaur household. Everybody's tall here except Mama.

With Grandpa on the bus to see Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum.

Poor little Bean was cold, but he enjoyed himself and informed us many times that there were lights.

It was cold and a little snowy, but we trekked the circuit with Bertie in the stroller.

Lights racing across the lake. These lights changed color in a pattern.

This display also had lights in the ground that lit up and ran in patterns. It was very cool and very hard to photograph!

A field of glowing baubles!

Same picture, seconds later.

Some of the trees were almost spooky!

In early January, I came to Washington for a week of training (the course that used to be called "Crash and Bang" but is now (boring!) called the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat course (FACT)). We learned to identify various guns by sound, we did a good amount of crisis first aid, and we smashed up cars.

Ian and Bertie stayed in Aurora, and I returned to Burundi alone to collect the animals, close up shop, pack us out, and get an onward assignment. I finally flew away on February 14, arriving in DC just before the "wintry mix" turned nasty. We are so relieved to be all together again.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

2015: The Difficult Months

We returned to Burundi from our holidays in the evening on April 10. Before we left the airport, I had heard from colleagues that the youth of the governing party (CNDD-FDD) would hold a big rally on April 11 and that it might get violent. It did not, as it turned out, but the president's April 25 declaration that he would be the CNDD-FDD presidential candidate sparked protests around Bujumbura. Police responded with disproportionate force, and the protesters became violent in response.

On May 13, a military general announced by radio that he was dismissing the executive branch of the government (president, vice-presidents, ministers) but not changing anything about the constitution. The coup failed, and on May 14 battles of machine guns and grenades raged through Bujumbura. In response, the embassy sent all non-emergency personnel out of the country (and all the pets as well).

Ian and Bertie, along with 75 other U.S. citizens (and some other nationals) evacuated to Kigali, Rwanda, on May 17 via charter plane. With support from the U.S. embassy in Kigali, Ian set up shop in a slummy long-stay apartment/ hotel to wait for whatever would happen in Bujumbura. We were separated for 175 days (they returned to Bujumbura for another 5 weeks on November 5), but I managed to visit a half dozen times or so.

There are not very many pictures from these months because we did very little beyond maintaining our sanity. All the same, we had a marvelous little boy who brought endless delight and grew up while we were watching!

Still in Bujumbura - The Final Days

In his professional capacity as Community Liaison Officer, Ian organized a local event of a 5K. We all got matching shirts and cheered on those who actually ran or walked it!

Bertie was working on his Zaur Scowl, but it still tended to melt into a silly baby grin in those days.


Although Kigali was never really home, it had benefits. This is the slide at the embassy.

Bertie's sliding skills improved with time.

Like his mama, Bertie really prefers the swings!

Oh gosh! It's so funny to see somebody you know through the holes on a piece of playground equipment!

Entirely too funny!

Bertie played in the parking lot of the apartment as well. As luck would have it, several little kids were staying there, so he made friends, got fabulous new ideas, learned to share (more or less), and improved his running, hopping, and miscellaneous skills! There were several spigots around the buildings, and there were always spare buckets. When Mama was visiting, we often went through three outfits before 10 AM....

Rain! It's amazing!

A portrait of the graffiti artist as a young man, with a cat that wasn't his.

And he played inside the apartment as well, with toys, shoes - anything that wasn't nailed down.

These blocks are good for both stacking up and knocking down, but mostly they're good for knocking down....

It turns out that Dada is quite good at reading Dr Seuss stories.

Pensive boy, looking out over the traffic.

And total goof, playing with clothes pins on his nose!

I visited whenever possible, but conditions in Bujumbura were unpredictable at best.

When I came, Guita sometimes got to come visit. She was living with people in Kigali who had agreed to accept refugee dogs at first and then with friends from Fletcher whose arrival was serendipitous. We are still extremely grateful to them!

Giving Guita kisses!

We lost our sweet little Hugo Bear in late June. He is buried in Kigali at the facility of the vet who helped Ian care for him. Poor sweet little bear!

Feeding the Bean

Bertie is a growing young Zaur, and Ian struggled to feed him enough. The slummy apartment did not have potable water on site, so Ian carried water from the embassy in five-liter jugs for the entire 175 days of his exile. All the fruits and veggies had to be scrubbed with dish soap, bleached, and rinsed in clean water (the stuff Ian carried) and then consumed before they went bad. It was a herculean effort, but Ian kept Bertie's body and soul together!

For himself, Ian used a service called Hello Food!, a sort of restaurant delivery taxi system. In his 175 days, he ordered from a variety of restaurants that used Hello Food so often (at least once per day, often twice) that he became a highly valued customer. He won a major award (a bottle of wine) from them at the end of his stay.

This is the before picture of dinner one night (clockwise): cucumber, cheese, steamed and shredded carrots, tomatoes, papaya-strawberry-balloon berry-pineapple, toast, and a potato-strawberry dish (Ian is from the northern Midwest; this is probably related to Jello salad).

After picture: Bertie ate it all except the potato-strawberry delight.

Playing all day and eating his own weight and volume really takes it out of a guy.

I made Bertie pumpkin mac-n-cheese one weekend, and it was a hit (to put it mildly). He ate the whole tray with a ladle. That's my boy!

This is probably more expression than is necessary to really impress applesauce, but I'm sure it felt good.

Every evening, Bertie steals a cucumber from the fridge and Ian chases him around shouting about stolen cucumbers. Bertie loves cucumbers, but he really loves being chased!

Back to Bujumbura for 15 minutes!*

On November 5, Ian and Bertie came back to Bujumbura. The week they arrived saw more gunfights and explosions, and worse fighting near our house, than any other week since the coup.

At around 3 AM on December 11, rebels attacked three military installations to steal weapons, and fighting continued until about 5 PM. Our flight to Portland for three weeks of Christmas holiday (my first since the France trip in April) was supposed to leave at 5.15, but although the airport stayed open, nobody was working and no commercial flights came in, for obvious reasons. We were amazingly lucky and got out on December 12; in spite of everything in Burundi, our holiday was only 24 hours delayed. After the holidays, Ian and Bertie stayed in Chicago for six weeks while I packed out of Bujumbura, finished what I could, and got our next assignment (Praia, Cabo Verde - come visit!). It was a whirlwind process, but we're getting ourselves back together!

*It was really five weeks and three days, but whatever.

This goofy baby prefers Mama's sunglasses, upside down, above all else.

And this is one for the ages: homemade beer in one hand and a naked baby in the other.