The Source of the Nile

Even the greatest of wonders have humble beginnings. Exhibit A: the Nile River, which gave succor to one of humanity's greatest ancient civilizations, whose basin collects the rains of eleven nations, a striking dash of green and blue snaking through a great desert.

My adopted country Burundi makes its contribution to one of the world's great river systems in a small way. It boasts the southernmost source of the Nile River.*

I had a chance to drive out to Source du Nil last weekend, and that beginning is humble indeed. The Source is located in Bururi province, about a 3.5 hour drive outside of Bujumbura. Starting early in the morning, my two colleagues and I pulled up to an empty parking lot where eight youths were loitering, waiting for lost tourists. We were brought down some steps to what looked like a bathroom fountain. This, my friends, is the source of that storied river.

 We then followed a guide up a nearby hill, where a pyramid has been built to mark the dividing line between the Nile River Basin and the Congo River Basin. It is cool to imagine how a slight gust of wind can change a single raindrop's destiny. Fall on one side of the pyramid and be sent into a stream which feeds into Lake Tanganyika and eventually past Kalemie, Kisangani, Brazzaville and Kinshasa before rushing into the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the mighty Congo. Drop off the other side of the pyramid and that drop could flow in the Ruvyironza River through Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania into Lake Victoria, through Uganda into war-torn South Sudan, and then north through Sudan and Egypt into the ancient Mediterranean.

Our guide told us of the search for this spot and of the pyramid erected in honor of those explorers who had tried and failed to find it. We sat and reflected on this history until the government-licensed guide came up the hill, chased away the impostor, and proceeded to tell us the exact same story. We tipped them both and piled back into the car.

*The true source of the Nile is a controversial subject and there are more than a handful of tourist traps in eastern Africa (including this one) that claim to be the "true" source of the Nile, on account of distance, length, or volume. Maybe some day I'll make it to the real source of the Nile in Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania as well.

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