Thursday, 21 March 2013

A Month In Burkina

Yeah I know I know lazy no updates self-deprecation blahblahblah HERE IS A BLOG POST READ IT IF YOU LIKE

So after Dan 'Massive Flake' Morgan invited me on a trip to Burkina Faso to visit friends and then flaked, I decide a large holiday-shaped hole in my diary was no good, and went anyway.

Arriving at the airport I immediately get a small dose of the casual friendliness that's common here. The taxi drivers, after establishing that I really don't need a taxi, ('Your friend's gone home. He's not coming. You should definitely take a taxi') are amused by my accent and slow comprehension in a curious way and gather for a chat. Excellent hosts and generally ace people Geoff and Patricia arrive shortly, saving me from my rapidly floundering french conversation skills, and I spend the next week or so recovering from the journey and seeing some of the capital Ouagadougou (yes, really). It's a busy, dusty city with hundreds of ramshackle shops lining the streets. Their house is great, tucked away from the bustle and is quiet, cool and has a hammock! Awesome Canadian Liz moves in as a lodger a few days after I arrive and there are plenty of nice evenings spent in restaurants, bars or watching gigs and films.

Pingu in an altered state of consciousness...
Despite there being very few tourists in Burkina I don't draw the levels of attention I remember getting in India, and much less hassle. Of course walking around doesn't go unnoticed by any means but a wave and a bonsoir (at any time of day) usually disarms even the most piercing stare, which breaks into a warm smile. The lack of hassle seems to reflect the wider atmosphere of a very relaxed pace of life, which I like a lot. A common sight on motos all over town is a sticker saying 'Relax, God's in charge'. He doesn't seem to intervene too much in the enormous number of road accidents in Burkina... but I like the sentiment.

The marks in the baobab trunk on the right side are from a King's horse that ran up
the tree hundreds of years ago, depositing the fleeing monarch safely in the branches.
It's funny talking to Geoff and Patricia about managing a restaurant and bar though. Il n'y a pas de probleme  is very much the motto here and is all well and good as a general philosophy, but when you have 20 pizzas to cook for hungry French military (for whom '10 minutes' doesn't mean 'sometime today') who've already been waiting an hour Il y a certainly une probleme. Watching your chef potter about the kitchen whistling and casually sprinkling onions on pizza number 6 can be quite exasperating I imagine!

Also interesting is the role of the employer in the community - they are first port of call when in need. The concept of saving money is totally alien here, so when someone gets sick, or there's a wedding, or funeral, or birth, or simply some relatives coming to visit, (and with each Burkinabé woman giving birth to more than 6 children on average, all of these things happen pretty frequently) well, money is needed for medicine or food or gifts, and so straight to the boss for a loan. Again, in theory I quite like the idea that the more successful members of society help out when its needed; a sort of informal social welfare. In practice though, for Geoff and Patricia, distinguishing between what is expected and appropriate and what is simply getting taken advantage of must be difficult to gauge. Nothing is thought of spending your day's wages on beer one day and asking for money for medicine the next. They were asked in by Geoff's dad to run the place (and of course to try to turn a profit), and balancing cultural considerations with managing a business, whilst seeing huge sums flowing out in what I suspect are very long-term 'loans', seems an awful lot to juggle. They seemed to be doing a great job from what I saw though!

Tasty dolo
After a while I head to Fada N'Gourma, a sleepy little town 220km from Ouaga, without many plans but as luck would have it I stumble onto Fesdig, a festival celebrating Gourmanche culture - those in the region of eastern Burkina, northern Ghana and Togo, and little in Nigeria. Here there's music and food aplenty, plus some terrifying masked monsters and some impossibly cute children. Headachey mornings due to dolo; a local beer similar to scrumpy cider served in a calabash - take a gulp, pass it on to a dolo-less person next to you and immediately get handed another. That and Bissap wine; fermented hibiscus and mint juice, tasty, strong and liberally poured - at the end of each bottle everyone chants 'PRESSEZ PRESSEZ PRESSEZ' and hits the bottle as if to knock the last few drops out, inevitably getting more and more rowdy as the night progresses and splashing wine all over the place - very funny!

Heart-warming family photograph
Plenty of other plans are made but in the end I spend the rest of the time in Ouaga. Fespaco is on; a biannual film festival that's the biggest in Africa, and by this time its too hot to comfortably do much more than lie in the hammock for the day before venturing out for fun stuff in the evening - films of course and more restaurants, bars, and bowling. I feel a little silly having explored so little but I've had a great time in good company and am very glad I came. A relaxing break was what I needed.


frizzleinafrica said...

i think what you REEEEALLLY need is to come back and be our roommate again; the house is just not the same without you mr.martin!!! xo

Cheesies said...

Aw I'm sure you're managing! Hope the job stuff got sorted out ok. Stroke the cats for me! And Geoff, stroke him too

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