Thursday, July 29, 2010

Trip to Koudougou - Part 7

The next morning, we slept in of course. But we didn’t want to stay in bed too long because we knew that our Burkinabè colleagues were probably up early, no matter how late they’d stayed up. Why? Because they had small children along! (Remember those days? :) So around 8 o’clock, we dragged ourselves out of bed and into the shower. Then downstairs to the open eating area where most of our Burkinabè friends were already sitting. Not long afterwards, Nescafe coffee, omelettes, and bread appeared on the tables. After the big meals of yesterday, I wasn’t too hungry, but sure needed the Nescafe to help me wake up.

After breakfast, we packed our stuff, loaded up the minibus, and hit the road for Ouaga. But before we hit the Ouaga-Bobo road, the group wanted to stop at a local market to buy some chickens and other supplies. So I pulled off to the side of the road at the village they indicated and we got out to walk through the market.

I must say that I always enjoy visiting a market with African friends. We still draw some unwelcome attention, but far less than if we were just by ourselves. Just some stares and comments, and getting hit up for money by old men who’d had too much to drink at one of the local beer stalls. But apart from that, no one pestered or harassed us.

In addition, Aristide was able to take pictures that I would never be allowed to take as a foreigner (he works in his family’s photography business, so is always carrying a camera or a camcorder along). Burkinabè in general do not like you taking their picture (unless they know you) because they believe that you’re going to sell the photo and make a lot of money from it while they get nothing. But Aristide snapped away no problem and I arranged to get the pictures from him later.

The ladies bought quite a lot of shea butter (made from the karité nut). I wondered what for and Aristide said they’d use it for cooking. They also bought some snacks for the kids, little cakes make from millet flour and deep-fried in oil. But try as we might, we could not find the poultry or animal section. The market did not seem to have one. However, I wasn’t too disappointed. Less mess for me to clean up in the minibus later :)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trip to Koudougou - Part 6

Back at the hotel, we had a rather late supper. The kids were getting tired and so were we. One of Aristide’s twin girls fell asleep in my lap. However, Aristide wanted us to check out the nightclub, so I carried her off to the nanny, and Kathy & I headed over to the “boite de nuit” as it’s called here.

Let me tell you, this was an experience in itself! We walked into a mostly darkened room and were met with a solid wall of sound. The only light came from the bar in one corner, the DJ booth at the back, and a black fluorescent light in the middle of the room. Depending on the music, various other kaleidoscopic displays of light would come on, but never for long. Once our eyes became accustomed somewhat to the darkness, we found seats on the low sofas and seats along the wall. There was still lots of room because very few people had yet arrived. It was only nearing midnight, so the night was still young :)

Aristide gave me a tour of the place, including a pretty sophisticated sound booth. I would have liked to stay in there a little longer, not just to watch the DJ at work, but because it was the only spot in the entire place where the music wasn’t absolutely deafening!

Once back at our table, we ordered something to drink, listened to the music, and watched other people arrive. There was no use trying to talk. The volume of the music made it virtually impossible. I could see Kathy across from me occasionally putting her fingers in her ears. I kept turning my head to find the position that was the least painful for mine. Even the music at the rock concert I attended a few years ago with Josh wasn’t that loud!

To be honest, it was beyond me why anyone would subject their ears to that kind of abuse for any length of time! Kathy & I finished our drinks as quickly as we could, made our excuses, and headed for the relative tranquility of the night outside. Wow! What a relief! Well, now I can say I’ve been to a boite de nuit. But I don’t think I’ll be doing it again anytime soon. Once was enough!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Trip to Koudougou - Part 5

After all the sitting and bouncing in the minibus, Kathy & I decided to go for a bit of a walk to stretch our legs and get some exercise. Walking anywhere in Burkina is always fills us with a bit of apprehension because of the generally unwelcome attention we tend to attract. As whites in an otherwise brown population, we draw more than our fair share of stares, comments, and even followers and hangers-on that pester us for our phone numbers, address, and money. It’s difficult to have a quiet, peaceful walk to just enjoy the sights and each other’s company. Experiences along these lines have given me some understanding of what movie stars and rock stars must have to endure. They’ve also given me a fresh appreciation for the anonymity we sometimes enjoy in Canada!

One time when we were out for a walk after supper in Canada, I grabbed Kathy’s arm and stopped. “Look around,” I said. “What do you see?” She looked around and then up and down the residential street we were strolling along. “Nothing!” she said. “Exactly!” I exclaimed. “Isn’t it wonderful? Nobody’s following us, nobody’s pointing at us, and nobody’s staring at us! Nobody even cares that we’re here!” Ah, in a world where so many people are looking to be noticed, anonymity can sometimes be a blessing. Sure, we all need recognition, but unwanted attention is an entirely different thing!

Our walk in Koudougou turned out to be not bad at all. We left the hotel and walked along the main drag in the moto and bicycle lane for a while, turning around occasionally to see what was coming up behind us and make sure we didn’t get run over or clipped by a passing cyclist or motorist. Walking past small shops and outdoor eating places, we garnered a few stares and comments. In most cases, we just politely greeted people in passing. After some distance, we turned and walked along the edge of a small vegetable market where ladies were selling various types of produce. Then it was a stroll down a back street before coming up on the hotel again from the rear.

By now, it was about 6:30 p.m. and Aristide suggested we get some supper. He had the hotel kitchen preparing rice and sauce, but thought we should go out and get some meat to go with it. A roasted leg of mutton was what he had in mind, so us guys hopped in the minibus again and cruised the streets looking for a place to buy this. We stopped at one place that looked hopeful, but Aristide refused to buy anything there, saying that the way they chopped up and cooked the meat was too unsanitary. He was afraid it would make us sick.

Eventually, after some time of searching, we found exactly what we wanted on a back street off the main road. I drove just past the place and then stayed in the vehicle while the guys went and negotiated the price because my white skin was sure to make the price go up significantly :) Mission accomplished, I managed to do a 180 in the street without running over any pedestrians or bicycles or motos traveling without lights (not an easy thing on an otherwise dark street!) and we headed back to the hotel.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Trip to Koudougou - Part 4

After siesta, Aristide suggested we visit the caimans of Sabou. Caimans are a species of semi-aquatic reptiles that are similar to alligators. So we all piled into the minibus and bounced and chattered our way over 25 kilometres of potholes and washboards to this well-known tourist destination on the Ouaga-Bobo road. We’d often heard of the place since living here in Burkina, but had never had the occasion to go there.

It was interesting to watch and listen to Aristide and the other men negotiate our entrance fee. The posted prices were something like 1,000 francs for Burkinabè (about $2) and 1,500 francs for foreigners (like Kathy & I). After much negotiation, they got it down to 750 francs each, with the children getting in for free. Had Kathy and I come by ourselves, we’d have just ended up paying the 1,500 francs each, even if we had tried to negotiate something lower! Maybe I need to become a more determined negotiator! In any case, the total came to 5250 francs, so I pulled out a 5,000 franc bill, handed it to the guy, and told him to keep the change :)

We hadn’t stepped out the minibus for 30 seconds before several young men appeared out of nowhere and attached themselves to our group like parasites. They began asking us where we were from and if we didn’t want to come to their displays of handicrafts to buy something. Well, we were here to see the caimans, not to listen to sales pitches, so we just ignored them. However, at one point, I noticed that most of these guys were handicapped in some way, hobbling along or using crutches and even wheelchairs to get around. The thought crossed my mind that maybe the caimans here were more dangerous than we imagined! Were these guys that had gotten too close to the reptiles?!!!

Fortunately, it turned out to be nothing that dramatic. A local handicapped association had provided a place nearby for handicapped people to produce and sell handicrafts as a way to earn a living.

Once down at the lakeshore, a couple of guides waded into the water and threw out a young chicken on the end of a rope. The squawking and struggling fowl soon brought a caiman to the surface (they said that there are over 100 of them in the lake!) who was intent of making a meal of the bird. Once he had the chicken firmly in his mouth, however, one of the guides prevented him from swallowing it by keeping the rope taut while the other pulled him up on land by his tail. At this point, they invited the visitors to come and touch the reptile or crouch by it and have their picture taken. I suspect that the reason this was possible was because the caiman already had something in its mouth to occupy its attention. Supposedly this would prevent it from trying to grab hold of another tasty morsel, such as a visitor’s arm or leg! Nevertheless, the guides cautioned visitors to approach from the rear and to stay away from the animal’s front end.

At first the kids were frightened and didn’t want to go near the reptile. However, in time, they grew bold enough to stand by it with their parents and friends to have their pictures taken.

At one point, another guide lured another caiman up on land with a flapping chicken on a rope. Attempting to snatch the bird, the reptile missed and its jaws made a loud snapping sound as they came together. One of our company had his back turned to this event, intent on taking a picture of something else. When he heard the jaws snap behind him, however, he yelped, jumped in the air and came down running! Haha, we all had a good laugh over that one!

On our way back to the vehicles, we gave in to the insistent haranguing of the handicapped handicraft vendors and went to take a look at their stuff. Some of it was pretty good. Some of it wasn’t. In any case, we had not come prepared to buy.  Besides, their high pressure tactics, along with their horrendously inflated prices (2-3 times what we would pay in Ouaga), helped us realize that the caimans were obviously not the only predators in this area!

So we climbed back into the minibus and bounced and chattered the 25 kilometres back to the hotel.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trip to Koudougou - Part 3

We arrived at the Hotel Photoluxe in Koudougou at about 10:30 in the morning. Aristide told me that it was built by his grandfather in the 1940s. The two-storey hotel had 20 or so rooms, along with a restaurant and an outdoor eating area. Our room was on the back side farthest away from the rest of the complex, which included a laundry area, a several single storey buildings with more rooms, a building housing a couple of conference rooms, and a nightclub. By our standards, the room was pretty basic. A double bed, a single bed, a desk, and a big armoire took up most of the floor space. We also had satellite TV, but the signal kept cutting in and out, so it was rather frustrating trying to watch anything. However, the best feature was an air conditioner that worked really well. Heat was not going to be a problem here.

The bathroom featured black tiles on the walls, a sink, a shower, a toilet (without seat or cover), and a bidet (which no longer worked). The water pressure appeared to be pretty low. Washing your hands or face required a measure of patience. And the toilet required at least 20 minutes between flushes. Given all this, we had real concerns about the shower. But to our great surprise and relief, it worked just fine! Plenty of water pressure there! Go figure.

There were stairs leading to what appeared to be a third floor. But when I climbed them, they led out onto the roof. From there, I had a wonderful view of the surrounding area, and the solar water heaters they had installed for the hotel complex. Pipes ran haphazardly all over the place, but hey, who cares, right? It is, after all, the roof, not a dance floor!

Aristide gave us registration forms to fill out. Some of the questions requested date of birth and the names of mother and father. This is information Burkinabè are used to giving for various things, but I did not feel comfortable writing down. However, when I went to hand the form in, the receptionist insisted that I fill this in. So I felt compelled to engage in little literacy creativity to protect the identities of the innocent… :)

After we got ourselves settled in, Aristide took me on a tour of the compound. One of the things I noticed was what appeared to be a former swimming pool. I asked him about it and he confirmed that there had indeed been a pool at the back of the hotel. However, one day a man had jumped off the diving board and struck his head on the edge of the pool. Following his death, no one would swim there anymore and the owner eventually filled it in with dirt.

Lunch was served in the open courtyard in front of the hotel. Since it had rained recently and was a relatively cloudy day, the temperature outside was already fairly comfortable for this time of the year. Mango trees provided additional shade and freshness. As promised, the kitchen had indeed prepared the chickens for us, along with ample bowls of rice and sauce, and trays of French fries. I’m afraid that my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I ended up eating far too much for the amount of work I had done so far that day!

In light of a night that had been far too short, and a stomach that was far too full, the after-lunch siesta time was a very welcome relief indeed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Trip to Koudougou - Part 2

After about three-quarters of an hour on the Ouaga-Bobo road, heading towards the Koudougou turnoff, Aristide asked me to pull over. We were passing through the village of Kokologho and he wanted to buy some chickens for us to eat for lunch after we got to Hotel Photoluxe. I was surprised! I thought we’d be buying our meals in the hotel restaurant or at one of the several roadside eateries that were sure to be nearby. But when I asked, Aristide informed me that the hotel had a kitchen and he was planning on giving the chickens to the cook to prepare for us. I’d never heard of doing this at a hotel before (even in Burkina), but figured that since his family runs the place, he must have special privileges.

The women stayed by the minibus with the children while we men wandered into the Kokologho market in search of chickens. After a good chunk of time walking and looking, we finally found the poultry part of the market. The guys began joking that they shouldn’t have taken me along with them. Having someone with white skin at their side would surely result in a hefty increase in prices! Haha, this may have indeed turned out to be the case because Aristide didn’t think the chickens that were being offered for sale were worth the price being asked for them! He determined to look elsewhere along our route. But before leaving the area, we noticed piles of guinea fowl eggs for sale on the ground. Aristide asked me if we liked eggs. When I said yes, he bought two dozen or so to give to the hotel cook for our breakfast on Sunday morning.

As we started back to the minibus, a guy rode by on a bicycle with several larger roosters hanging by their legs from the handlebars. “Now those look like the kind of chickens I want,” exclaimed Aristide. “At least they have some meat on them!” Stopping the man, he negotiated a favourable price and purchased two roosters, after which we walked the rest of the way back to the minibus.

Throwing them in the back of the bus with the baggage, we all then climbed back into the vehicle and continued on our way to Koudougou. I drove a little faster than before. I wanted to get to Koudougou before those chickens decided it was time for a bathroom break!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trip to Koudougou - Part 1

This weekend, we did something very different. We went on a weekend outing with Burkinabè friends. My friend, Aristide, invited us to take a trip up to Koudougou, a town about two hours drive west of Ouaga. His family owned a hotel there that we could stay at, Hotel Photoluxe. At first, it sounded like it would be just Aristide and his wife, and Kathy and I going. But things like this tend to be social affairs, so I soon discovered that a few other friends of Aristide would also be coming along for the ride, literally, since I would be providing the transportation. Neither Aristide nor his friends have anything but motos.

We can only fit a total of 5 people in our truck (Kathy & I included), so to be able to take the two additional couples that he indicated were coming along, I was obliged to rent one of our SIL Centre vehicles, a Toyota minibus. It can seat up to 15 people. Kathy & I would end up paying the mileage on the thing, but I figured the adventure was worth it. And besides, the thing is a hoot to drive :)

Aristide wanted us to leave the city early enough to avoid some of the traffic and get to Koudougou in decent time to do some other activities if we so desired. So Kathy & I got up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 on a Saturday morning! This was supposed to give us sufficient time to shower, have a coffee, get to the Centre to pick up the minibus, and head over to Aristide’s place at the west end of the city by 7 a.m. It didn’t quite work out that way.

For a combination of reasons, we didn’t end up leaving the SIL Centre until 7 o’clock. Then we ran into all that construction work on the main road at the west end of the city, which forced us to take a number of detour routes. And on top of it all, I got stuck behind a heavily loaded, slow-moving tractor trailer that was negotiating the same detours as we were. It was nearly 7:45 by the time I got to Aristide’s place. And even then, I drove right past it!

We were coming up to a ninety degree turn in the detour road when I mentioned to Kathy that this looked very familiar. I was sure I had been to this point once before when Aristide, his wife, and I went to grab a bite to eat at a nearby outdoor restaurant after he’d finishing videotaping a wedding. But we had gone past his place to get there. Right at that moment, my cell phone began ringing. It was Aristide.

“Hey,” he said, “you just drove right past our place!”

“I just realized that,” I replied sheepishly. “I’m turning around. We’ll be right there.”

Five minutes later, we pulled up in front of his place. Waiting for us, along with all their baggage, were Aristide, his wife, his two twin girls and infant son, another couple and their infant son, and a single guy. Ha! This was going to be an interesting weekend alright! We were expecting a couples’ event and it had turned into a family event! But that was okay. Having small children along would provide certain challenges, but on the other hand, they would also provide a welcome distraction when we ran out of conversation. After all, Kathy & I did not know the other folks at all!

Stay tuned for the next instalment...

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Day Off

A cool and rainy day in Ouagadougou. Kathy & I decided earlier this week that we would take today off. We’ve been going flat out for months and have a busy weekend coming up, so we told the day guard to not come on Friday. We wanted the place all to ourselves for a change.

The first thing we did was sleep in. This wasn’t hard to do. Neither one of us seem to be morning people anymore. When we finally woke up, it was to cloudy skies and cooler temperatures. Yes! Things were looking good already! We threw open the windows to take advantage of the natural air conditioning while we could. Next on the list: a good cup of coffee.

We were sitting in our IKEA Poäng chairs in the living room, drinking a heavenly blend of Starbucks Sumatra and President’s Choice French Vanilla, and watching the world go by outside out window, when the wind came up. This was a sure sign of rain to come, but first we had to run around and close all the windows to prevent the dust and dirt from coming into the house. Once the rain started, however, we could throw most of them open again.

In the end, it rained most of the day. Harder at first, and then slow & steady for the rest of the time. Kind of like a spring or fall day back home in Canada. The kind where you just want to curl up in a comfy chair, have a hot drink close at hand, and read a good book or magazine. Which is exactly what we did :)

But then life caught up with us again: there was a toaster to fix, laundry to do, and dishes to wash... Is it siesta time yet?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Last night, following a long day of meetings and other activities, Kathy & I decided to go out to see a movie. The French Cultural Centre in downtown Ouaga has a decent air-conditioned cinema where they show a variety of films from time to time. No blockbusters. Mostly foreign films, the kind you have to pay extra for in the foreign film section of Blockbuster or other video rental places back home. Here, however, for a couple of bucks, we can sit in plush theatre chairs in air-conditioned comfort and watch some interesting movies on a big screen. Sure beats the little TV screen we watch videos on at home!

What we neglected to take into account was the fact that last night was also the occasion of a World Cup soccer match. My first clue was the sound of people shouting in my neighbourhood when I arrived home after work. “Soccer match?” I asked our night guard. “Yup,” he replied. And went back to glue his ear to his radio.

The second clue was the crowds of people we saw gathered around the TV set of every little outdoor café and eatery along the road as we headed off. When we finally got to the cinema, there was not another soul in sight apart from the parking guard. I wondered if I’d made a mistake in the date. But the lobby doors were open and there was a lady sitting in the ticket seller’s booth.

Purchasing two tickets, we headed for the theatre entrance. “Hang on,” said the lady. “It’s not open yet.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, glancing quickly at my watch. “It’s show-time.”

“Yes, but the soccer match isn’t over yet,” replied the lady, turning back to read her newspaper.

Great, I thought. I should have known better. Soccer is a national obsession here in Burkina. What I hadn’t fully realized is how much of a priority it took over everything else. I couldn’t help but wondering if they would even delay flights at the airport so air traffic controllers, baggage handlers, police, and immigration and customs officers could finish watching the game!  (“Ground control to Air France 359, ground control to Air France 359, please be advised that... GO, GO, GO! KICK IT! KICK THE BALL!!! Um, please be advised that we’re still experiencing technical difficulties here... Please keep circling...)

We took seats outside and waited. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long. I was just beginning to consider asking for our money back and heading home to watch an episode of “24” instead when someone arrived to open the door. Within seconds, few more movie-goers showed up from the nearby restaurant to purchase tickets for the show.

In the end, there were only about a dozen of us in the cinema. The movie? An Israeli film called “Jellyfish”. It’s a drama about several inhabitants of a beachside community in Israel trying to deal with the differences between expectation and reality in their lives. Most of the time, they are like jellyfish, pushed and pulled along by the current, by circumstances beyond their control. Hey, wait a minute... this sounds kind of familiar...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

La Fourchette Parisienne

Earlier this week, we decided to try a restaurant we’d never been to before. It’s located in a part of town that was and still is populated by the families of diplomats and embassy officials, so we were afraid it would be a bit expensive. The fact that it claimed to serve French cuisine also added fuel to this feeling. However, it was Canada Day, so we thought if there ever was a day to live a little, this was it.

La Fourchette Parisienne, offering “la gastronomie française”, is a converted villa with both indoor and outdoor dining. We chose indoor because it was the rainy season and we wanted to avoid the humidity and mosquitoes that are part of the outdoor dining experience at this time of the year. We succeeded in terms of the humidity because the dining room has air-conditioning and we sat right in its airstream. But we didn’t do so well with the mosquitoes because the staff left the doors wide open.

The large dining room walls are painted with scenes from Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, the glass pyramid at the Louvre, la Défense, and more. These are not professionally done, but are good enough to definitely contribute to the ambience of the place. Avoid, however, sitting where you have to look at their attempt at the Mona Lisa. She looks more like a long-faced, mournful hound dog than a Renaissance woman with a mysterious smile!

The menu was significantly more limited than most restaurants, and even more so when the waitress told us that several of the dishes on the menu were unavailable that evening. We chose to split a salad and then each ordered a filet au poivre vert. This last is a pretty common dish in Ouaga, but we figured that this being a French restaurant, they might offer something that was a little higher quality. Well, the salad was nothing special, and our filets were a thick little piece of meat that was pretty mushy in the centre despite our request that it be well cooked.

Our verdict? Lots of promise, but little deliverance on the goods. We’ll give them to the end of the year before they’re out of business.