Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Today is officially a holiday in Burkina Faso. It’s the celebration of Ramadan, the happy and welcome conclusion of a month of fasting for the followers of Islam. In a hot country like Burkina, a month of fasting is not an easy thing to do! Especially when it means not eating or drinking ANYTHING during the daylight hours! In addition, many Muslims continue to carry out their regular daily work responsibilities. Darkness is a welcome relief as they are then permitted to eat and drink something. The determination with which these folks stick to the strict requirements of their faith during this time of the year is indeed admirable!

As I’ve mentioned before, our night guard is a Muslim. In our experience since coming to Burkina, we’ve found Muslims to be excellent guards. They are usually more respectful and conscientious in their work than most.

For the first time since coming to Burkina just over 10 years ago, Kathy & I have now officially become employers. Prior to this, others employed the guards associated with our places of residence, and we reimbursed them for our part. Now this responsibility has fallen to us. I spent yesterday afternoon filling out the necessary employer and employee registration forms, and calculating both employees’ salary for the end of this month. Never having done it before, I found it somewhat complicated (calculating hours worked, overtime, holiday time, pension and unemployment deductions, as well as deducting amounts for cash advances already taken, and a fixed deduction for loan repayments). Fortunately, I had the help of our administrative director who is well skilled in this area!

One of the things he recommended was that we increase our guards’ salaries somewhat. The cost of living has gone up significantly in Burkina (as elsewhere), but salaries have not, making it difficult for ordinary people to make ends meet. On top of this, it’s the time of year where students go back to school and parents are required to shell out significant amounts to enroll their children and provide them with the necessary school supplies. As a result, most are forced to find sources of credit. Our guards have taken out loans with us for this purpose, which they will repay little by little over the next 10-12 months. Several employees on our Centre (with whom we have built a good relationship) have also approached us for the same reason, and we have helped out as we are able.

It wasn’t until we came to Burkina that we discovered what it’s like to be millionaires. Being rich (compared to our Burkinabè friends, employees, and colleagues at least) was not something we anticipated prior to coming here, and must admit that we do not find it very easy to play such a role! Suddenly, everyone sees you as a source of help and credit. And a person who does not share their wealth, at least to some degree, is regarded extremely unfavourably here! To strike the right balance between generosity and retaining enough to meet your own expenses is a constant & challenging juggling act :) Thank God we’re not millionaires at home in Canada too!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How To Be A Class Idiot

It’s a relatively cooler day so far today, thanks to an early morning rain. But it won’t last for too much longer. Even as I write, the sun is managing to make its presence felt through the still overcast sky, and things are starting to heat up. Which is normal, but rather unfortunate for us at the moment. Why? Because the A/C is no longer working properly in our truck, making it difficult to drive anywhere without major discomfort. And not just because of the heat. Driving with the windows open anywhere here in the city is a personal health hazard!

At all hours of the day, in addition to the dust and dirt kicked up by the traffic, even on the paved roads, the air is thick with exhaust fumes from thousands of oil-burning, blue-smoking, two-cycle moto and moped engines. Add to that the exhaust from hundreds of old and/or poorly maintained cars, trucks, and tractor-trailers, and you have a sure recipe for respiratory illness! There’s nothing quite like having a thick, blue cloud of exhaust blow in through your window at an intersection as you pass a big truck roaring through its lower gears in an effort to get moving through the light!

And why isn’t our A/C working right now? Well, I hate to admit it, but… it’s because I’m an idiot! The A/C was still functioning, but after several years, it was no longer at the top of its form, especially when it was really hot outside. However, rather than taking it to the dealer, I engaged a local yokel like we used to do during our last terms in the country.

I should have clued in when I saw him trying to attach a recharge fitting that wouldn’t connect properly. He was just fixing to hold it on manually while his apprentice began opening the freon tank when I called a halt and told him to go and get a proper fitting.

My second clue was when he came back with a working fitting, but attached it to my A/C system without first hooking it up to the hose from the freon tank! Liquid freon shot out and turned to billowing clouds of vapour while the guy, instead of removing the fitting, tried to now attach the hose in the face of a high pressure jet of liquid gas! I didn’t try to stop him because I was frantically trying to back up out of reach of the ever-expanding cloud of yellow gas that was now swirling around the truck. No way I’m breathing that stuff!

Finally, everything was connected and the recharging began. After 15-20 minutes of filling (at least that’s what I assume he was doing!), the air coming from my vents felt no cooler than before. Then it began to noticeably warm up! The refrigeration guy said that it was because the truck wasn’t moving. It would work properly once I started driving.

After he’d gone, Kathy & I drove over to our house to see how things were going there. Warm air blew from the vents. The A/C compressor sounded funny and began kicking in and out. I decided to shut the A/C off until I could make my way to a real Nissan dealer to get it looked at. I sure hope the compressor’s not shot! I always say that you have to pay for your education. For letting this guy work on our truck, I probably won't only be paying for my education. I should fail the class and be sent back to Grade 1!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Changing the Signs on Memory Lane

Last night we decided to go to the American Rec Club for supper. This is a place that was created primarily for employees of the American embassy nearby, but fortunately they’re not prejudiced and allow us Canadians to come in too :)

When we first came to Burkina back in the late 90s, access to the premises used to be as easy as driving up to the gate. But since the attacks on several American embassies in Africa several years ago, it’s not so simple any more. Barriers and security have been beefed up significantly, including a search under any vehicle wanting to enter the embassy premises (of which the Rec Club is a part).

The Rec Club has a restaurant, bar, small leisure book library, video library, swimming pool, tennis court, and exercise facility. As a family in former years, we used to pay for a yearly membership to enjoy a number of these privileges, particularly the swimming pool! During the hot season, this is THE place to come for a refreshing dip.

This time, however, we came for the food. Don’t need a membership for that, just enough money to pay the bill :) It’s a great place for those hungering for a little “back home” food. They serve hamburgers, Tex-Mex dishes (burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas, etc), chili, bacon & eggs, and the only lemonade in all of Burkina Faso! All in relatively comfortable, air-conditioned surroundings.

Francis, the server, is an old-timer. So is the cook. Although it’s been three years, both of them recognized us and asked how the kids were doing.

A lot of the places we’ve gone to over the past three weeks since coming back to Burkina have been trips down memory lane. This will probably be the case for a while yet as Kathy & I visit places anew that we last enjoyed as a family. But slowly and surely, new memories will be made to replace the older ones as we continue our life and work in Burkina as empty-nesters now.
I once saw a Toyota ad in a magazine that sums it up nicely: “What to do when the kids leave home? Do the same!” Yup, I’d say that’s exactly what we did!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Learning from the Mistakes of Others

Ah, we’re on the home stretch now! The tile work (final cleaning) will be done tomorrow, and the painting in the second bedroom will be done on Saturday. On Monday, I can start working on modifying our waterbed frame for our new mattress-in-a-box, and we can look forward to being in our own (albeit disorganized for the moment) place again!

Yesterday, Hamadou and Pastor Emmanuel came by. Hamadou had come from his post as school inspector over 200 kms away several days ago. Pastor Emmanuel arrived yesterday morning on public transport, a minibus crammed with people and loaded to almost twice its height with baggage, bikes, motos, supplies, and animals on top. I had to admire the man’s determination. Not only is the ride itself an endurance test (5 hours of traveling squished in like a sardine with dozens of other people in hot, humid weather, bouncing along a muddy potholed road for at least the first 75 kms), but he did it even though he had an upset stomach, and got soaked in the rain on the way to the loading area in Zabré early that morning!

We spent most of the day talking about the Kusassi Association. Actually, they did most of the talking. I listened and learned. One of the most interesting things I heard them talking about was what they had learned from seeing other organizations, associations, and committees working in the area: treasurers taking off with funds, the ineffectiveness of long-distance management by directors or presidents far from the area, mismanagement by local administrators, lack of foresight and plans for long-term sustainability, being satisfied with short-term results but neglecting to train local leadership for continuing benefits & effectiveness… the list goes on (isn't it true that we learn more from the mistakes of others than we learn from what they've done right?). You can bet that I urged them to put all this knowledge to use when setting up and running the new association!

Pastor Emmanuel told us that the Kusassi church leaders were overjoyed to learn that we had indeed arrived back in Burkina. They are in the process of organizing a celebration for early October. What a great day that’s gonna be!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Art of the Deal - Burkina Style

Holy cow, we nearly had WWIII in our courtyard here this morning! If you’ve been reading my posts up to this point, you’ll know that it all started several days ago when our landlord engaged an inept tile layer to put tiles on our bedroom floor. I declared the resulting shoddy workmanship unacceptable and suggested that my friend, John, do the work instead. After a lengthy discussion, which involved the landlord agreeing to hire John, and Kathy & I paying the additional price difference, John and his crew started on the job. For some bizarre reason, I figured that the matter was all settled and everyone could get on with life. Boy, was I wrong!

This morning, the inept tile layer and his crew showed up again, ready for another try to make good the fiasco of the other day. The landlord was right behind them, eager to engage them again in order to recuperate the cost from them of the roughly $70 worth of tiles that went out the door in pieces yesterday. Of course, John was not in agreement with this course of action! Neither was I. The difference was that he was much more vocal about it! Soon he and the landlord were waving their arms in the air and yelling at each other virtually at the tops of their lungs!

Finally, I managed to get between them and calm things down. “I thought we had an agreement yesterday,” I said to the landlord. “Now you want to change it! How are we going to get anything done if each new day you keep changing your mind about how you want to do things?” “Well, that’s the way we do things here,” he replied, “we modify agreements as necessary.” “Fine,” I said, “Then John can finish doing our bedroom floors, because I don’t want your guy in there again, and your guy can do the bedroom floors in the apartment beside us. That way I get the nice floors I want, and you can get your money back from the other guy in labour.”

After a little more negotiating, this was the new course of action agreed upon by all parties concerned, and John and his crew went back to work.

Kathy & I couldn't help but wonder how long this would last. (Can you blame us?) Well, we soon had our answer! In mid-afternoon I received a call from John saying that the landlord had come back to apologize for his behaviour and to ask John to do all of the remaining work! John and his crew had already finished laying the tiles in both our bedrooms, and it was a great-looking job (though not quite done) compared to what the other guy had done! The landlord had seen it too and realized that he had been too hasty in wanting to dismiss John and re-engage the other guy. There is, however, one condition: he wants Kathy & I to pay for the $70 in wasted tiles!

Tomorrow promises to be an interesting day! I think I'll need to suggest a few modifications to this plan of action. After all, isn't that how they do things here? :)

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Home Improvement Blues II

Oh, no! This would not do at all! I had just walked into our bedroom to take a look at the tile work that had been done on the floor on Saturday. I had suspected at the time that it was a rather rough-and-ready job. What I saw before me now confirmed it. Okay, I realize that I needed to be prepared to lower my standards for home improvement workmanship here. But this was totally unacceptable! I was not prepared to lower my standards completely to the floor! (Pardon the pun :)

Several rows of tiles were longer than others. Some tiles were obviously crooked. And as for being level, a drunken sailor could have done a better job!

I'm not normally a confrontational kind of guy, but I was ready to not let the tile layer set foot in our place again! Fortunately, the landlord arrived first. I showed him the work. I’m not sure he saw anything wrong with it like I did. However, I insisted that it not only looked terrible, but that the raised edges of off-level tiles would result in stubbed toes and torn floorcloths. No, there was no alternative but to tear up the 90 or so tiles that had already been laid and start over. And I wanted my friend John to do it.

John did an estimate on the spot. But when the landlord saw the labour charge, he walked out. This was highly unusual because normally people try to negotiate if they feel a price is too high. It was sometime later that he returned with another tile layer in tow. Ha! Nice try, but forget it! I stuck to my guns: it had to be John. I already knew the quality of his work.

Well, the landlord was only willing to pay a certain amount for the labour. I said, fine, I’d pay the difference. In my opinion, it’s better to cry once to pay to have the job done right than pay less and get a lousy job that will require costly repairs or redoing later on. An hour later, the pickaxes were flying and the lousy tile job was on its way out the door. Tomorrow, they’ll start doing it properly… I hope!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Into the Ouaga Suburbs

The roadway between courtyard walls was becoming narrower and narrower and I was hoping we’d soon arrive at our destination before we ran out of room to maneuver! A few minutes ago, we had entered a residential section towards the eastern outskirts of Ouaga where Harouna, our Muslim night guard lived. It was Sunday afternoon and we were on our way to meet his family, bouncing over a couple of kilometers of potholed road before arriving at this point.

Now when I say “residential section”, you can’t think of a paved street with houses, trees, and lawns like we have in Canada or the USA. This is a section of Ouaga that has not yet been officially subdivided into lots. People have come here, many from their native villages out in the country, and squatted on an empty parcel of land, constructing a small dwelling or two out of mud bricks and building a wall, also of mud bricks, around the buildings and some empty space to provide a place they can call their own, at least for now. This squatter approach has resulted in a virtual rabbit warren of dwellings of varying quality and zigzag dirt roads or paths of varying width. Some are only passable by bicycle or on foot. My fear was of coming to such a point where I could go no further, and couldn’t turn around either!

Finally, we were there. Walking into his courtyard, we stood in the shade of a couple of small mango trees while Harouna hurried to a neighbour to borrow chairs for us to sit on. Glancing around, we took in the small, tin-doored, four-room dwelling for Harouna, his two wives, his six remaining children, and his elderly mother, as well as the blackened semi-outdoor kitchen area, a roofless bathroom/shower area whose mudbrick walls were so eroded that they threatened to fall at the next rain, a small storeroom, and a paddock for a few sheep and chickens.

Soon the chairs arrived and we sat down. Harouna’s oldest wife had gone to the village to see her family, but his other wife and all the children, from the oldest at 15 to the youngest at 2, came up to shake our hands and greet us. His elderly mother was too infirm to come to greet us, but she dragged herself into view through an open doorway and waved her greeting from there. Almost immediately, we were offered some clean-looking water. However, its purity was questionable, especially in this part of town, and could make us very ill. So, as we demonstrated in so many of our presentations back in Canada, we accepted it with thanks but declined to drink any.

With the whole family sitting on small stools in front of us in the middle of their small, dirt-floored courtyard, and Harouna sitting on a 5-gallon plastic container for carrying water, we asked various questions and listened to answers while the children eyed us curiously and giggled, and Harouna’s wife busily continued her work of embroidering a piece of clothing.

Then it was time to go. Harouna had to get ready for his afternoon prayers at the mosque. But before we went, he wanted me to take a picture of the family. His wife quickly changed from her colourful blouse and skirt into a traditional Muslim woman’s black robe and head covering. The children jostled for a good position, with a neighbour child managing to join the group too. There was much laughter as I began taking pictures. I had to take several because someone put a hand in front of their face, closed their eyes, or looked elsewhere at the wrong time. There was even more laughter when I showed everyone the resulting images, especially when I zoomed in on each of the children’s faces in turn. Most had probably never seen a picture of themselves before! I’ll have to get copies printed to give to them.

As we headed back to our own world of more organized suburbia with cement-walled houses, steel doors, glass windows, gas stoves, electric refrigerators, running water, and air-conditioning, I couldn't help but marvel at the contrast! But that's the way it is here in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Home Improvement Blues

We’re still in the throes of home improvements in our little house in Ouaga. Things never turn out to be as simple as they seem at first glance. For instance, I went to replace the rusted-out screens on the screen windows and discovered that in fact I needed to replace the entire frames because the wood had rotted so badly over the passing years that in many places there was no longer any place solid enough to which to staple the screening!

In our bedroom, the cement coating on the floor was buckling, cracking, and flaking off in various places. After having the room painted, we decided to have the floor redone too. All we intended was another simple coating of cement, but our landlord happened by at about that time. An older Muslim man, he strode about the room in his long robe, looking at the holes in the floor, and said the he preferred to put tiles on the floor rather than just redoing it in cement. This may be his way of justifying a rent increase next year, but he’s the owner and paying for it, so who were we to say no?

This morning, the workmen arrived, two young men with pickaxes to chip away the remainder of the existing cement coating. The room is about 10’ x 10’ and this took all morning. After sweeping up all the chips, shoveling them into a pail, and throwing them out into holes in the road in front of our place, it was siesta time.

A few hours later, they came back with a couple of bags of cement. Earlier in the day, young men with donkey carts had brought a couple of loads of sand. Using this, they mixed up a batch of cement right there on the rough bedroom floor. Next, they began spreading a thin coat of cement on the floor, leveling it roughly with a small trowel and a 3-foot piece of 2”x 2” wood. After sprinkling on a few handfuls of Portland cement followed by water, they started placing the 12-inch square tiles on the floor. The piece of leveling wood was then used to make sure the tiles were roughly level. More Portland cement was then sprinkled into the cracks between the tiles, followed by water and wiped with a wet sponge. This all seems a little rough-and-ready to me, so it’ll be interesting to see how it all turns out…

In the meantime, we’ve rented an air-conditioned guestroom on the SIL Centre. For $20/night, it’s worth every penny!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Cell Phone Blues

It’s incredible. The night we can’t sleep in our air-conditioned bedroom would turn out to be the hottest night of the year! Or at least the hottest since our arrival here two weeks ago! The first coat of oil paint went on the bedroom walls earlier yesterday, and as a result, the place absolutely reeked of paint thinner. So we spent the night on foam mattresses on the living room floor, under a ceiling fan that worked hard at trying to keep us from overheating so that at least we could get a few hours of sleep before morning. In 30 degree Celsius heat, that wasn’t easy!

Today, we went to get Kathy’s cellphone hooked up. To save the cost of having to buy two new phones here, we brought two unlocked cellphones from a former Rogers contract with us from Canada.

Burkina has a wonderful cellphone system: no contracts! This means no monthly payments and no getting locked into a 2 or 3-year jail term like we do in Canada, with hefty penalty fees for breaking the contract. Everything is pay as you go, probably a smart move in a country where most people already live on credit and cell companies will have a hard time collecting on bills anyway. So everybody has to pay up front. And recharge cards are available everywhere. Young men are selling them on virtually every street corner! At any intersection, I can simply roll down my window and buy a top-up card. How convenient is that, eh?

Competition is fierce. Four different cell companies are vying for business and offering sign-up deals right, left, and center. Consequently, many people here have two SIM cards, switching them as needed.

I got my phone going last week already, buying a SIM card from a street vendor and loading on some money for calls. However, when I went down to Zabré last week, something bizarre happened: I couldn’t get any reception there even though I was close to a cellphone tower that belonged to the company I was with. In fact, I couldn’t get any reception anywhere outside of Ouaga. We tried all the way home again, and it wasn’t until we’d entered the city limits that my phone began to show reception bars.

Today, once we put a new SIM card in Kathy’s phone, it too showed signs of limited reception. The cellphone company agent admitted this was indeed bizarre and recommended we take our phones to a cellphone repair company to see what they could do. That’s where we got the bad news: our Canadian phones work on a frequency that is somewhat different from the one they use here. Consequently, our receptivity will vary even in Ouaga, and will be non-existent outside the city. So much for our bright idea!

Well, live and learn, eh? I guess that next week, we’ll have to buy at least one local cellphone so that I can keep in touch with Kathy when I go down to the Kusassi region.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It's Been One of Those Days...

The meeting with the ANTBA Director went well. We gave him a rundown of what we and the Kusassi had done so far, and he told us how ANTBA intended to approach things from this point on, which was basically the same approach they’ve used in a number of other projects. However, it does not take the Kusassi Association into account, probably because the association is not yet a reality to be dealt with. It’ll be interesting to see how determined the Kusassi are about this. I hope they persevere! Their involvement will do much to extend the impact, scope, and duration of both ANTBA’s efforts and ours. If an organized and interested local group does not feel a sense of ownership of the work and is not involved in the decision-making of what is done and how, much of what we and ANTBA set in motion over the next years may slowly grind to a halt soon after both of us are gone. Now that would be a real tragedy!

We’ll keep you posted on what happens next :)

This morning, John the painter arrived at our door. This is a young man that I taught to paint over 10 years ago when we first arrived in Burkina (I hadn’t set out to do that, but I needed someone to help me with painting the place we were living in. He picked up the necessary skills and afterwards started his own business!) We had asked him to come by to do some repainting in our Ouaga house. Many houses in Burkina, if they’re painted inside at all, are painted with whitewash (called “foam paint” here). It’s cheap, but gets dirty really quickly. We’re getting it changed to oil paint. Easy to clean and durable. But first, you have to scrape all the old whitewash off or the new oil paint won’t stick properly. If that sounds like a real mess to you, you’re right. It is.

The first thing John and I had to do was go and buy supplies for the job. Before we could do that, however, I had to stop by the SIL Centre to get some money from our account to pay for the supplies. While I was there, I ran into one of the Centre’s Burkinabè employees that had fallen ill the day before. He’d gone to a clinic, where they asked him to get an ECG and an echocardiogram. So he’d come to the Centre again to find out where to go and if someone could take him. No one was available until tomorrow. But he looked so ill that I offered to take him. That took the rest of the morning because we had to go to two different places in widely separate parts of the city and wait in lines too. It was after lunch time before John and I got back home with the necessary materials.

That’s just the way things go here sometimes (and in Canada too :) You go to do one job, but it turns out that you have to do several other things first. And sometimes, your day just doesn’t go the way you planned at all.

We’re sleeping on foam mattresses on the floor tonight. Our crate with our new “mattress-in-a-box” finally arrived, but we’re waiting until the bedroom is painted before we set it up. In the meantime, our waterbed has sprung a leak. Rather than wake up in a swimming pool one morning, we decided to empty it and use foam mattresses for a few days. This turned out to be a good decision in more ways than one because when we took the bed frame apart, we discovered the termites had been hard at work on the underside! Such is life in Burkina!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Televised Chicken

We had a rather quiet weekend, except for the rooster crowing in our courtyard every morning, a gift from Pastor Emmanuel. We took to calling him “Stew” :) We finally ended up giving him to one of our guards as a gift, something they appreciate since meat in their diet is a rare occasion.

For supper on Saturday night, we decided to get some “poulet télévisé”, which translates literally as “televised chicken”! Haha, that’s not exactly what it is, but it’s close :) It’s roast chickens, up to 6-7 on a large skewer (yeah, they’re small chickens!), slowly turning in a large upright oven with a light in the back and glass doors on the front. That’s kind of a television, isn’t it? This makes them easily visible from the roadside at suppertime when it’s already dark outside.

The trick is looking for them while driving on a road that is full of other traffic. You need eyes all around your head to watch out not only for things going in the same direction that you are, but also going the wrong way or crossing blindly in front of you. In addition, many of these things, like motos, bicycles, pedestrians, donkey carts, and even some cars and trucks, have absolutely no lights on them at all! I told Kathy that from now on, she needs to come with me so that I can concentrate on watching the road. As it was, I nearly mowed down two cyclists, one traveling the wrong way and another cutting unexpectedly in front of me!

Late this past Friday afternoon, we had our scheduled meeting with our Director. Kathy & I weren’t the only ones there, at least for the first half hour. Hamadou had asked if he could come to the meeting to explain things from the Kusassi point of view. So the first half hour was spent with him and the Director discussing the Kusassi’s desire for the Scriptures and language development, their involvement so far, and the nature and purpose of the Kusassi association that is in the process of being formed.

Following this, the Director and Kathy & I discussed the planned involvement of the national Bible translation organization (ANTBA) in the work, and what impact the Kusassi association would have on that. While the potential for collaborative achievement is great, concerns were raised about some fundamental differences in approach between the two organizations. We’re not aware of any other case in Burkina Faso where a language community like the Kusassi are willing and determined to take charge of their own language development and Bible translation, and are organizing an association for the purpose of doing so. This doesn’t mean that they won’t be inviting organizations like SIL and ANTBA to help them where they need help, but they’d like to be the ones sitting in the driver’s seat. It is, after all, their language.

A cause for concern lies in the fact that the national Bible translation organization is not really accustomed to working with such a group in this way. We’re praying that they will see this as a great opportunity to help equip and empower a local language community to carry our their own language development and translation work. That’s the approach Kathy & I have been taking so far, an approach that is both taught and encouraged by our organization worldwide for reasons of dignity, ownership, and sustainability. However, not all organizations involved in language development and Bible translation practice this approach yet.

We have a meeting with ANTBA late on Tuesday afternoon (tomorrow) to begin discussions on the future of the Kusaal Project and our role in it. Please pray with us!

Friday, September 12, 2008

First Trip Back to Zabré

I really hate getting up while it’s still dark outside. I’m a night owl, so I don’t mind staying up till all hours, but I really hate getting up so early in the morning. However, that’s what I had to do yesterday in order to get down to Zabré, visit with Pastor Emmanuel and family, do what we had to do there, and then get home again before midnight.

After a quick coffee to get us going upon getting up so early, we headed to the outskirts of Ouaga and picked up Hamadou, who was waiting for us at the beginning of the road to Pô. Right before the tollgate a few kilometers further on, we stopped to buy some bread (baguettes) from roadside vendors in order to give to Pastor Emmanuel and family. City-made bread is a real treat for those living in small towns, villages, and the countryside.

The 100 km after the tollgate was covered in just over an hour. The Pô road is a good paved road, as is the turnoff to Manga… at least until you get to Manga. Then it turns into a gravel road that is absolutely pitted with potholes due to the heavy rains this year. The 75 kms from Manga to Zabré took us 3 hours to traverse, much of the time in first and second gears. It was awful!

But the reunion with Pastor Emmanuel and his family after 3 years of absence was worth it! How good it was to see these folks again! And how the children had grown! Wow!

After our joyous reunion, we were led into his humble abode for a cup of Nescafé and to catch up on all the latest news and developments. When we moved out under the tree later on, Pastor Emmanuel showed us the well and latrine we had given him funds to build during our absence.

And then it was down to business. With Hamadou reading everything out loud, we discussed the draft papers he and Pastor Emmanuel had prepared for the founding of the Association for the Development of the Kusassi People. Kathy & I were very impressed by what they had written. They had truly grasped the idea of having the Kusassi people in charge of their own language development and translation work.

After much discussion and a few revisions (and lunch), we all prayed together and hastened to be on our way again. Night would fall soon (at 6 p.m.) and we had planned to be on the road several hours already. Another fatiguing 3-hour trip over Pothole Road found us back in Manga, where we dropped off Hamadou for the time being. Kathy & I continued on to Ouaga in pitch dark. Night driving in Burkina is very stressful and fatiguing due to the fact that at any time you can come across animals, pedestrians, bicycles, motos, and donkey carts on the road. Sometimes the cars and trucks don’t even have taillights or running lights, so the chances of an accident go way up. Thank God we got home safely, although it was nearly 10 p.m. at this point. By then, we were really ready to hit the hay.

All in all, it was a great day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Kusaal Project Update

I missed my siesta yesterday. After only 5 hours of sleep the night before, I sorely needed it! (At midnight, my body still thinks it’s only 8 p.m. Canada time, so it’s often the early morning hours before I feel tired enough to go to sleep.) But my siesta was worth missing because I got to see Hamadou Gnangré! Who is Hamadou, you ask, and why was I so glad to see him? Let me explain…

Hamadou is in fact the man who initiated the Kusaal Project. He is a Kusassi Christian and civil servant (working as a rural school principal) who first approached SIL for help in putting his language into writing and translating the Bible. Despite his busy schedule, he has, along with Pastor Emmanuel, been enthusiastically involved in virtually every major stage of the project so far: the initial work of comprehension testing, the set up and training of the Kusassi team that helped me gather linguistic data for analysis, and the preparatory work for the establishment of a Kusassi association to take charge of Kusaal language development.

Like Pastor Emmanuel, Hamadou is a true Burkinabè, an upright man (“Burkina Faso” means “the land of upright men” or “…men of integrity”). He has also become a good friend, which is the main reason I was so glad to see him after just getting back to Burkina. However, there was another reason too…

As I mentioned in my previous posting, our Director has scheduled a meeting with Kathy & I on Friday afternoon to discuss the future of the Kusaal Project. The following week, he has also scheduled a meeting for us with the director of the national Bible translation organization (ANTBA) to discuss the same topic. You see, the Kusaal Project is officially a joint project between SIL and ANTBA. However, since ANTBA did not have the funding or personnel to participate at the time the project began, it was agreed that Kathy & I would begin the work ourselves. But now ANTBA is preparing to participate, and with their experience in literacy, training, and translation work in other projects, they can be a valuable partner in the work.

However, one of the things that makes the Kusaal Project different from other projects in our planning is that we’ve been advocating for the Kusassi to be in charge of their own language development and Bible translation rather than SIL or ANTBA. After all, it’s their language and they should be making any and all decisions regarding its development and use, right? People like us from SIL and ANTBA would then provide any necessary help and training required to empower them to do this. This is somewhat different from many other projects in Burkina where SIL or ANTBA is normally in charge of the project, pays the salaries, and makes many of the decisions. Pastor Emmanuel and Hamadou are in full agreement with this approach to have the Kusassi in charge, and are well into the process of drafting the paperwork to form an official association. Therefore, I was anxious to get in touch with them in order to have their input at these upcoming meetings. Pastor Emmanuel was no problem. But I did not know how to get in touch with Hamadou on such short notice.

Today, at lunchtime, out of the blue, he came driving up to our gate… Coincidence? I think not :) God is at work!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Good Morning, Ouaga!

This morning, we were woken up by the sound of roosters crowing. No we’re not in the village yet. Welcome to suburban life in Ouagadougou!

After the rain yesterday, temperatures were down, which meant that we didn’t need to run the air conditioner during the night to help us sleep. So this morning, we were able to enjoy all the sounds and smells of the neighbourhood: people talking and banging cooking pots in nearby courtyards as they made breakfast, wood smoke from their cooking fires, the radio blaring at a coffee stand down the road, the putt-putt of motos and semi-mufflered roar of gravel & firewood trucks going by and, of course, the roosters :) Even in suburban Ouaga, many people live much like they did in the village. Because that’s where many of them originally came from, often just a few years ago. In fact, the key to knowing how most people think in Ouaga is to understand the rural village life they’ve come from.

After the high speed Internet of Canada, this Internet connection in Burkina is driving me crazy! It takes forever to send a message! And if there are several messages, I have to resend for virtually each and every one of them. Receiving messages is just as bad. And don’t even get me started on trying to get on Facebook, check my Hotmail, or access my bank account!!! The expression “slower than molasses in the wintertime” comes to mind… The positive side to this is that I now have time to read entire chapters of books between mouse clicks!

I guess I shouldn’t complain TOO much since we at least still have access to the Internet, though it seems to me that transmission speed has diminished since we left in 2005.

Yesterday evening, I called Pastor Emmanuel in Zabré. It was our appointed call time. You should have heard the excitement in his voice when he realized that we were actually, physically back in Burkina! I’m planning to drive down to see him on Thursday. This is a little sooner than I’d originally thought of going, but Kathy & I are meeting with our Director on Friday to discuss the future of the Kusaal Project, so I need to touch base with Pastor Emmanuel and get his input before then.

Well, I’d better get to work. Several of the screens we have on our windows to keep out the mosquitoes have rusted out along the bottom, allowing the little malaria carriers to infiltrate our domicile. Got to put a stop to that!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Back in Burkina!

We’re back in Burkina at last! I’m sitting in our little house in the suburbs of Ouagadougou, in a foam padded wicker chair, under a ceiling fan, trying to keep my heat level down to a point where I can still function somewhat comfortably. My laptop is sitting on my lap, also trying to keep it’s heat level down by resting on top of a cooling pad with two electric fans run by power from one of my laptop’s USB ports. The temperature this evening is 31°C and the humidity is 82%. If it wasn’t for the fan, I’d be soaked in sweat by now. In fact, this afternoon when I was cleaning the inside of our truck, I was thoroughly drenched. The most annoying part was all the sweat that kept running into my eyes and onto my glasses. I should have brought some headbands along! Kathy is reading in the bedroom. We’ve got an air conditioner in there. Otherwise we’d have a hard time getting a decent night’s sleep.

Outside, our Muslim night guard is making his evening tea after prayers. We have three guards here in Ouaga: a day guard, a night guard, and a replacement guard (in case one of the other two can’t make it or has holidays). While our guards will not deter a serious thief with a gun, not having a guard is the equivalent of inviting passersby to come into our courtyard (over the wall, of course) and help themselves to whatever they can find, as well as try to get into the house. Since we’re seen as rich westerners, we’re more likely to be targets for thieves and have to take appropriate precautions.

In addition to the guards, our house has several steel doors, metal louver windows, and ornamental metal grills over the glass windows at the front to keep uninvited visitors out, especially at night when the guard tends to sleep (the previous tenant had a night guard who had thieves come over the wall and steal his motorcycle from right beside him while he was sleeping!). We also have glass windows behind the metal louvered windows to keep out the heat and dust that inevitably come through the louvers.

Our house was clean when we arrived since Kathy had made arrangements to have it cleaned before we came. But after a succession of tenants who had rented the place for various periods of time during our absence, things had been rearranged somewhat and termites had gotten into some of our wardrobes (we don’t have built-in closets like in Canada, just big wooden cupboards built in one corner of each bedroom) and belongings. And although we’d packed things up, we couldn’t remember where anything is anymore. Looking on the bright side, unpacking after three years away will be just like Christmas!

I spent this afternoon cleaning the inside of our truck for the second time. No one had been looking after it for the past several months and it was a mess, filthy both inside and out. Well, the exterior situation was quickly rectified with a good washing by our night guard. The inside was a different story. Somehow, it had gotten damp enough inside that mould was growing on the backseat and even on the interior vinyl of the doors and cabin floor! I ended up pitching the seat covers, taking out the backseat entirely, vacuuming up the dirt (with a 12V car-vac), and washing everything with soap and water twice. It looks almost brand new now, although we’re still not sure how we’re going to get the mould out of the backseat.

Hey, it looks like it might rain soon. That will be wonderful because although it will make the mud road to our place even messier, it will certainly help cool things down.

Once we get things organized in the house, I’ll take a video and post it on YouTube for you to see.