Sunday, March 22, 2009

Burkina Faso

It is hard to believe that Burkina Faso was only 2 weeks ago because it feels like life has completely flipped upside down since then. But the trip was a ton of fun, quand-meme. I left Friday morning the 27th for Natitingou in Northern Benin because I was going to spend a few days with my friend Mariana doing some work stuff. It was nice to finally get to see the North a little. It is far drier up there and was strange to see. I guess i took for granted the lush jungle all around my post where I go walking every night because our climate is so much more tropical in the south. It was way more brown and dusty once you got away from the South. People wash their clothes much more in the rivers up there and lay them out to dry on the dirt, grass, and bushes whereas, i don't really see that too much by my post except for by the Mono river near Athieme. In Dogbo, meme, people just use pump water. There are also cows in LARGE quantity up North because, i Believe, the Fulani people raise them (and make yummy wagasi--cheese, but not like what you're thinking when you hear 'cheese'). Everyone in Benin has serious regional pride and so if you are in the collines you'll say the collines are the best if you are in the Couffo (comme moi) you'll say no place is better than the Couffo, etc, etc. So I was expecting this sort of paradise when i arrived in Nati because I had heard from SOOOO many Northern volunteers that it is the most amazing laid back place where you don't get hasseled, etc. I definitely did NOT expect to get called yovo there, or to have to discuter prices like i do in Dogbo. And actually, I was asked by my zemi driver if I had a husband because he wanted to marry me and I can honestly say i have NEVER gotten that from any zem in Dogbo (not that I zem a lot at post anyway). But Nati was definitely a nice place in general, and a fairly large regional hub. It is pretty much where you stay on your way to do safari, if you are coming here as a tourist...or to see the Tata Samba, or visit the waterfalls at Tanagou.

There are three workstations in Benin for volunteers to stay at in transit, etc--in Nati, kandi, and Parakou. So I stayed in the workstation for a few nights and it was so fun and cozy and there were a lot of volunteers there hanging out. Having a TV and DVDs was such a novelty while i was there. We watched so many episodes of friends and greys...eesh. It is also way hotter up North. I can't figure out which is humidity or the sheer harshness of Northern heat. It wasn't bad during the day under a fan but i sweat all through the night...gross. It is also much higher concentrations of Muslims up North as opposed to Voodoo by me. Over the wknd, more and more people started arriving and there were about 15 of us who rented a 'bus' to get to Burkina. The trip was a long hot hassle and our driver on the Benin side of the trip screwed us out of money, but border crossing went smoothly. We got in that night and got to our hotel quickly. It was a pain that we aren't allowed to take zems outside of Benin (Benin is one of the only PC countries.[..maybe the only?] where volunteers are allowed to ride motos because we have training for it during stage and are issued helmets. But other volunteers who visit Benin aren't allowed to zem here since they haven't been trained and we can not zem outside of Benin...not even in Togo). Instead you take taxis to get around Ouagadougou (Wa-ga-doo-goo, the capitol of Burkina Faso and an hour behind Benin...who knew?) It turned out to be more expensive this way especially since we weren't familiar with Ouaga and prices there, but whatever. Actually, not being able to zem really wasn't the end of the world because all in all Ouaga was a much more pedestrian friendly city than Cotonou.

We were in Burkina for the FESPACO film festival...a pan african affair held every other year there. I didn't see TOOOO many movies but I saw a fair number or Moroccan, Algerian, Egyptian, and South African films, both long and short. My favorite was this South African film called "When we Were Black" about the events leading up to the Soweto uprising there. I hope it caught someone's attention enough to eventually be distributed.

Everyone was ridiculously excited because Ouaga is relatively well known for having FABULOUS strawberries. Good Lord, did we gorge ourselves on fresh sweet strawberries. They were amazing. I miss them. They also had a vrai supermarche that felt like one from was amazing. Burkina was even more Muslim than Northern Benin (which is why i was surprised at what some Burkinan volunteers were wearing when we saw them). The Grand Mosque was really quite beautiful and it was interesting to see that there were stations all over the city on the streets with mats and water where Muslims could go to pray and do their ablutions beforehand at the specified times during the day. The marches had a lot more Qu'rans and prayer beads, etc. as well.

Picture: FESPACO sign, Me, Grand Mosque in Ouaga

We stopped in this great artisan's market where we were able to see the artists in the middle of their work, and I really appreciated getting to talk to them and see how they did their projects,etc. Also, we ate in this restaurant that according to the Lonely Planet guidebook has the "BEST" lasagna in all of Africa. I didn't get the lasagna though, i only tasted a bite of a friend's. It was good, but i'm still partial to our own dogbo-style italian night fare.

Pictures: Carie and Nathaniel outside of one of the movie theatres, artisan in the middle of making blankets (I bought the little one on the left side when he was done, and calabash art and paintings (I bought the finished elephant calabash for my house)
I have to say, if you're going to hop around West Africa for it as a peace corps volunteer because you are covered in every peace corps country should any problems arise. My friend got really sick in Ouaga and I had a very bad burn on my leg because my homologue knocked over our moto after it rained when we were in the mud on the Thursday before leaving. So we just hopped on over to the Burkina headquarters to let them know a group of Beninese volunteers were in Burkina for a few days and to see their doctor. It was far more convenient than visiting the doctor in cotonou--that would have been entirely out of the way. I thought the Burkina office was pretty sweet until I saw our own brand spanking new office newly constructed in the ritzy non-red light district of Cotonou. Pas Grave.

Pictures: My burn. It looks great now. brand new pink skin and no chance of infection. I'm thinking i won't even get a conversation starter of a scar.
What interested me about Burkina was that it seemed like there was practically nothing until you hit Ouagadougou. I mean, driving through Benin i pass through very obvious regional cities that are bigger and have more to offer than dogbo or smaller villages (Dogbo itself though, is considered Urban) Through the Burkina countryside though we only ever passed small groups of mud huts connected in circles by walls so that each unit consisted of about 5 huts. There would be several units together. But we never saw any big towns or anything. The countryside was so dry and there were several dried up river beds...I can't imagine how it must be during rainy season, but it hasn't rained in months.

Anyway, the trip home was uneventful...just very long. Since my mom has asked me for a picture of a bush taxi forever now, i finally snapped what I think is a good about average bush taxi below. Just imagine 10 or so people jammed in there. I don't think I'll ever complain about traveling or long car trips in the states EVER again...hell, i'll have a WHOLE seat to myself. What's to complain about?

Picture: Rut and Carie with the first municipal garbage can I have noticed during my time in West Africa. I have NO idea who comes and clears out the garbage periodically. Then you have the bush taxi. a la prochaine.

1 comment:

PCMother said...

Thanks for posting the photos. Always great to see Carie's face. You are too calm about the burn. I would have had you evacuated to a plastic surgeon. That's a joke, but Carie will tell you it is pretty close to the truth. Please stay safe. CL's mom