Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This flat, red earth

A scene from Ouagadougou's suburbs
Bonjour a tout! Today, I write from the city Ouagadougou (woe-gah-DOO-goo), Burkina Faso, a vast sprawl of humanity spread out on the red earth savanna of sub-Saharan Africa. Picture a flat, hot city amid endless plains of dry brush and red dust.

This city is something completely outside my experience: chaotic, always awake and alive, and struggling within the cruel chains of poverty. The people here are curious and tolerant, and quick to smile or laugh.

This is a country of some 14 million people, 1 million of which live in Ouagadougou (or Ouaga, for short) itself. It is a mix of Moslems (35%), Catholics (25%), and animists (40%) and innumerable ethnicities. Burkina men will often have ritual scars on their faces that identify them as one or another of the many different tribes. There are many languages spoken here, but the default language is French, as Burkina is a former French colony.
And another...
Visiting poor countries is a bit intimidating and always quite enlightening for we Westerners.  We get to see how most of the rest of the world subsists, living in conditions we find barely tolerable. And, by this, I intend no disrespect whatsoever to the inhabitants here. In fact, my respect is only deepened by the dignity with which most here live out there lives in spite of the lack of resources and comforts that we so often take for granted.
Yet another...
I've had the distinct honor of being welcomed into the household of family Diop, to which I am related through my wife, Maty. These are a kind and loving people who have welcomed me without reservation as a cherished member of the family.
Papa et Mama Diop
My family is Senegalese by ethnicity. Senegalese meals are enjoyed from a common bowl or platter. Everyone gathers around and eats with their right hand. (The left hand is forbidden, as it is used for another purpose altogether).

Sharing a meal in a Senegalese restaurant

One less-than-comforting aspect of life in Burkina is the presence of quick, skittish lizards that infest every house, building, and patio. My brother-in-law, Pape, named them "seiko." They seem harmless, but it is unnerving to see them occassionally run up or down the wall or across the floor.

A "seiko"
And, of course, there are the touts: the street vendors that sell various baubles. As a westerner, one is constantly accosted by someone wishing to sell you phone cards or belts or apples or counterfeit Rolex watches. It is very tiresome, though I will say it is not nearly so bad here as it was in Delhi, India. In Delhi, one literally could not walk a city block without being harangued. Here in Ouaga, there are only certain parts of the city, mostly the areas where foreigners are likely to gather (the airport, outside the big hotels, near the big banks) that the touts are especially numerous.

Vegetable market

Two days ago, Maty and I took our nephew and niece to the market to buy sandals. We were quite literally mobbed by touts who had us pinned up against the wall of the marketplace, all jabbering at us at once. When they came to understand that I was looking for a pair of sandals, they sat me down pulled my shoes off my feet and had replaced them with some flimsy sandals before I could even get a word out. Maty is something of a veteran at the haggling, merci mon dieu, and after a lengthy, seemingly heated negotiation, a price of 12000 CFA (or roughly $26) was agreed upon.

Maty holds her own in the Market
Well, I was satisfied that Maty held her own, but the touts had the last laugh...the sandals lasted all of one day before falling apart. Bah!

There is more to tell, but I will leave that to future posts. I've seen a lot of interesting art, and many different people. And then there is the socio-political situation...but more on all of that later. Thanks for stopping by, and stay tuned...


Ridwan said...

Hey there Dade. Good to read you here brother. I am happy to know you are having fun.

The pictures are great. Thanks for sharing your trip, your adventure.

Is this the first time you meet Maty's family?

OK, keep us posted as you can.

When you get back stateside we should go out for coffee.

Travel safe brother.


Unknown said...

Heya Dade and Maty!

Glad to see that you've made it to Burkina Faso intact. Such a long way to travel, and such an interesting culture. It's great to see all of the photographs of your travels. Keep them coming!

I'm sure that you'll have many a story to tell when you return, and I look forward to hearing them.

Take care and we'll see you when you return.


Anonymous said...

Woo hoo! You made it! Have you found a guitar to play? Maybe you can use those busted sandals as a percussion instrument.

Thanks for the stories and pics. Awesome!


Anonymous said...

Well done brother! Sounds like yet another wonderful life experience. You writing is awesome and I am happy you had a good time.


Anonymous said...

hi there, i enjoyed reading your report from that city that has so little sights and yet so much to experience. i've been there many times and certainly will return some more.

the lizards are your friends by the way, the eat the mosquitoes :-)