Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another Nice Try

Towards the end of January, I had a man come into my office. The receptionist told me that he appeared not to speak any French, so I addressed him in English. Talking and moving slowly as if he wasn’t feeling well, he explained that he was an architect from Ghana who had come to Burkina looking for work. I asked him how he had hoped to find a job here if he didn’t speak any French? He told me that that’s why he was planning to return home to Ghana. All his money was gone, but apparently the Ghanaian embassy was prepared to help him get back. However, he had no money to eat for the next several days and was sick too.

I grabbed a nearby sheet of paper and pen and asked him to write down his full name. Next, I asked the receptionist to get me the phone number of the Ghanaian embassy in Ouaga. Then I made a phone call. After a few minutes, I was talking to the Consular Officer and explained the situation to him. He asked for the man’s name again. Then he said, “I’m sorry, but I believe that man is a trickster. I have no record of this man, and if we were prepared to help him, his file would have crossed my desk. Tell him to come here to see me.”

I turned to the man in my office. “The embassy says they have no record of you. So here’s what I want you to do: Go to the embassy and bring me back a piece of paper with the embassy’s stamp on it to verify your story and what they are prepared to do for you.”

“But I’m sick,” he continued. “Can’t you just give me some money for medicine?”

“As soon as you come back from the embassy,” I replied, pointing to the door. With a sad and reproachful look on his face, he slowly shuffled out of my office and the building. Glancing through the window, I noted that his pace picked up quite briskly as he made his way as quickly as possible to the front gate.

I never saw him again.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Senior Moment

A couple of weeks ago was my 50th birthday. We went out for dinner with some friends and they gave me a couple of interesting gifts. Thought I’d share them with you :)

Ah, just the gift for an older gentleman like me! Of course, I'm heeding the warning and using it sparingly. But I must admit that once in a while I'm tempted, just to see what will actually happen...

Now tell me, would you drink something called Mama Doo-Doo? Hmmmm...

And this stuff, well, I'm not sure what it's gonna do to me! I'm thinking I'd better drive out of town a bit and find an isolated, wide-open area before I take a swig. I want to make sure I've got lots of space and there's no one nearby who'll get hurt if I go ballistic!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Banana Bunch

This past weekend, I dropped Kathy off at the International School of Ouagadougou where she was going to be the first-aid person at a softball tournament. Driving a little way further down the street, I spotted a young lady with a basket of bananas on her head. Hey, we needed some bananas and these looked good, so I pulled over and waved her over.

As I was buying a half dozen or so, a bunch of little kids of various ages and in various stages of dress (or undress!) came running out from a nearby courtyard. “Sir,” they all said, “we want a banana.” I laughed. They were so cute and the bananas so cheap that I simply handed them each one from the bunch I had just bought while the young woman looked on in astonishment. Grasping their fruit, they happily traipsed back to where they had come from.

I looked at the banana seller. “Well,” I said, “you’d better give me some more!” She laughed and began selecting another bunch for me.

Suddenly, all the kids came running back out, their bananas still in hand. Lining up one after another, each child came up to me and said, “Merci monsieur!” Then they ran back inside. I chuckled all the way home.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Same Place, Different Fray

For those of you who have been wondering how things have turned out with our landlord, we have some bad news for you. Sorry, but we don’t have to move :) I know that most of you were hoping that things would continue to head south on this issue so that I’d have more hard-times stories for you to read, but not this time! The landlord agreed to leave our rent at the same level as last year, and we agreed to pay the registration tax. The rental contracts have now been signed by us and endorsed by the Burkina authorities. Whew! I sure wasn’t looking forward to having to pull up stakes and move again, never mind looking for a new place!

Spent a day in the village on Thursday. The Kusassi Association invited me to come and participate in an information and Q&A meeting. It went really well.

But then I had to come home early because Kathy got a harsh e-mail from our director. All she wants to do is help our colleagues and employees with their health issues (which she’s been doing informally for quite some time now and which has been keeping her fairly busy). Before we came back to Burkina, he encouraged her in this direction. Now he’s telling her to stop, that there’s no official role for her like that here. Don’t ya just hate it when politics gets in the way of helping people? Looks like we’ve finished one battle just in time to start another one :/

Anyway, on the bright side, I’m turning 50 tomorrow! We’re gonna invite over some friends, turn up the music, and PARTY!!! Have a great weekend :P

Monday, February 9, 2009

They're Back

Well, the girls came back. On Saturday. With another friend. Our guard chased them away. Not being aware of the fact that they had spoken with me the previous week, he first told them that they must be mistaken, that the person they were looking for lived somewhere else in the neighbourhood. When they persisted, he began chasing them off. I came out when I heard the noise.

After I’d calmed the guard down and explained who the girls were, he went back inside the courtyard and I sat down outside the gate to talk with them. The girls pleaded to be allowed into the courtyard, but I refused. Not only was this our private space, but I didn’t want to start something that would be difficult to stop later or that could lead to suspicions or accusations of inappropriate behaviour on our part. Better to keep everything out in public view.

Of course, this wasn’t something that these kids would understand. So I just told them that we had nasty neighbours :)

On Sunday afternoon, two of the girls dropped by again. There was no guard to chase them away this time, and I was sitting on the upstairs balcony, so I saw them coming. They’d bought some monkey bread at the market and came by to share some with me before going merrily on their way.

The reaction of passersby is interesting. Some seem surprised to see me sitting outside the gate talking to a couple of kids. Most smile and say hello in passing. A few tell the girls to go away and not bother me. Still others, mostly other children, are emboldened enough to approach me themselves and shake my hand to say hello.

I find it interesting that the only adults that ever come to knock on our gate are those asking for money, or those wanting to sell us something (I guess they’re asking for money too, but at least they’re offering us something for it :) No one comes to say hello or to pass the time of day. Except children. The people of Burkina are traditionally very social, so I find this social reticence a little strange. But maybe there’s something going on here that I haven’t figured out yet…

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I'm Not the Boogie-Man!

Sunday afternoon after siesta, I was sitting out on the porch in front of our little place in Ouaga, working on repairing something, when I suddenly became aware of a little face peeking through the holes in the courtyard wall. Unlike most courtyard walls in Burkina, ours had a section with decorative holes in it. We’re not sure why the owner had that done. Our guards don’t like it because it allows passers-by to look in and watch them. We don’t particularly like it either for exactly the same reason. Children are particularly nosey, always waiting for the opportunity to look into our courtyard to see what the “nasara” (white people) are doing. We’re a form of entertainment :)

That’s apparently what was happening now. Some kids were no doubt looking in to see what we were doing, taking advantage of the fact that there was no guard on duty on Sundays to chase them away.

A small voice said, “Bonjour, monsieur.” I looked again. Now there were two little faces peeking through, and I could see a hand waving back and forth in greeting. Knowing that they would probably stay there indefinitely unless I chased them away or went out to talk to them, I debated which course of action to take. Well, they weren’t being rude, just friendly, so I decided on the latter.

When I opened the gate, I was surprised to see three young girls standing there. I was expecting boys. It’s rather unusual for girls to approach strangers like this. Nevertheless, I greeted them and asked them their names and how old they were. At 13, Zenabo was the oldest, balancing herself on a well-used bicycle. Alizeta was 11 and spent most of her time smiling shyly. Falidatou was only 9 years old, but was the most outgoing and talkative one of the bunch. She stood next to me as I squatted down and leaned back against the wall to talk with them.

“Your hair looks really smooth,” she interjected during a lull in the conversation. “That’s the way most white people’s hair is,” I replied. She was silent for a moment. “Can I touch it?” she asked. I laughed. “Sure,” I answered. “Wow,” she said after a few seconds, “is it ever smooth! Our hair’s not like that!” “Oh?” I replied. “What’s your hair like?” She grimaced. “Ours is hard and stiff.”

I couldn’t help myself. “Well, can I touch it?” I asked. “Okay,” she said :)

A few moments later, she continued. “I can see your veins,” she said, pointing at the back of my hand, then running her finger along several of them. “I can see yours too,” I replied, pointing to one protruding slightly on the back of her hand. She ignored me.

By the way she and the other girls continued to marvel at my skin, I concluded that they were probably confirming the fact that I was a real person and not just a ghost! Everyone knows that ghosts have no skin colour, right? They’re white, just like us westerners. Which probably explains why some village children have run off screaming at the sight of us. Or maybe it’s because their parents have told them that if they don’t behave, the white man will come and get them. They must have been pretty naughty children!

Then it was time for them to go. “We’ll come back next Sunday, okay?” said Falidatou as they walked off. I guess they concluded that I wasn’t the boogie-man after all.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Safari Adventures 2

Every time we’ve gone to Nazinga, the game park here in southern Burkina, we’ve been charged by elephants. When you’re not familiar with the nature and temperament of wild animals, any aggressive actions on their part can be mighty scary! And an elephant is not an animal to fool around with! Every year, people are killed by elephants in Burkina. They can be dangerous animals indeed.

Our first encounter was back in the late 90s when we travelled to the park with another couple. After our guide joined us in the truck we took off on a tour of the various roads and trails, looking for animals to see and photograph. At one point, we came upon a herd of elephants crossing the road ahead of us. We politely waited for them to finish crossing and took photos before continuing on. However, just as we passed the point where they had crossed, a big bull elephant turned and charged at us. He was some distance away at this point, so wasn’t particularly frightening. Nevertheless, the guide told us to stop the vehicle.

Why? Elephants have relatively bad eyesight. Movement attracts their attention. When being charged by an elephant, the required procedure is to keep perfectly still! Sure enough, the elephant stopped too. After a few moments, the guide told me to start moving again. Once again, the elephant charged forward. And once again, the guide told me to stop. This time we waited a little longer.

Then the guide told me to floor it. In the loose gravel and dirt of the road, it was hard to get good traction, but we began to pick up speed. But the elephant was faster! Within seconds, he was only several metres from the side of the truck and coming on like a freight train! The guide was screaming at me to stop and our kids were screaming with fear in the backseat. In fact, one of them was under the back seat!

Against all instinct, I slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop. To our amazement and great relief, so did the elephant! Believe me when I tell you that this time, we waited a good long while before moving again, making sure the elephant had not only backed down, but had wandered off to rejoin the rest of the herd.

This past weekend, we were in the park’s observation post on the shore of a small man-made lake, watching a troupe of elephants frolicking in the water for their early morning bath. Suddenly someone came running in to announce that another troupe of elephants was making its way through the camp to come into the water from behind the observation post. We went out to see.

Sure enough, there they were, a couple of big males, but still some distance away. Kathy continued on towards the parking area, but I stayed on the path, trying to get a good close-up shot of the animals. Suddenly, one of them began running in my direction. He wasn’t charging, just hurrying to get to the water, but it was too late for me to run away without attracting his attention. I stood perfectly still, hoping he wouldn't notice me. But I realized too late that I was upwind from him. Elephants may have poor eyesight, but they have a superb sense of smell!

The elephant stopped not far from me, raised his trunk, and sampled the air. Distinct fingers of fear began crawling over my scalp and down my back. I didn’t move a muscle. Well, almost. My index finger moved slightly. I was taking pictures, consoled by the fact that if I died today, my wife would at least have some good close-up elephant shots! Strange how your mind works at times like these, eh?

After a few moments, the elephant moved on. But another arrived to take his place, and then another, and another… Each one stopped in front of me to sniff the air, trying to decide whether or not I was a threat. With the fear still crawling up and down my back, I just stood there. I considered turning sideways and sticking out my tongue so that I’d just look like a zipper, but didn’t know if the elephants would fall for that old trick.

In the end, the elephants went on their merry way to the water, and I came away with an adrenaline rush and some great photos. It was the only time we’ve been to Nazinga when the elephants didn’t charge. And I’m not complaining one bit!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Safari Adventures 1

We just got back from a trip with our visitor to a game park in Burkina. In terms of excitement and the number of animals seen, it was probably our best trip so far. We started out from Ouaga last Friday at noon with a rear tire that was going flat. In a normal frame of mind, I’d have taken it to a tire place and either gotten it repaired or bought a new tire since this particular one had been giving me some grief for the last few weeks already. However, we were in a hurry, having been delayed in our departure and wanting to arrive in the park in time for a first tour before nightfall. So I just had the tire pumped up, prayed that it would hold, and hit the road.

Believe it or not, it did hold! Until Saturday noon as we were packing the truck to return to Ouaga. Then it started to go flat again. I used the cigarette-lighter-powered electric pump to inflate it enough to get to the nearest town, where I was able to get it up to pressure again, courtesy of a guy with a compressor. Not long after we lit out on the road north, I heard a ‘clunk’. Pulling over, I discovered that a good chunk of rubber had come off the tire’s sidewall. It was a tubeless tire, so all that was holding the air in at that place now was a thin layer of lightly steel-belted rubber! We continued on.

For the remaining 140 kms, I drove slightly more slowly than my customary 100 km/h in case the tire blew. It was a rear tire, so it wouldn’t be as bad as a front tire blowing. The tire held all the way back to Ouaga. Once there, I headed straight for the tire dealer. Since the tire in question was already nearly bald, it was time to get a new one anyway. By the time I got there, it was nearly flat again.

Unfortunately, it was the weekend. I didn’t have enough money to pay for a new tire, and wouldn’t be able to get any until Monday morning. Fortunately, I had built a good relationship with the Lebanese owner over the years, so he was willing to let me have two new tires on credit until today. Whew!

More about our animal adventures tomorrow.