What is black and white and red all over?

As we stepped into the court of the traditional village of Tiebélé we were instantly taken in by the labyrinth of smooth hand-molded houses, and the repetitive patterns ornamenting each wall.

Our guide, Herman, explained the intense process involved in building the houses- the continuous addition of different mixtures of sand cement, painted with a coating of red soil as a seal, and finally the natural black (or sometimes red or white) designs coming from the concentration of different seeds and minerals. It is a battle against the rain and sun to keep the structure standing,  and each year demands constant maintenance, but all part of their traditional day-to-day life.

We were fortunate to visit one of the most famous houses in the court belonging to a old women of the village. She has reportedly travelled the globe learning and teaching the design process and decoration of the houses. The outside of her house was incredibly detailed, and as Herman explained, very meaningful. Each pattern, no matter how intricate, related to an aspect of traditional life, animistic beliefs, the harvest or the family history. The low curved archway is the door into her house, and you’ be amazed how she can scoot in and out of there, no yoga needed for her.

Since she is a widow she lives in a house shaped like a figure-8. Single people have round houses, couples move into square houses- makes the census process pretty quick! and gives an interesting layout to the village. We were instantly lost as we walked through narrow passageways, up and down steps, and through courtyards filled with corn or millet or children.

In the widow’s house, one half of the 8 is the kitchen, the other half the bedroom. Millet and corn are staple products, so every house has its own grinding stone. The one in her house was particularly magical with the interior paintings and the one beam of sunlight for the room directed over the stones. She also had a stack of traditional clay pots used to pound yams and potatoes into various consistencies, the base for many dishes here. The perforated pot is used to make a yam-based couscous.

After the tour of her two rooms, we went up onto the terrace to get a feel for the maze we walked through to get there. And we finished the visit by sharing the local fermented drink made from millet, called dolo- tastes sort of like cider, though a little too warm, and is served in a gourd which is subsequently passed around to everyone in sight as a sign of generosity. Everyone is your family when there is dolo around!

A very beautiful glimpse into another way of  life here in Burkina.

Walking km's between the wood and the fire
Unpaved roads are tough on the bicyclists
Coming to see the visitors
Into the maze
Cauldrons for making dolo
The old women's house and entrance
The grinding stones in the elder's kitchen
Clay pots
The village demographics
Dolo time!

Tourist weekend

Before taking off for the field trips, my house mates and I had an intense weekend of trying to be a little local, as well as a lot tourist .

Saturday at the big market of Ouaga- my female house mate and I bargained hard for some jewellery, scarfs and leather sandals. The 10 men that accompanied us were always aiming to please as they searched the far corners of the huge market to find the exact belt, design or print that we desired. It was an intense 5 hours of people calling and pulling us into their stands. We were continually brought into ‘confidential’ council while negotiating prices. And we did well not to get too flustered and remain calm and patient… A success for the 2 ‘blancs’, I feel.

Sunday was a tour out of Ouaga to the village of Tiébélé, close to the Ghana border in the south. An amazing traditional culture of house building involving unique shapes based on marital status, and painted designs on the inside and out, also with symbolic meanings. I will make a post on it all when I return, but for now a few quick glimpses of what we saw.

Lunch en route
connected to the earth
here comes trouble- they were very interested in the visitors to the village
symbolic paintings at the 'local gym' (our guide's joke)
almost ran out of fuel on the way back. good thing you can buy it from a street stand, and take a cigarette break too.

Heading into the countryside

For the past weeks my schedule has been, quite pleasantly, unwavering: wake, yoga, baguette, work, water, rice, work, dance, water. Excitement comes in the form of a new sauce for the local couscous made of ground Palm seeds, or a visit to the tailors to get a dress and jacket (bien sûr!) made from local fabrics. So, needless to say, I’m feeling relaxed, happy and at ease here. There is, inevitably, the occasional bump in the road when cultural worldviews collide and I have to explain how ‘we do things’ in Europe/ Canada. In hindsight, it is humorous to explain that I a) am not available for marriage to any and all men, b) do indeed like to and will work all 8 hours of my work day, c) cannot bring you, your rabbits, or your baby back to Europe/ Canada with me, d) do not need an electronic scale, bag of lemons, or a door mat, but thanks for offering none the less.

But, like everything here, this is all going to change, as I am heading into the ‘field’ for the next 3 weeks: myself and 4 colleagues are off to the markets! Overcoming, hopefully, the language (local ethnic and not French)  differences, we  will be taking surveys about project impacts and talking to property owners already on the sites. Already some interesting questions about informal property rights and eligibility have arose.

We’ll be in two regions of Burkina, one in the drier North, the other in the lush South, staying in the bigger towns but visiting a new market each day in villages of less than 5000 people.  Accommodation and food will be rather basic, but I’ve been assured by my colleagues that the regions are lovely and there is lots to see and discover.. I just hope there is enough time to be a bit of a tourist 🙂

More stories to come…