I have one week of vacation during my five months here and because I also have someone back home whom I think five months away from is a wee bit too long, she came down to visit. At first Cecilia and I we’re considering leaving Burkina and go to a neighbouring country that has a coast. Finally, we decided not to. One reason is the flight to Lomé, Cotonou or Abidjan is about the same price as the flight from Europe to Ouagadougou (!) And now that’s in absolute numbers. Try any kind purchasing power parity and the average Burkinabes are more likely to learn to learn to fly themselves than to pay a ticket on one of those flights. Overland would have meant about 24 hours each way on roads of varying quality. So we decided to spend our first west African vacation entirely within the borders, but do a little tour to the west.
Before the formal vacation even begun, I had two more days of work. Luckily, we were able to spend the first one making a mini field trip to a village about an hour from Ouagadougou called Nakamtenga. This is not just any village. A Swedish-based organisation called Yennenga Progress is running a long term “activity” (which they don’t want to call a project, which is why I am struggling here) to make it a happier and more sustainable village. Long story short they run a school, a pre-school, a restaurant, conference establishment, housing, and a few workshops. Currently they’re building a gas station. All of this creates full time jobs for about 70 people. The idea is to make the village a better community for all of its citizens. We visited Lennart Karlsson who is one of the founders of the project. As a retired worker for the Swedish development cooperation agency with 30 years of experience of Burkina, he has built his own house in the village and lives there since over a decade. We took a tour around the whole center that’s been built up around the activities. At the pre-school (which is a rather new phenomenon in Burkina) the kids sang a welcoming song to us. After the tour we had lunch together. Delicious but not very Burkinabe food cooked in Nakamtenga’s restaurant.
On the way home we stopped by a sculpture park. Every year an event is held when sculptors from around the world come to this park and create pieces of art out of the granite found in the area. During the weekend we met with some friends and checked out some key spots of Ouaga. We rented bicycles, but it was almost too hot to bike around during these days. Still it’s a very nice way to experience Ouaga.
The weekend passed, we got upp early and took the bus to Bobo Dioulasso, the second biggest city. Ever since I am here I keep hearing people saying that Bobo is so much nicer than Ouaga. It’s cooler, less intense, and has a great culture scene. So I’ve been wanting to go there for a while, but it’s a bit too far for a weekend. The 5,5 hour busride was very straightforward and when there’s air conditioning, there’s really nothing to complain about. A couple of military checkpoints where everybody had to get out, but they really weren’t wasting people’s time.
Bobo Dioulasso means “Home of the Bobo-Dioula”. It’s the second largest city of Burkina Faso. The Bobo and the Dioula are two ethnicities that inhabit the area. One thing I particularly liked about it is that there is a lot more evidence of the country’s past than what you can find in Ouaga. The colonial past is nothing to be happy about, but it did produce som pretty interesting architecture. I have asked and looked all over Ouaga, but failed to find anything that looks older than possibly the sixties. The French had the courtesy to completely raze what was the old town in Bobo back in the 1920’s. Fortunately they spared the late 19th century mosque built in the characteristic Sudano-Sahelian style, more commonly associated with Mali.
Most of the time we would just walk the streets of Bobo, hang out at the market and also quite a lot at the hotel pool. We also took the occasion to meet up with some newly made friends I met in Koudougou, to have some drinks on the big square in front of the train station. Like a lot of people had told me Bobo had a more relaxed vibe, less traffic and more walking friendly distances. Because both me and Cecilia are development and politics nerds we enjoy walking around, discussing the nature of things in Burkina and make comparison to other places we’ve been. The Burkinabe being a very warm, humorous and welcomely people, you always end up having interesting discussions with random people in the street. That is as soon as you get over your prejudice that everybody wants to scam you.
There was a good example of this as we were walking through a pretty plain residential area in central Bobo. The are always people in the streets as a lot of professional activities take place there. As we walked by a garage, this guy shouted at me: You gotta work, you can’t just walk around like that! So I started joking around about how my body obviously wasn’t built for physical work and that the commute from Ouaga would be problematic to say the least. All this to great amusement of our mechanic friend. Finally we “agreed” I would start the following Monday. A more common question to hear from the side of the street is whether you have a permit to take photographs. The first times I was asked I reacted as a stiff foreigner, but now I know it’s just good old Burkinabe humour.
After a few days we took the bus to Banfora, a city further southeast. It’s a small town, but it’s famous for it’s natural attractions nearby, the water falls and the Pikes de Sindou. The latter are a kind of tower-like rock formations. On our way there we double-checked security recommendations from the Swedish embassy only to find out that travelling west of Banfora, which means closer to the Malian border, is advised against, because of the terrorist threat near the border. No Sindou this time.
As we first arrived in Banfora we wanted to get something to eat and plan our trip to the waterfalls. We were recommended this place called Mcdonalds. As it says on Wikitravel “it’s not the golden arches kind”. That kind hasn’t come to Burkina yet. But this is way better. It’s a really odd but nice restaurant, full of graffiti, art and a mishmash of decorations. They had a great offer of fruit juices and very tasty sandwiches.
We ended up hiring a taximan to take us to the attractions nearby. We hadn’t heard much about it before, but there was a place called the Domes de Fabedougou not far from the waterfalls. It was a pleasure to see lush green fields sugar canes and a lot more and greener trees than there are in the center of the country in the dry season. It’s like a whole different country.
Because it’s the dry season we thought the waterfalls would be tiny, but there was largely enough for people to go swimming. The site is really nice as the water falls down the mountain kind of like down a staircase. There are several pools, rivers and falls all over the mountain. It was really tempting to go swimming given the temperature and physical effort of climbing the mountain. But, having read a little to much about bilharzia and other parasite diseases we didn’t dare go in the water. The risk is not that big in running water from what I’ve read, but better safe than having a colony of parasite dudes living inside of you.
All in all it was a great vacation. Cecilia really got a crash course in Burkinabe history, geography, culture and politics. I achieved my challenge of making her taste pretty much every thing I’ve had that can be considered domestic since I came here. I am really glad I got to see how different things are down southwest as compared to the landscape of the Mossi plateau.