Monday, June 29, 2009

On the Road in England

I’ve been in England since last Wednesday, taking part in a leadership training seminar being held on a centre about 50 km west of London. The cool temps and green countryside are a pleasant change from the heat and mud of Burkina, and it’s stimulating to rub shoulders with fellow administrators from a variety of West African countries. My only regret is that Kathy can’t be here to share it with me.

I haven’t had much free time, but have managed to get out for a few walks. With all the food they serve here for meals, and all the sitting we do all day, they should be making a daily walk part of the program! As it is, I’ll probably go back to Burkina about 20 lbs heavier than when I left! I wonder if they’ll charge me for extra baggage?

On my walks, it’s been a challenge to remember what side of the road to walk on. The country roads aren’t very wide to begin with. In fact, to my eyes, they only look wide enough for one vehicle to drive on at a time! Maybe that’s why the cars here are so small, certainly compared to the ones we’re used to in Burkina and Canada.

As you know, here in Britain they drive on the opposite side of the road to what we’re used to in Canada and Burkina. It still freaks me out to see a car coming around the corner on the “wrong” side of the road! So to walk facing traffic, I have to remember to walk on the right shoulder.

When I cross the road, I have to remember to look both ways very carefully. Otherwise, I’m liable to look to my immediate left first, which is where I would normally be expecting on-coming traffic to come from. If I don’t see anything, I might be tempted to step into that lane before turning my head to look for oncoming traffic in the other lane, totally forgetting that any oncoming traffic would be coming from my immediate right, where I had not yet looked! “Hood ornament” is not high on my list of preferred occupations.

On one of my walks, I came upon an English pub. Of course, I couldn't resist the urge to go in and immerse myself in a bit of traditional British atmosphere. Imagine my surprise to see that the waitresses were East Indian, and that they were serving clients Mexican Corona beer! So much for traditional British atmosphere.

Well, supper’s over, it’s stopped raining, and the sun’s coming out again. Think I’ll go for a walk.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In Trouble Again

On Tuesday morning, I got pulled over by the police again. Just as I was coming up to an intersection, the light turned yellow. I punched the accelerator and went through, turning left. A few dozen metres down the road, a policeman stepped out and waved me over.

“You just went through a yellow light,” he said. “I saw you accelerate when it turned yellow instead of stopping.”

“You’re right,” I confessed. He continued: “That carries a fine of 12,500 francs (about $25). You’ll have to come down to the police station tomorrow, pay the fine, and get your vehicle ownership back from us.”

“Is there any way I could pay the fine and get my ownership back today?” I asked. “I’m flying to England tonight for a 10-day training seminar.” He thought for a moment. “No,” he replied. I must have looked downcast because he asked if my wife was going too. When I said she wasn’t, he suggested that she could pay the fine for me and recover the ownership. Well, I had to admit that would work, so I said, “Ok, you have my ownership, but I guess I need a ticket from you so I can show it at the station when I go to pay the fine.”

The policeman called a fellow officer over and I waited for my ticket. Imagine my surprise when he said, “You know, you have been very cooperative. Most people argue with us and then we have to get tough. Here are your papers. You may go.”

I didn't argue with him about that either :)

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's Nice to Deal With Friends

On the weekend, I went to a local hardware shop to pick up a few things. The owner was pretty hard-nosed when it came to bargaining. He wouldn’t budge on his prices at all! Then at one point, he asked me if I spoke Mooré (the main language in our part of Burkina). I said no, but that I did speak a bit of Kusaal. He looked at me like I’d risen from the dead! “You’re kidding!” he exclaimed, “I’m Kusassi!”

“Really?” I asked. “What’s your name?”
“Edouard Ouaré,” he replied.
“Then you must be from Zoaga,” I said.
Another look of astonishment. “That’s right!” he answered. “How did you know that?”
“Because Zoaga is the village of the Ouarés,” I said, and began greeting him in Kusaal.

That man was happier than a pig in a mudhole! And when we resumed negotiations for the items I was purchasing, the prices dropped significantly. It’s always nice to deal with friends :)

PS: We found another replacement guard. He’s worked for 5 nights now, so there’s hope.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's Hard to Get Good Help

Our night guard, Harouna, was scheduled to begin two weeks of holidays this past week. Employees in Burkina are entitled to 30 days of holiday each year, two weeks of which must be taken in one chunk. The challenge is always to find a reliable replacement. You'd think this would be easy in a country where nearly everyone is looking for a way to get some money! But it's not. One reason is that we need someone that is reliable, not just any old person off the street.

So we asked our current guards if they had any recommendations. Harouna said that he knew someone who had done guard work before at a local school. This turned out to be an older man who was looking for a way to earn some money in his retirement years. So we gave him a try. He worked one night. On the second night, we'd gone out to find something to eat due to one of those famous long power cuts at our place, and arrived home to find Harouna opening the gate when we drove up!

According to a note we found stuck in our door, Benjamin, our day guard, who normally finishes at 6 p.m., had waited until 8 p.m. for the replacement guard to show up. When he didn't, Benjamin called Harouna, who, though officially on holidays, finally came to relieve him so that he could go home to his family and supper. Turns out that the replacement guard got sick on the day after he did his first night shift for us. But he didn't bother to send anyone to inform us. And he never showed up since. Scratch one replacement guard.

As of this writing, Harouna is still doing night shift, and we're still looking for a replacement. As if we don't have enough on our minds with the heat, humidity, and constant power cuts!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Power Cut Luck

We’re still experiencing long power cuts here in Ouaga. But today, for some reason, we managed to hit things not too badly. First of all, we managed to get through siesta with air conditioning. That’s already a big plus :)

When we got home, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the power was still on. However, we had just settled down to a blast of cool air and were planning what we’d make for supper when the lights went off. No sense trying to prepare anything in those conditions. However, our night guard had already taken off for a bite to eat, so we sat outside, trying to catch every possible breeze coming around the corner of our house until he came back.

Once he returned, we headed off downtown to a place that still had power and air conditioning so that we could eat something in relative comfort. We dragged our meal out as long as possible, knowing that it might be midnight before the power came back on. But finally we could delay it no longer and had to head home. Sure enough, our zone was still in total darkness. Resigning ourselves to a hot night with little sleep, we pulled up to our courtyard gate and waited for Harouna, our night guard, to open it.

Would you believe it? The very second he began opening the gate, the lights suddenly came back on! What a wonderful surprise! Even Harouna was grinning from ear to ear. It’s going to be so nice to get a decent night’s sleep.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bank Machines

A colleague here in Burkina had some visitors from the States who needed to get some cash. So she got them to hop in her car and they went out to look for a bank cash machine that worked. When we first arrived in Burkina just over 10 years ago, bank machines were unheard of. However, over the past several years, they have been popping up in increasing numbers. By making arrangements with their bank back home, visitors can use their bank card to make cash withdrawals (for a fee charged to their account, of course).

The trick is to find a machine that is working. Our colleague hit upon a novel way of determining this without having to stop at each one to try it. She figured that if there was a guard with a shotgun or machine gun out front, the machine was likely operational.

Finding one of these, she pulled in to park so her visitors could carry out their transactions. However, instead of pulling in to the parking spot frontwards like everyone else, she decided to back in so that it would be easier to leave when the time came. With all the motos, bicycles, pedestrians, children, and donkey carts around here that you could hit or run over inadvertently while backing up, this isn’t a bad idea at all!

But to her surprise, the armed guard came running over immediately and demanded that she turn her car around, that she drive into the parking spot frontwards instead of backing in. He explained that only thieves back vehicles in like that so that they can make a quick getaway! And no amount of talking would change his mind. Our colleague was obliged to turn her car around. Who’s going to argue with a man carrying a machine gun anyway, right?

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Curse of the Power Cuts

Today, power cuts followed us wherever we went in Ouagadougou. What a miserable time of year for that to happen! Okay, we did manage to make it through siesta time today. But the minute the clock hit 2:30 p.m., out it went! So much for working in comfort at home for the afternoon. We had no choice but to head back to the office.

At this time of year, it’s too hot to cook for supper, so in the evening after work, we decided to head out to a local restaurant for a bite to eat. No sooner did we get sitting down when guess what happened? Yup, the power went out. They brought us a candle so we could at least see the menu and subsequently our food. But with no air moving, it was pretty warm in that place! By the time our meal was over, we were in a hurry to get home and into the A/C.

Unfortunately, things weren’t looking very good as we got closer and closer to home. No lights on anywhere in the neighbourhood. We didn’t even bother to stop at our gate. It would have been too hot and humid to stay in our house or even out on the veranda. Instead, we just kept going and headed right back to the office. I called our night guard on his cell to tell him to let us know when the power came back on. It already after 9 p.m. and the man hasn’t called yet.

Maybe we should just try and make ourselves comfortable for the night here on the office desk.