At long last… our house is finished and we have moved in! We are just bouncing off the walls rejoicing. We have been getting settled for the past couple of weeks.
As we sit in our new house now, we reflect back on how it all began. Preparing to head to Burundi in 2015, we began wrapping up our lives in Missouri and planning for our future in Africa. I admit I (Julie) was quite overwhelmed with the thought of having to not only part with most of what we had, but also decide what I think we might need in the next 5-10 years.
If you’ve ever moved, you know it involves many runs to the store (Target, Home Depot, etc) to grab whatever it is you need for that day’s project. Imagine having to think 3 years ahead of your move and trying to be prepared to completely set up a house without any store to run to! That’s right, even Wal-Mart hasn’t quite made it to Burundi yet!
Knowing full well my strengths and weaknesses, I called on a few key friends who are whizzes at organization and we began going through my house, item by item, giving it a “yes” it’s going to Africa or a “no”. We packed all the “yes” items in bubble wrap, hand towels, fabric scraps – anything cushiony – and put them in wooden shipping crates. Cup by cup, plate by plate, we packed for days. And then we had to think ahead and purchase things like bug-proof mattress covers, clothes for the kids in sizes for years to come, future Christmas presents, tools, nails and screws… Really anything you think you might use in any part of your house for the next 5 years! These items, plus couches, mattresses and a few chairs were packed into our portion of a shipping container. The container sat in Texas in 2015 while we studied in France, then it made the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the Horn of Africa, on land across Tanzania, and finally to Kibuye. Without cranes or tools to unload it, our local workers relied on teamwork, rhythmic chanting, and a lot of manpower to unload it.
When we arrived in Burundi in the fall of 2016, there was a national hold on all construction work, so it became clear that it would be a while before we could start building our house. We unpacked a few keys things from some of the crates, and settled into one of four adjoined apartments in our compound. Then we broke ground in the fall of 2017 with prayer, excitement, and a little nervousness on my part.
The months passed with anywhere from 50-200 local workers each doing their part on a given day. Without backhoes, cement trucks, or any other major machinery, these men built the house from ground up completely by hand. Because termites are an issue in Burundi, houses are made of brick, cement, and steel. No wood frames or dry wall. Likewise the floors are not hardwood or carpet, but rather concrete or tile.
Logan and I have never built a house before, so we felt completely out of our comfort zone. We couldn’t have done it without the help from our team’s long-term missionary engineer, Caleb Fader, with whom we met every week. He guided us through the entire process, step-by-step through both the big and small decisions. We can’t say enough how thankful we are for his expertise during hundreds of decisions, but even more so for his patience and guidance as we fumbled our way through this process.
Building a house in Burundi is simultaneously simpler, and more complicated, than building a house in North America. It’s complicated because water heaters, metal for the roof, and other large necessary items have to be imported from Kenya, Egypt, or Tanzania. But some things are more simple because we have fewer resources. Choices like “what do you want your door handles to look like?” are very easy because there is basically only one option! Choosing a kitchen sink was easy because there were only two options available! The same with toilets or bathtubs... is it Toilet A or Toilet B?… Done! Easy!
Purchasing tile was a little more complicated. In the states, you go to Home Depot where they have sample tiles you choose from and then they can order however much you need! But here in Burundi, the shops don’t get to choose their stock. From what I understand tiles are just brought in on trucks from other surrounding countries and that becomes what they sell! So, we went to one of the largest stores and ended up in their warehouse to see first hand what our options were. Given the square meters we needed, that narrowed our selection down quite a bit! But, I took a deep breath and we made a choice! The supply was almost perfect, but we realized we were a little short after the job was almost finished. So I returned to the capital city and searched every little shop trying to find a match for the tile I had chosen months earlier. No luck. I couldn’t find a match, so I chose a completely different pattern which now it accents the other flooring. C’est la vie!
One of the most difficult things for me was designing and drawing the plans for our kitchen cabinets. Don’t get me wrong, I loved looking at pictures of kitchens on Pinterest, but deciding what we want and then measuring to the millimeter and trying to draw it out to scale was way out of my range of skills that God gave me! We hired a local carpenter to build for us, but keep in mind that a traditional Burundian kitchen looks nothing like a traditional Western kitchen so he is working outside of his comfort zone as well!
So now everything is built, and we are almost completely moved in! I’m having fun decorating with what I brought with me from our old house in Missouri, as well as what I’m finding here. For side tables in our living room, we are repurposing a eucalyptus tree that was cut down during construction and our mantle is a piece of another tree that came from another part of the compound years ago.
Because our house was built on a hill, that made two things possible: 1. We have an amazing view of the beautiful Burundian countryside. 2. We were able to incorporate a guest apartment below our house. I’m so excited about it! It is a 2-bedroom space with a separate entrance, bathroom and kitchen. It’s also a bonus spot for team gatherings such as Thanksgiving! I look forward to hosting not only our own team and Burundian community, but also visitors from the US or other missionaries in Burundi looking for a quiet place to relax.
When the construction was complete, we were able to celebrate with all the people that had a part in building our house. All the construction workers were there, we roasted a big cow and had a celebratory feast! We were also able to bless the workers with a new hat, which they loved, donated from team supporters in Michigan.
We pray that our house, and all the missionary homes, are places of peace, love, and joy to all who enter. Thank you to our supporters who have helped build this house for our family and for those around us. Now come on over and sit with us to enjoy the view and a cup of Burundian coffee…