Travelling out of Vietnam, we can already feel a lot of differences even around South East Asia. Travelling to Africa, a continent with a unique history and culture, will surely allow you to see a lot of strange and interesting things.

I have had many memorable experiences in Burundi, a country in Central Africa (recently Burundi has been mentioned to be in East Africa). Burundi is considered “the heart of Africa” because it is geographically in the center of Africa. It is bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and southeast, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west; Lake Tanganyika lies along its southwestern border. Besides, Burundi is also called “a country of millions of smiles” by tourists thanks to their people’s friendliness.

Burundian children ran after me on a village street in Ngozi to touch and see if my hair was real. The kids had never seen anyone with such long hair.

  1. Burundians are friendly and welcoming                                                                                                                           Anyone you see on the streets can smile and greet you with “hello”. When you need to ask for directions or help, they are easily willing to. They can also change their route to accompany you to your destination before heading their way back to theirs. If they see a dead-engine car, young men will stop by and check your car engine like a professional mechanic. After helping you out, they happily say goodbye and continue their way on their bikes.

  1. Never be on time.

This can be considered a “culture shock” if it is the first time you’ve been in such an awkward situation. If you are travelling to Burundi (or other countries in East Africa) to work in an office, and you are punctual and like to be on time at work, it will take you a while to understand and get used to the timing culture of this country.

If you are scheduled to meet a business partner to discuss work and the person says “I’m coming”, it means they will only arrive after an hour or 2 later.


When you go to a restaurant, you will have to wait for more than 30 minutes after ordering for your food to come. If a waiter tells you “5 minutes”, it means 20 minutes or more. There are restaurants where you have to wait for up to 2 hours for your food to be served. I usually make a joke about “not believing it” when someone tells you “I’m coming; I’m on my way; Just a minute…” because it’ll be normal to wait for a few more hours.

  1. Customers are not put first.

In Vietnam, you only need to call any company to tell them you want to purchase a product or sign a renting or service contract…, and everything you need will be delivered to your office within a few hours.

It’s very strange in Burundi. If you want to bring benefits or money to an organization or any company, you need to be proactive. For example, when I want to rent a space in a restaurant at 10.000.000 VND/ session, I need to bring all the required documents, contracts and money to the restaurant. I need to request a meeting and the outcome will depend on the supplier. If they are not happy they would rather lose the money than selling their product/ service to you.

Or in an instance when you’re in a cafe and there is orange-carrot juice in the menu. You tell the waiter that you have stomach pain and cannot take orange juice so you only want carrot juice. Although you are willing to pay the same menu price or even higher, your order will not be fulfilled. They will stick to the rule of their menu: “orange-carrot juice must be orange and carrot juice” and if you cannot choose another one from their menu, they will suggest you go to another place. There you go. They will bluntly turn you down and to them, customers are not put first.

  1. People ask for money everywhere you go.

Like many other countries in Africa which are among the poorest countries in the world, that there are beggars or children having habits of asking for money is unavoidable.

However, you will be surprised when an office worker, in nice clothes with monthly income, can easily ask you for something they want.

Their “excuse stories” are “my bike broke down today; I’m broke; or My grandparents/ parents passed away, can you help me?” Or it can be “I just built a new house that cost 50 million but I only have 30 million, can you help me with the remaining 20 million?” Their mindsets are so simple that they can ask for whatever that want. Whether you want to give them anything is your decision. Nobody will get upset or complain.

  1. Pedestrians are first priority.

When I first arrived, there weren’t any traffic lights in Burundi. Burundians will give way to each other and minimize honking. One time, there were 2 cars that held up long lines of traffic behind them because they kept giving way to the other at an intersection. That reminded me of traffic jams in Vietnam. If only Vietnamsese could also give way to one another like this, it would make traffic more peaceful. In Burundi, when drivers see you walking in the distance, they will slow down to give way to you. If you accidentally crossed a street without checking the traffic, drivers would not yell at you angrily. They would just tell you it was dangerous to do that, and you would feel guilty enough to be more careful next time.


  1. No fighting.

On the streets of Burundi, you can hear loud noises from a group of young men. Imagine a group of more than 10 big and tall black men going towards each other, it can be scary. But at a closer look, you will realize they are not fighting, but only pushing each other.


As one pushes one time, the other one pushes back, or they can go towards each other but only with their shoulders. They keep pushing each other for a while until everyone is bored then they stop. Sometimes you can see them getting furious, but they will not fight. Later on I realize that Burundians rarely get into a violent fight or kill each other over personal matters. Maybe because the law here is very strict on theft and violent crimes.

  1. There is no nightlife.

In Burundi, it is normal to not have electricity, water or internet. All street activities end after 6pm. You will not be able to find any supermarkets or cafe shops open for a drink. Walking in the city after 6pm feels like walking in a rural area because it’s all dark. If you are considering travelling to a poor country in Africa, make sure to prepare yourself for this.










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