Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Five Guys and a Truck

It was 9 o’clock at night by the time we pulled back into Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina’s second-largest city. It had already been a long day, especially for the Kusassi men who’d gotten up at 4 a.m. to catch the first bus to leave Zabre for Ouaga. After running some errands there, we’d left the capital at noon, the four Kusassi men and I, to travel to the town of Toussian, a five-hour drive from Ouaga and 55 kms past Bobo. The Kusassi men were friends and members of the Kusassi association, an organization that was formed to develop and promote the use of the Kusaal language through linguistics, literacy, and translation work. They had learned that a similar association already existed among the Toussian people of southwest Burkina, and had asked me to accompany them there on a fact-finding trip.

Following the meeting, they decided that we should head back to Bobo and find a place for the night. There was nothing available in Toussian. So here we were. We stopped at a gas station to ask if there were any places to stay nearby. By the responses we got, I decided that city people are much the same, whether in Toronto or Ouaga or Bobo. Most don’t know their own city very well at all! We drove on, keeping our eyes peeled.

After half an hour of driving, we’d not found anything. So at the next stoplight, one of the guys rolled down his window and asked the woman sitting on a moto beside us if she knew of a place we could stay. She directed us down a nearby street, and a few minutes later, we pulled up in front of a small hotel. Two of the Kusassi guys went in to check it out. A few seconds later, they were back. “They want 5,000 francs (about $9) for a room,” they said. “That’s too much.”

A man nearby overheard them and said that he could take us to someplace cheaper. Crowding into the back seat, he led us several kilometres to the outskirts of Bobo where we found a Catholic mission guesthouse. The guys all jumped out to have a look. Several minutes later, they were back. “The rooms are too hot and not very clean,” they said. “Let’s go back to the other place.” So we headed back. But by the time we got there, the rooms were gone.

By now, it was almost 11 p.m. “Listen,” I said, “let’s get something to eat first, and then we’ll look again. It’s late, we’re tired, and we’ll all feel a lot better if we had some supper.” They agreed, so we pulled off into a nearby side street that boasted several outdoor eating areas. It just wasn’t our night. The first served only grilled meat and drinks, no rice or sauce. The second served only drinks. We saw a place further up the street where people appeared to be buying rice and sauce, so headed there. But as we got closer, we could see that it wasn’t very clean, not attractive at all. The Kusassi guys turned up their noses. They might be from the village, but they had some standards!

Turning to leave, I spotted another place just a little further on and went to check it out. This was it! They had nice tables and chairs, and served food and drink out of a proper kitchen. There was even a big-screen TV playing a Season 3 episode of “24” in French! How much better could it get? We sat down, relieved to finally have found a decent place to eat. But before the waiter could come, two of the Kusassi guys jumped up and took off, saying they’d be right back.

Half an hour later, having already finished the cold drinks we’d ordered to begin with, we were still waiting for them! I was just about to call them on my cellphone when they came walking up to our table. “We found a place to stay!” they announced. “It’s a little more expensive than we’d hoped, but it’s decent and clean.” “And,” they continued, looking at me with big smiles on their faces, “we even got a room with air conditioning for you!” I laughed, saying that I would be fine in an ordinary room like theirs, but they insisted that I needed a room with A/C. Well, at this point, I wasn’t going to argue.

Our waiter turned out to be more interested in watching “24” than in serving his customers. It seemed to take forever to get our meals. Several of the Kusassi guys were already asleep in their chairs by the time the food came. It was after midnight when we finally got to the guesthouse they’d found.

Once there, I said goodnight to the guys, took a quick shower to rinse off the sweat and grime of the day, and dropped into bed like a sack of oats. But not before reaching over and pushing the power button on the A/C remote laying on the night table nearby. It was pretty warm in the room. Besides, I was only going to get about six hours of sleep. They might as well be comfortable ones!

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