Wrapping up

Back from the village markets in the dry and dusty north of Burkina, and packing my bag to head back to Switzerland! A quick turn around from the simple life to increasing degrees of luxury. In Ouaga, I’m currently impressed by the abundance of things like cheese, street lights and traffic, and the lack of chickens, pigs, and shoeless children.

A few quick snaps of the markets and the Ouaga life with the family in ‘Paradise’.

Wheeling and dealing...
sun setting after a long hot day
lunch in the field provided by one of the villages
Made a few new friends- Alma, Abidjail and Maimouna
not rice! back in Ouaga
Ensemble direct from the tailors... wrong colour, wrong cut, perfect photo opportunity
some of the family in Paradise

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…

At long last…

A few photos to give you an idea of my ‘regular’ life here. I apologize if the quality is poor, I will keep playing around with it…
There aren’t a whole lot of tourists at this time of year, so I am a bit shy to bring out my camera for the street life… but there is still plenty of time for that.

For now, some pics of my office panorama and my new house!

Sunny day from my office window into the field

I look out over a former shanty town which was resettled to somewhere on the outskirts of the city to make way for retail and offices. It is always interesting to check out all the activity going on in the field… most often used as a public washroom, but also an incinerator site and pasture.

The daily herd and waste management

The rainy season is just finishing up here. Lots of lightening after a hot day, and some dramatic clouds.

Only a taste of the real rain...

Moved out of the hotel into ‘Ranger’s Paradise’. A shared house with some other young people, local and German 🙂 Check it out.

The house
Lounge outside
our lovely kitchen
An unwelcome (palm-sized) house guest

From my new home to yours, hugs to all, take care!

Step by step

‘According to the tradition of the steppes, in order to live fully, it is necessary to be in constant movement; only then can each day be different from the last. When they passed through cities, the nomads would think: The poor people who live here, for them everything is always the same. The people in the cities probably looked at the nomads and thought: Poor things, they have nowhere to live. The nomads had no past, only the present and that is why they were always happy…’ Paulo Coehlo

I say that I always have a difficult time accepting change, but something in my subconscious continues to push me there- into a new transition. The transition forces me into places where I am challenged, uncomfortable, broken down to my basic elements, and from where I can rebuild with a new orientation and understanding. At some point it ends, things become comfortable, ordered and I’ve grown a little more. I’m stricken with the difficulty in knowing where to find my peace, and discovering the balance between a mental and physical nomadic experience…

Closing in on the end of the second week, and lots has changed since the last post. I feel that I have to express the other side of life here, which I’ve found this week. After a rigorous weekend of researching all the tourist sites, blogs, guidebooks etc. on Ouagadougou, I was able to get more familiar with my surroundings (at least on paper) and make a plan (see, engineering brain). Not to forget, some incredibly timely phone calls and emails provided the necessary encouragement for my first week on my own. I set up all the safety precautions for the week (drivers etc.) to suppress any (real or imaginary) dangers, and set aside any embarrassment that I had over seeming too powerless. The bottom is a good place to start, no? 🙂

So the fun stuff:

I found some African dance classes! 3 nights a week in a local theatre building. Strong powerful dancing and beautiful to watch. My class mates are all local males… I’m the uncoordinated white girl flapping around like a chicken in the back row. But they are receptive and respectful- so I take it seriously but think of Rebecca’s wise words to me last weekend, “Be gentle on yourself”, and try to bring in some humor when I’m completely lost. The drumming is live and you can’t help but want to move with the rhythm.  The guys are truly incredible to watch, and I’m very happy to get a look at this part of their culture.

Met another foreign worker at the hotel this week. A hilarious Frenchmen working on water wells and reservoirs (everyone here seems to work with access to water or electricity, for obvious reasons) who spent a year at UQAM in Montreal. So once he caught my Canadian French accent, we hit it off. He has quite a network here and Thursday evening I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the over-the-top French embassy for a reception for visiting economics students from France. Rubbed shoulders with some interesting ministry workers here, drank a few glasses of French taxes, and chatted with the students about their week in Burkina. Turns out they thought it was neat and all, but will stick to their European investment banks…

And all this set me up for my biggest challenge of the week- walking on the streets. I went to bed on Thursday night setting the intention to walk to work the next morning (when the streets are pretty quiet at least). I had gotten a ride (for the 2 minute trip) all week, and was not happy with this. So indeed, on Friday I walked 20 minutes to the office! I felt so liberated. I will certainly still be driving around with people but now I’ve definitely overcome this mini obstacle. Hurray!

Some other impressions of Burkina Faso:

I’m slowly starting to understanding a little more of the mentality here.  I get the impression that there is not much going on in general- people are just hanging around everywhere. But beyond this, the people here have developed something special. And as many foreigners keep telling me, Burkina is very different from other African countries, in a good way.

For one, there is a huge artist community! There are multiple buildings and organizations dedicated to theatre, music, film, painting, sculpture etc. Ouaga is the cultural capital of West Africa and has annual festivals that draw international performers and audiences. So I’m hoping to catch a few shows and the big artisan festival at the end of October.

There is also an amazing religious tolerance here, from what I have heard and perceived.  With about a half Muslim and quarter Catholic population living in harmony (the other quarter is traditional faith), the cathedrals and mosques are without conflict.

And even with one of the worst scores on the human development index (177 out of 182 most likely due to the low literacy rate, Canada is number 4, Switzerland 9th), the streets are peaceful, and I have not heard of any organized crime or anything of this nature. It’s an interesting place, and I’m definitely beginning to enjoy it here. The journey continues…

Waking up in Ouaga

On September 3, it was my one year anniversary of living in Zurich, the end of many exams for my friends, a few birthday celebrations, and my chance to give hugs to my friends before I left on the 6th. It was a big day 🙂

I like it when things can be boiled down to numbers, must be my engineer resurfacing. So it is day 7! It took 1 day to get here. 2 hours to get a handful of (harmless) mosquito bites. 3 nights to get used to the heat. 4 mornings until I woke up knowing where I am… though I’m still not sure of what I’m doing here, and I wonder about that 5 or 6 times a day.

On Sunday, I flew from Zurich to Paris to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. I could watch on the screen on the seatback in front of me the plane’s view looking down as we soared over Europe. I paid special attention as we crossed the Mediterranean and I saw, for the first time ever, the land of Africa. Hope that doesn’t sound too dramatic, but it was momentous as I had never seen or crossed Africa before, so why not be sure of exactly when it happened.

Hitting the tarmac made it all become tangible. Walking out of the plane I took my first breathes of fresh air, as I remember doing so many times in humid places where the air holds so much more scent. The stark difference between it and the artificial airplane air is always sketched in my memory of that place. Ouaga smells of wood burning and heat- like it had been hot all day, and wasn’t going to let go too quickly.

The first morning on the streets, driving to work, was wonderful. The clouds were low (end of the rainy season) but the brightness of the day reflected the vibrant green fields (which had been evacuated of all the shanty houses for the future development of a retail space, a mall, of all things), the dark black of the people, and the colour of Africa- the red brown used for most buildings coming from the clay and dirt of the area. From a distance, I imagine it appears that the city flows vertically from the Earth seamlessly up into the sky.

Many of these buildings appear abandoned, or under a permanent state of (de)construction. No matter. It is hard to describe, and may be contradictory as I move deeper into the markets project, but the people seem to occupy space as they see fit, which often gives the impression of disorder and is rather distasteful at first to the immaculate western eye.

So the markets project. I am working here on a rural market rehabilitation project with a Swiss engineering firm (where I am working for 4.5 months as an intern). We have a small office here, a Swiss project manager, and about 7 local engineers and architects to run this and another rural community centres project.

My work is the usual intern contribution- general support with those magical excel formulas and reading large documents written by other consultants. We are at a stage where drawings of the market are being produced, so I’ll be involved on some reviews there as well.

The villages are on major routes but are generally minimally developed- limited potable water from a central standpipe, minimal sanitation if any, no electricity, and the markets are organized but with no supporting infrastructure. The idea is that by providing a floor and a roof, in combination with some other projects to improve roads and strengthen agricultural production, that economic development will ensue. Or at least that is what we are trying to prove. Some interesting hypothesis are flying around to say the least.

So far my life outside of work has not involved too much, possibly for the best as I am still getting used to all the sights (if still only on the drive to work) and handling the people- the heart of this place, which definitely has two sides. No doubt about it, my skin colour equates to money, and my gender lends to being pursued more often then I’d like. Burkina has a safe reputation but the people are still dramatically poor, even in the city, and will move beyond a civil level of enquiry to get some money. On the other hand, there is a shy warmth that I see from people who I work with and at the hotel. They are genuinely concerned about everyone, and we are all treated with the utmost respect and formality. Amongst each other, laughter and stories of family are ubiquitous. As time passes, I hope to experience more of the latter, and build up a pretty stern walk to deal with the former.

Advice is welcome, and I’m interested in other people’s experiences in more difficult travel cricumstances… (The tales I have already heard of South East Asia and Africa are often my inspriation 🙂 )
The internet is pretty poor, so I won’t be able to upload any pictures until later. But google it, and you can get some impressions. I’ll try to write often to keep the updates coming…
Take care.