Robbie Reports from Burkina Faso
If I could put the experience of Burkina Faso, West Africa, into some kind of perspective and compare it to something more familiar, I would say it's like going to a wonderful looking, all inclusive hotel, then getting food poisoning, and finally not being allowed to leave the country after your stay at the hotel has expired.
In other words, when you first arrive, you are treated as a welcome guest, a celebrity; everyone loves you. Of course, what you soon learn is that this is because the locals want your money and/or to join you back in Canada.
Then, when you arrive in Ouaga, the capital of the country, we restricted ourselves to normal food: Fish, meat, french fries, cola...western stuff ...nothing exotic. Then you get sick. And, by sick I mean you realise you can become quite the multi-tasker. Your body is capable of producing bodily fluids from more than one orifice at the same time. Pretty impressive stuff.
The last part of my analogy is to do with leaving the hotel room and not being allowed to leave the country. When you are really sick, all you want to do is be home in bed with mom's chicken soup and some crackers and flat ginger ale on the side. Instead, you're not only kicked out of the classy hotel, but you have to fend for yourself just like the locals do. This is just the way it is here. For a Canadian, you are soon pushed way beyond your comfort zone. But for Burkinas this is just normal just life. And, when you realise this, everything becomes much easier. and Burkina Faso becomes just like any other place in the world. You eat the local food, meet the local people and let local traditions guide your day-to-day activity.
I left Ouaga for the city of Koudougou. Koudougou is meant to be my home base while I'm in Burkina because our office is located here. I was placed with my boss's nephew. He has a family of four. There is the dad, the mom, a 12 year old boy and a 6 year old girl. They are pretty cool kids.
[On a side note: I don't know what it is about black babies but they are all pretty cute. They have to be pretty high up there with Chinese babies. What's with those Chinese babies?! They're so cute!]
Anyway, the family is great. The father once played on the Koudougou first division soccer team and knows everyone in town. So getting my hands on things isn't too hard. Not to mention, I don't get screwed as a tourist on paying too much...which reminds me...
[side note: knowing the value of things is probably the quickest way to get integrated into a society. The other day, I had an argument with a lady about a banana she wanted to sell to me for 100 CFA. She clearly thought I was new to the country. Usually a banana is 50 CFA. Finally, after some negotiation, I got my banana for 50 CFA. The exchange rate for a 1$ Canadian is 400 CFA. Therefore, the banana cost me about 12 cents Canadian. I know what you're thinking but it's the principle. If I give 100 CFA to the lady for the banana than I have to give an extra 50 CFA to everybody! ]
One of my first real Burkina experiences was when I attended a wedding at a house nearby. Marriages here involve protracted negotiations between the families. The fathers and men in the family go first. The father of the groom offers money, cola, and dolo, in exchange for the daughter of the other family.
The money isn't very much, relatively speaking, but to them it's more than enough.
The cola is a nut found on trees (mostly in the Ivory Coast). The nut is edible and very bitter, but provides a burst of energy for a prolonged period of time. For city folk, taking it is more of a tradition, but for villagers, the cola is consumed by farmers when they work in the fields. Dolo is a homemade beer (a lot like Mr. Beer!) that is made from millet. It's served at outside air temperature (25 to 35�) and can be sweet or bitter. Fortunately, it's also very cheap and as a result gets most people hammered on Sundays ...after church of course.
After the proposal of marriage, I didn't really understand very much of the discussion going on between the fathers because it was in the local language. Something was said making the father of the groom go back and negotiate something among the men in his family. I didn't see what he added to the bag of proposed items but when he returned to make his offer again, the father of the bride was content. In celebration, the bride and groom drank their dolo, with the bride drinking first.
However, the wedding was not yet official; the women from each family had to negotiate. The women, dressed in their local Burkina dresses, sat up against the red-bricked houses surrounding the courtyard. The negotiation among the women was more verbal and only a few things were exchanged. Finally, it was official and the bride and groom-to-be were very happy. Everyone proceeded to get drunk on dolo. It was pretty awesome.
I've now seen four weddings since then and a funeral. I've been working at the office in Koudougou, but I also make visits to villages in the province of Boulkiemd to work on our project.
Recently I came back from a reunion with all the volunteers here in Burkina Faso. We got a little touristy and went to the Burkina - Cote D'ivoire world cup qualifying game. I've never been nervous to attend a sporting event before. Excited, but never nervous. My nervousness started with the fact that recently, the war on the field between the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso spilled onto the sidelines and poured into the lives of most of their citizens. Ivory coast was suspended from having the next two home games because they overcrowded the stadium and 9 people died. It was a different stadium, but still, I couldn't help thinking.
Walking up to the doors of the stadium you could see that this time, Burkina was taking full precautions to avoid a similar situation and was refusing any more people from entering the stadium. People were furious and some were starting to get violent and some were being beaten by the guards. Some of our friends had made it in earlier so we quickly got on the phone with them to see if they could work a way to get us in. While my boss was on the phone, we did a tour of the stadium to see if there were any doors open. No doors were open, but there was a pool of piss flowing from each closed doorway. Some of the people had been there since 2:00 pm and the last thing they could do was hold it in any longer. If they left they wouldn't be allowed back in so they just pissed off the top of the stadium or at the bottom of each closed doorway.
Finally, we were told to go to entrance number 8 and wait at the door. I lagged behind my boss with three others because we were careful not to slip in the pools of piss as we passed each doorway. I lost sight of my boss for a little while until I finally noticed she was already inside. She was behind three guards throwing their nightsticks at anyone storming the door. She signalled me to come in, so I grabbed the others and we stormed the door. I got whacked in the arm by a nightstick from one of the guards before he realised I was a white man.
Eventually we all got in safely and we noticed very quickly that all the fans around us were Ivorian. Apparently, the only reason we were allowed in was because we were all white! It was the only section that was not packed and had Ivory coast supporters or white people. The rest of the stadium was full of BF black men.
The Ivory coast supporters were separated from the Burkina supporters by the young police cadets of Burkina Faso. There were roughly two hundred on each side and they had a different cheer for every minute of the game which they did in unison. The game was fine, but it was soccer; so how good could it be? Burkina is a young team which was outsized and out skilled by the Ivory Coast. However, I predict Burkina will beat Ivory coast in the qualifiers for the World Cup in 2014. You heard it first, right here.
Seriously, the best part about the game was the Ivory coast supporters. They were all dressed in Orange, green, and white and had a 7 piece band! I think instruments are something Ste-Anne's should consider... but if there's music we need to attempt a dance routine as well. Just a thought - perhaps Liz and Stone as cheerleaders?.
Other things that have happened here in Burkina include: eating bugs, getting marriage proposals, saying "no thanks," and being stung by a scorpion. Things to come include: Working in the fields; living with really poor people; and , a bunch of other stuff that I won't see coming.
I do regularly check out the webpage and a tear comes to my eye when I hear the news about the juniors. You're my hero Lee. Keep it up seniors! You obviously look good, but my concern is the pub party and this year's theme...
Play hard this weekend and have a mister beer for me! Success and nothing less.
Love from Bobbie