The group leader advised me that our partners in Rwanda seemed unprepared for me to travel alone the six hour bus journey from the capital, Kigali, to the Burundian capital, Bujumbura.
Ostensibly, this could seem in accordance with the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, (who would have to make sympathetic noises if I should disappear):
We advise against all but essential travel to Burundi, including Bujumbura. The security situation across Burundi has stabilised and the last remaining rebel group signed a cessation of hostilities with the government on 26 May 2008. However, the threat of ambush by rebel elements remains, particularly in Bujumbura Rural and Bubanza provinces.
Not an advisable place to go, one might think, but then my colleague in Bujumbura pointed to the generations of missionaries from Britain and Ireland who have worked in the country without any problem.
In an attempt to evaluate the possibility of over-statement by the FCO, I checked their advice on Croatia, where we spent a pleasant holiday four years ago. Had I read the advice before booking, I might have thought twice:
There is an underlying threat from terrorism and organised crime in Croatia. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. However, Croatia has a low crime rate and violent crime is rare.
Unexploded land mines are still a danger. Highly populated areas and major routes are now clear of mines and are safe to visit. However, isolated areas in the mountains and countryside have not all been cleared. You should therefore be careful not to stray from roads and paved areas without an experienced guide.
Is there nowhere safe? Is there anywhere that the FCO would give a clean bill of health? What about the United States? With its Department of Homeland Security, it must be safe?
Violent crime related to the drugs trade is a major issue in the Mexican states along the border with California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Though some foreign nationals have been among the victims in the border region, there is no evidence to suggest that they have been targeted because of their nationality. Visitors to border areas should exercise caution and follow the advice of local authorities.
The hurricane season normally runs from June to November, and can affect the whole of the southern USA.
There is a general threat from terrorism in the United States. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has designated the terror alert status of “orange”, or high, for all international and domestic flights in the USA.
I am to be transported to the border.
“What’s the point of that?” I asked. “I would just have to wait for the bus to catch up with me”.
I am to be met at the border.
I have travelled in Africa before. There won’t be just a driver, that would not be considered polite, there will be an accompanier as well. There will be conversations in local language with officials and the safe transfer of their charge to the next person responsible. Two men taking at least half a day on both sides of the border when I could have just caught the bus.
It is not a security risk that they are worried about, I think that they really do believe that I’m as incompetent as Indiana Jones’ Marcus Brody.