READ THE WORLD – Burundi: Baho! by Roland Rugero

Translated by Christopher Schaefer.

When Nyamuragi, an adolescent mute, attempts to ask a young woman in rural Burundi for directions to an appropriate place to relieve himself, his gestures are mistaken as premeditation for rape. To the young woman’s community, his fleeing confirms his guilt, setting off a chain reaction of pursuit, mob justice, and Nyamuragi’s attempts at explanation.

First of all, I got to say I really like how this book is packaged. Bit weird I know but bear with me. Baho! is such a short book, only 90 pages, and the book itself is just tiny and the cover has a buttery feel and it’s just a generally nice book.

Now onto the content of said book. Baho! is told from multiple characters points of view. While most of the time the point of view changes at the start of a new chapter, sometimes it happens during a chapter after a line break and it did take me a little while to figure out who’s head I was now in especially if it was a point of view we hadn’t seen before. I think the one-eyed old lady was my favourite POV as she is one of those characters who seemed to pick up things that others missed but the sections from Nyamuragi’s POV, especially after the misunderstanding and the mob’s reaction to him, were really quite sad. It’s easy to understand his confusion while equally seeing how the young woman misconstrued what he was trying to gesture to her.

Baho! covers so many themes in such a short number of pages. There’s rape culture and mob mentality, how both can be full of contradictions, misogyny and how in a patriarchal society young women are seen as something pure and that needs protecting, generational and class gaps, and just general refusal to try and accept and understand disabled people.

While the misunderstanding with Nyamuragi is happening there are memories and stories told that sometimes feel a little out of place or at least have you wondering where the story’s going for a moment. There’s Nyamuragi’s childhood and how his mutism has affected his life but there’s also a story told by the one-eyed old lady that is more like a cautionary tale rather than anything that has a direct relation to the main story.

Overall, Baho! is an interesting short story with a lot to it that would be worth discussing with others. It’s a story that’s often vivid in its descriptions, so much so that some are unsettling, but equally there’s a few moments that are surprisingly sweet. It certainly fits a lot in.

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