Quick link: How to Be a Mom When Your Country Falls Apart

I’m grateful to Kristy Carlson who was willing to share her story of work and life in Burundi, and the wrenching flight her family endured when violence broke out. I’ve known Kristy for several years, we left for Somaliland a year after she and her husband headed for South Africa. We’ve rarely been in the same country but have connected through writing, through evacuation experiences, and over various cups of coffee. I always feel a little bit cooler, wiser, and more beautiful just for spending time with her. Because she is all of those things, plus gracious and creative and more.

Kristy used to write for Babble, we initially shared our spot on the site. She is still publishing, especially her photography and it is stunning. She and her husband, Ben, worked with coffee farmers in Burundi. To see her images and to catch a taste of their vision and inspiring work, click here for their website: Long Miles Coffee.

After election-related violence broke out in Burundi, the Carlson family was forced to flee. They left behind dreams and carried with them grief. Ben has been able to return a few times and the coffee farming continues. And Kristy recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, in South Africa.

In another upcoming story, I will dig more into the ‘what happened’ of Burundi. This piece, for Babble, focuses on the practical things Kristy did to help maintain her sanity and the emotional health of her family when all around them, things fell apart.

…How can a mother hold her family together when all around, life and dreams are crumbling?

Kristy explained to me the virtues that helped her family stay together through it all.


“When the conflict began I tried to keep my kids occupied and play loud music to cover up the sounds of gunfire,” said Kristy. “As the protests continued for weeks on end, it became more and more important to encourage our kids and each other to find emotion words to connect to what we were experiencing. We had made the decision early on to keep our kids informed about what was happening, but also to protect them from any unnecessary trauma.”


“We clung to Burundi because leaving felt impossible. Coffee harvest was in full swing and the thought of leaving our team to save our own skin felt like a betrayal,” Carlson said.


“I was less worried about a purposeful shooting and more worried about stray bullets. ‘It’s not safe,” I murmured. You… you are not safe.’ As the words left my lips, I wondered how damaging this experience would be for my two boys and even the unborn baby girl I was carrying.”

Here’s an example of the pictures Kristy takes of the coffee farmers when she is documenting their stories:

burundi coffee farmer

Click here to read the rest of the ways she cared for her family: How to Be a Mom When Your Country Falls Apart