Single stories and very non-industrial chicken.

One good reason to write something acessible to anyone when you’re away like I am, is that it’s a lot easier than trying to give satisfactory answers to everyone who asks how things are. Off course I still want to talk to my friends and family, but having to repeat the same things over and over isn’t gonna benefit neither the sender nor the receiver of the information. That said, another good reason to write is learning. I am here to learn. That is in fact the main objective of my internship. Not only to learn things about the project, children’s rights and development cooperation. I am also here to learn about Burkina Faso and a different culture than my own. Hopefully, this will make me reflect and give me thoughts and ideas which can be useful throughout life.

I am also happy to be able to share some of the things I am learning with you. Before I came to Burkina, Eriks organized a one week preparatory course for us. There are nine other Eriks interns at the moment, spread out in East Africa and Asia. It was a great preparation with many interesting lectures and workshops about everything from corruption and safety to cultural clashes. One thing I liked in particular was the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called The danger of a single story. I highly recommend it to everyone. In brief (Spoiler alert!) its message is that if we only have one story about phenomenon x, we will have prejudices about it based on that story.

Even if the story itself is true, it will produce a very simplified image of the phenomenon. Adichie uses the example of when she came to the USA and her roommate was very surprised that someone from Africa knew how to use a stove. The roommate had only been exposed to the single story of the poor, rural, starving and war–torn Africa, so often told in western media. It had created a simple and stereotypical idea of what Africans are like that doesn’t correspond to reality. I am hoping that I can contribute to the diversification of your stories. And that doesn’t only concern the culture I am living in, you may just as well have a single story about NGO’s, former French colonies, or Swedish men in their 20’s with an interest for global development, like myself.

I also want to be clear about on thing. I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with us having “single stories” or prejudices. What’s important is what me make of them. There shouldn’t be any shame in having prejudices, we all do. But I think it’s a good thing if we try to diversify our single stories and test our prejudices against reality.

Okay, enough with the preaching. Today is Sunday and my second weekend in Ouaga. My first week at ODE was spent learning more about the Organisation and the project. Because the actual project implementation takes place about five hours east of here, I’ve mostly read and listened to my supervisor Bargo talk about it. We’ve also met with the Eriks staff of the regional West Africa Office. In this region Eriks cover Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin. Me and Bargo have also been to a meeting with an officer at the Swedish Embassy to talk about the work of ODE.

Yesterday I went to meet some new acquaintances introduced to me by a common friend who lived here for a year some time back. We decided to go have chicken, which is very popular food here. I’ve had to put my vegetarianism on hold for a while, facing the threat of serious malnutrition. I might pick it up when I know the food market better. So we decided to go to this place in southern Ouagadougou. I bought myself a used bicycle, which by the way are called au revoir la France (good bye France) hereI enjoy biking a lot and I’ve realized that if you just watch out, traffic here isn’t all that bad. I checked where I was going on google, but I didn’t check the itinerary. Mistake. Not only did I get lost, but even if I hadn’t, it was 13 kilometers away. In 30 degrees and loads of dust. Conclusion: I have to 1) understand how huge this city is 2) buy a protective mask to put over my mouth and nose like many a wise bikers and motor bikers do here.

However I got to see a lot of Ouaga that I hadn’t before. And when I met my new friends Guira, Frédéric and Roc,  I soon forgot about the hardships of the trip. We went to this restaurant on what appears to be the outskirts of the city. The truth is it probably continues for another 100 miles or so. The restaurant was a kind of large, wooden shack-like thing with colorful tables and chairs inside. The idea of the restaurant is this: you go to a part of it where they keep the chickens in cages. You point at the one you’d like. You go back to your table. After half an hour, the chicken comes to your table on a plate. A bit brutal it might seem, but on the other hand, probably a chicken-friendlier way than the industrial one.

We had a great time. These guys are connected to AIESEC, this huge international student organization, so they’ve traveled far and wide and had many stories. Of course I got lost on the way back as well. Tuesday I am scheduled to travel east with Bargo and visit the project for a few days. I’ll write all about it when I get back.

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