A unique insight into everyday life at a Burkinabe NGO

Until now I’ve mostly written about our field trips. Maybe it makes sense because the places we visit on the trips are the places where the project is realized. But it doesn’t quite reflect how I am actually spending my time here in Burkina. The overwhelming majority of work days are spent entirely at the ODE headquarters. So I thought I would write a bit about this aspect of my time here.

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The Ouagadougou headquarter is where most of the staff is located, although it’s likely a number of people will always be out on field trips. Apart from the headquarters staff, there is a large number of field agents who are based in the areas where different projects take place. ODE was founded in 1972 by a federation of protestant churches. The building currently housing the headquarters was built in 1994. It has three stories of offices and conferences rooms accessible by and outdoor corridor. The center of the building is an open space with no roof and a small garden at the bottom. The architecture allows a current of air to pass between the outer windows and the inner yard, creating an indispensable cooling of the office. Nevertheless, it can get way too hot to be able to work comfortably, and only a few offices have air conditioning. Recently ODE were granted funds to install solar panels on the roof which will be able to power air condition for all offices and conference rooms. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t increase productivity.

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Every day starts at 07:30 with half an hour of singing, prayer and bible reading. It has elements of a morning meeting as subjects for prayer are often related to current events at work, in the family sphere and sometimes even in politics. I have little experience of religious practice, but I was amazed by the very concrete things that are prayed for. For example, the successful achievement of an audit report could well be a subject of prayer. Everyone in the staff takes turns to lead the morning ceremony and gets to pick a bible verse to read and comment on, linked to a certain theme. Most of my colleagues use bible apps on their smartphones, but a few have actual bibles.

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Morning snack with the project colleagues

After the morning ceremony the staff is dispersed and each head to their respective tasks. Some, including myself who is way too tired to eat anything before the morning ceremony, go to have breakfast at a small kiosque right around the corner from ODE. It’s basically a big metal box that serves as a kitchen, and a steel structure with thatched walls as seen above. Breakfast consists of the number of quarters of baguette you desire, filled with either minced meat, fish or avocado. With that, tea or coffee. A particularity with tea drinking here is that you squeeze lemon or crush tamarind fruit into it.

 

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If we have meetings, they often start at nine. If it’s a monthly meeting with all the program officers like above, snacks are a given. Forget about coffee, tea and cookies. Meeting snacks here are all about Mango juice, water and sugar coated or salty peanuts.

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After the meeting, this hypothetical day has come lunch time and a one-hour break. There are a bunch of kiosques nearby and many of my colleagues also order delivery food and eat at their office. Me and Bargo are part of the regulars at the same place where we have breakfast. My typical lunch is seen above. Rice with some sauce, beans and avocado. Almost every dish here comes with either meat or fish. I was a vegetarian before I came to Burkina, but it quickly became rather difficult to pursue that. After a while, when I knew the food offer better I started moving back towards a vegetarian diet. One way was to ask for an avocado replacement of the meat and fish. Because it’s a bit unusual, it didn’t go unnoticed among my colleagues. Some even tried it themselves. This in turn led to jokes being directed at those who did, such as, why are you eating like a white man, are you trying to become white yourself? Joking about race is not very sensitive here. Occasionally we buy dessert from one of the many fruit vendors who walk around in the area.

ODE mekanik

Not all of my colleagues spend their days in offices. There are also a handful of drivers, a few cleaners and guards.  Some of the drivers also know mechanics and constantly try to keep ODE’s vehicles in shape. On all longer trips, one of the drivers will drive the car. Because of the state of roads, it can be quite tricky to know where it is the best to drive and when to even leave the road for a little detour to avoid an obstacle.

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ODE has been around for quite a while, especially considering that Burkina has been a sovereign state for only 57 years. Since ODE was founded, the development sector has exploded with a large number of international as well as domestic actors. One of the consequences is that the competition for funds has become tougher. Added to this is the fact that global funding dropped dramatically after the 2008 financial crisis and is only slowly making its way back. In a project at ODE, the financing partner is typically going to ask for a ten percent contribution. The state doesn’t give that kind of money to NGO’s in Burkina. So where to get the money to make partial funding possible? One of the answers is seen above. Because of the already mentioned and other inconveniences, ODE tries to gain further financial independence. One way is to buy a truck and carry cement to the ports of Ghana and Togo. Another way is to rent out the conference rooms of the office and guest house rooms right next to where I live.

That, ladies and gents, will be all for now. I hope you enjoyed. If I make sufficient sacrifice to the gods of the www, maybe they allow me another post within short.

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Vacation!

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.

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Etienne at the Laongo Granite Sculpture Park

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.

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In the streets of Bobo

Bobo Dioulasso means “Home of the Bobo-Dioula”. It’s the second largest city of Burkina FasoThe 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.

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Old mosque of Bobo

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.

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This old Bobo building reveals the name Burkina Faso had before 1983, Upper Volta.                                   The building looked like something built back in the colonial era.

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.

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Cecilia enjoying some delicious sandwich and passion fruit juice at trademark rebel Mcdonalds

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.

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Me climbing the Domes of Fabedougou

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.

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At few dozen people were having a blast in the falls

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.

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I want to come back and see the waterfalls after som really heavy raining

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few more pictures from the east

This post is basically some more pictures from the last field trip. I’ve been pretty busy since, first with a field trip with ERIKS to Kombissiri and another partner of theirs, and then a weekend trip to Koudougou. More about that later.

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This is what typical Burkinabe rural housing looks like, at least in the regions I’ve visited so far. The houses are usually built from artisanal bricks, wood and hay. This is not a village, nor a single family’s house. There are several families belonging to the same extended family that share the inner court between the houses.

 

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The market of Fada N’Gourma

 

Between the actual field visits we stayed overnight in capital of the eastern region, Fada N’Gourma. We had some time to kill, so I went for a pickup promenade with our driver, and later for a stroll in the market area. A nice thing about Fada is the large number of very big trees you see in the background in the picture above. I asked Bargo what they are, and he said som long and hard to recall name that sounded like latin. He told me they were planted along main streets in most cities in then Upper Volta and have remained since. One reason you don’t see them as much in Ouaga is that they’ve been cut down to liberate space for enlargement of streets.

 

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Along the shore of the dam, these vultures where devouring the remainder of a pig carcass.
As we got closer with the pickup they all took off into the air and flew around the car.
Vultures are an endangered and hence protected species in Burkina Faso. You’ll typically see a lone vulture circling above the fields, but I hadn’t seen this many in one place before.

 

Gold and the Faso

The industry of Burkina Faso is dominated by two goods. Cotton and gold. Cotton used to be the dominating export, but gold overtook it a few years back and made the country the fourth biggest exporter of gold in Africa. Most of the gold is extracted by international enterprises and almost 100% of the Burkinabe gold is exported to Switzerland. The gold industry is an important political issue. Historically, The Burkinabe state has been quite bad at getting good deals with the companies that extract gold. The industry has caused a lot of environmental and social problems to communities while the state hasn’t collected taxes to the extent it could have and hasn’t been able to control the amounts of gold produced. There’s a story I’ve heard a few times here about how the French used to smuggle the gold they had produced here back to France. When a certain amount of fairly concentrated gold ore had been extracted, the machine treating it would break down, with the gold inside it. Because these machines were very high-tech, they supposedly had to be brought back to France to be repaired. There was no way to control the amount of gold inside when the machine was broken down, but somehow it always came back nearly empty. The undeclared gold stayed in Europe. I have no idea about the degree of truth to that story. However, it’s a rather accurate analogy for how the mining companies have taken the gold out of the ground and left very little for the people of Burkina Faso.

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An artisanal gold mining site in eastern Burkina Faso

There isn’t only the industrial mining sector in Burkina. There’s also the artisanal part of it.Having studied political science,  I am very interested in institutional issues such as whether multinationals pay taxes or not, but the artisanal gold sector is more closely related to what I am doing in Burkina. It is estimated that as much as a million people are employed in the artisanal and semi-mechanized gold mines. Artisanal mines are pretty much what they sound like. You dig a hole. You go down the hole. You try to find gold. You sell the gold and get money. We visited one in Matiacoali last time we went.

 

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The miners work in teams of 3-4 on each shaft. The one who’s down in the hole can pull a rope that makes a can filled with pebbles sound if he wants to communicate something to his surface colleagues.

 

As I have mentioned before, it is not uncommon to find children crawling on the narrow tunnels of the mines. They come for several reasons. Some are sent by their parents who can’t supply for them, others take a shot at earning a quick buck. The majority of people working the artisanal mines are adults. Needless to say, work is hard and dangerous, and you get paid when the gold shows up. If it does indeed show up. One young man we spoke to said it’s been three months and no gold. It was starting to feel hopeless to him.
Safety is a major problem. Each hole is operated more or less independently of the surrounding ones. Once a certain level is reached, shafts are dug horizontally. After a while, there’s a widespread system of tunnels, and collapse becomes all the more likely. This happens on a regular basis. With very limited possibilities of being rescued, many of them will die beneath the crumbled masses of soil.

 

 

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The rope is connected to a winch that’s used to hoist both the extracted soil and the person who’s down there. The tube to the left is a ventilation device. Without it, there isn’t enough fresh air for the miners to work.

 

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Women were in minority on the mining site. The ones we met were either cooking or, as seen here, jigging to separate the soil that may contain gold from what doesn’t.

 

I was interested in how labour is organized. Bargo explained that usually, there’s someone who invests the money that’s needed. That person buys the rather limited materials needed and puts his employees on a food and accommodation “payroll”. The employees dig until they find gold. The gold is usually found in very small grains, so it needs to be jigged (washed out of) the soil that surrounds it. When enough gold has been found to go to the market, it is sold, and profits are shared according to the agreement between the miners and the employer. I may draw a rather negative picture here, but a lot of miners can make a good salary from the mines. That is not to belittle in a country where a well payed job, or even a job, is not gonna fall out of the clear blue sky. Especially not if you live in the countryside of the poor east. Nevertheless it is problematic that children are drawn to the mines instead of going to school. Although my colleagues have actively targeted the mines in the municipality, we did meet some youngsters who shouldn’t be there. My colleague Daniel told me there used to be lots more. Just like the internationals will probably have to pay more taxes soon, hopefully fewer children will opt for the mines as education proves to be a better way towards a decent life. It’s not going to be fast. But it’s happening.

The short one to Bilanga

This week we went on two separate field trips. One over the day to Bilanga and a regular one to Matiacoali. Internet has been behaving very badly the last few weeks, so I’ve been struggling to put photos up. I tried to instagram a clip three days ago. It’s still charging. Finally the gods of the www have shown some sympathy.
I thought I would honor them with these pictures. This is from the first, one-day trip to a village called Tendane in the Bilanga Municipality.

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An unexpected advantage of my child rights internship is all the things I learn about agriculture and plants. Onions (the main part of the field above) want dry, sandy soil and not too much water. In two to three months the onions will be ready for harvest. If the rainy season feels like an early start, they may all rot in the field. Let’s not kill any spiders before June. On the sides, there’s corn and if I remember correctly, what you can see in the foreground is okra used to make the gombo sauce in Burkina’s national dish tôt.

 

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”Oh, a green tomato, haven’t really tasted them before”. Turns out it was a kind of squash.

 

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We attended the village gathering after visiting the fields. My colleagues are sitting on my left, giving information and asking questions about how things are going. One challenge that was raised was the access to markets for vegetables. Some years there are several buyers coming along, wanting to buy large quantities. Other years there, no one comes to the village. There is no good way of preserve fresh vegetables, which means a good part of them will perish in lack of access to a suitable market.

 

 

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We came to Tendane to examine the possibility for a new potential project of ODE’s. Agriculture here as shown in the pictures is not supported by us through any project as of now. Although we do give support to the school canteen through PAPPDE BM II, which is the project I am on. In short it works like this. If the school offers children a decent meal, parents are much more likely to send them there. The kids are also much more likely to focus and learn what they are supposed to. ODE gives money to build a storage room and buy grains, such as sorghum or millet. The grains are bought just after harvest, when prices are low and sold at the end of the dry season, when prices reach their annual maximum. The surplus is sufficient to run the canteen for a full school year.

 

 

 

 

FESPACO continued!

In this year’s edition of the FESPACO, there were two movies with a connection to Sweden. This is surprizing as there aren’t a lot of connections between these two countries overall. I’ve never met a Burkinabe in Sweden and as far I have understood, the Burkinabe diaspora is tiny. Regardless, in this tiny diaspora there happens to be two directors of cinema. Of course wanting to promote this connection, the Swedish embassy borrowed the lovely garden of the Goethe Institute and held an open air movie night for each of the movies. Because the number of Swedes present in Burkina is very small, I’ve heard around 30 people, all the Swedes willing to participate plus a good number of Burkinabe guests could easily be fitted into the garden.

The first movie is called Medan vi lever (while we’re alive) and is made by Dani Koyaté. He is Burkinabe but lives in Sweden since 2007. The movie is set in Sweden and in Ghana. It tells the story of the up-and-coming rapper Ibbe (played by actual Swedish rapper Adam Kanyama) who is struggling with his relationship to his mother and with his intercultural identity as well as his rapping ambitions. I liked it a lot. Is somehow feels as a very Swedish movie although it doesn’t tell a the kind of story you’d often see in one. Plus there’s a lot of humor in it relating to the clash between culture and age of it’s personalities.

The second movie is called Ouaga Girls, directed by Therese Dahlberg Traore. She has a parent from each country and grew up both in Ouagadougou and on the island of Öland in Sweden. She also went to the International School of Ouagadougou, where I play floorball on Wednesday evenings, a few blocks from where I live. Ouaga Girls is a documentary about a group of girls studying to become garage mechanics. The roles of men and women remain fairly traditional I Burkina, and these girls are likely to be part of the first dozens of women mechanics in the country. We get to follow the girls during a few years in school, at home and when they hang out outside of school. The movie does not have an obvious message, there are many themes that are up for discussion. I brought my friend Yaya and we met both the director and two of the girls who were in the movie. If you know Swedish you can read more about the movie here.
Ouaga girls was shown last Monday, actually two days after the Fespaco ended. That brings me to the story of how the Fespaco ended for me. Both Thursday and Friday night I went to the Fespaco HQ festical area to meet up with some friends, have dinner and listen to live music. On Thursday I met my Ghanaian friend Innocent. We had Attiéké, an Ivorian dish based on cassava, in the big food court of the area. After enjoying a beer and watching a Reggae band, we ended up walking a good part of the way home through the festivity-spirited city.

Friday night was similar, hanging out in one of the festival area restaurants.
We had some brochette and fries, but afterwards I got this weird sensation. It wasn’t really stomach related, more like a weird ache in the muscles. It slowly got worse, so I asked Yaya to drive me home. I went straight to bed but woke up feeling very nauseous and probably woke the other person staying in the house up by very unpleasant sounds. The muscle and joint ache had gotten worse and together with fever made it very hard to get any sleep. I slumbered through the night and woke up not feeling any better. This was Saturday, the closing day of the Fespaco. I overheard parts of the distribution of prizes and closing ceremony from the TV outside my room. It was bitter, but all in all I am really glad I was here for the Fespaco.

FESPACO!

I am lucky to be in Ouagadougou during one of its most significant cultural events – the FESPACO. It’s a biannual Pan-African film festival to which directors from all over the continent come with their latest and greatest movie achievements to compete for the golden stallion. For the inhabitants of Ouaga – cineastes or not –  it’s a great festivity with loads of people coming to town and uncountable side events. Last Saturday was the grand inauguration at the Stade du peuple. I went with my colleague Moumouna. Because a lot of people were expected to come, we went well ahead of time. In January 2016 there was a terrorist attack at a hotel and a restaurant in Central Ouagadougou that left about twenty people dead. It has caused a lot of fear for more of the like, and security at public events is rigorous. This was no exception, and this time they wouldn’t even let the people who walk around selling refreshments and snacks in. Usually you’re never more than a few meters from a person who can resupply you in gum, napkins, cell phone recharges, fruit and, for some reason I haven’t figured out yet, washing detergent.

After a good hour of impatient waiting in the sun, the ceremony started. It contained a great mix of performances. Traditional music, acrobatics, dancing and men dressed as warriors riding horses on one hand. Modern music, speeches and a stand up comedian on the other. The Ivory Coast is this year’s special invitee country of the festival. They had a large delegation and one of their ministers made a speech. The Ivory Coast also provided what seemed to be the highlight of the inauguration for many of the visitors, the concert with the reggae artist Alpha Blondy. Judging by how well the Burkinabe knew the lyrics and from what I’ve read about him, he seems to be a living legend in West Africa. Some of his music is political and refers very directly (and critically) to political events such as the assassination of journalist Norbert Zongo. The Zongo event and Thomas Sankara are probably on the Burkinabe popular references toplist, so I will have to get back to them in future posts. However, there was also a short stage appearance of Burkinabe rapper Smockey, who was very active in the insurrection movement that overthrew the ex-president Blaise Compaoré.

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On Sunday I first went to see my friend Yaya who is a volunteer at the Fespaco headquarters and we had lunch with his colleagues. There is no cinema there but a kind of fair with lots of restaurants and handicraft shops. After some fries and some well needed cold drinks I walked over to one of the venues, the Ciné Burkina, located in the most central part of town. I wanted to see a movie called Frontières. It’s one of the Burkinabe movies that’s expected to go far this year. It tells the story of a group of women travelling from Bamako in Mali to Abdijan in Ivory Coast, and what they experience along the way.

Unfortunately, I was far from the only one who had came to see it. In fact, I was so far from being the only one that the cinema got full just before I was going to get in. Although fortunately, most of the movies can be seen on several occasions. Hanging around in the lobby, waiting for the next show, I was invited to share a Brakina (Burkina’s number one beer) by a French guy who was covering the festival for Canal+ Africa. He and his team had gotten in among the last ones to see the movie, but he didn’t feel like standing up for almost two hours, so he left. After another hour the next round of movies were starting and I chose rather randomly to see a movie from Tanzania called Aïsha. A great thing about going to the movies here is that before the movie starts there’s live music in the auditorium, usually traditional Burkinabe music. If I was in a good mood and full of expectations when the movie started, that would soon change. The movie told a dreadful story of a Tanzanian woman getting raped and how she was stigmatized while trying to get her perpetrators judged. The end titles announced that the movie was part of an initiative to sensitize people about rape being a huge problem in many African countries, and that only a few percent of rapes committed ever see a perpetrator facing any punishment.

Monday was my second attempt to see Frontières. This time at the French Institute, which I had no idea was such a huge institution in this city. It has a restaurant, libraries, two movie theaters, a language learning centre and more. When we got there, a good half hour before the movie would start, the line was already making its way half way around the inner yard. After 45 minutes of standing in line, and with only a few people in front of us, a woman from the institute announced that the movie theatre was “full to the point of busting”. Many things are negotiable here. This apparently wasn’t. So we waited for the next show: A Malian movie called Wulu. Having learned from the experience, we only spent a little time at one of the nearby festival areas watching a group of girls playing reggae music, before getting back in line. This time we got in.

Once again, the open air auditorium was full to the point of leaving no chair empty. Wulu tells the story of a Malian man in his twenties working on a long-haul mini bus across the country. When his chances of advancing in the business are eliminated by the son of the boss, he decides to start smuggling drugs for a living. He starts earning a lot of money, helps his sister out of prostitution and buy them a house to live in. And then about one hour into the movie, there’s a power cut. In real life now, not in the movie. No one was surprised, as this happens on a daily basis in Burkina Faso. Everyone was confident the institute had some backup solution, which was confirmed by the lights that were turned on after a few seconds of darkness. A few minutes went by. People started wondering what was going on. After a while the woman from the French institute addressed the crowd. She explained that it wasn’t technically possible to fast forward the movie to where we had stopped watching. Instead they would have to start it over from the beginning. Needless to say, people were less than satisfied by the message. About twenty people went up to the projector to check with the technicians if what she said could actually be true. We stayed another ten minutes to see if somehow it would be resolved. When it wasn’t, we left. As did about 80 percent of the crowd. Some day, I’ll download Wulu and find out what happened to the up and coming drug smuggler.

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Field trip part two – Matiacoali

The next day, entering the Matiacoali municipality, we first stopped nearby a village called Piega to have a look at a field where vegetables are grown. One might wonder what vegetables have to do with children’s rights, but there is a connection here. Over 80 % of the Burkinabe make their living from one of two activities, or both. Agriculture and livestock breeding. I am not going to pretend to be an expert on either of those things, but I think I know enough to give you the basics of Burkina agriculture. A lot of people who live of agriculture grow cereals such as millet, sorghum and to some extent corn. This country has a dry and a wet season. You need to plant your seeds so that they can grow during the wet season, when both sunshine and precipitation are plentiful. A few months into the dry season you harvest your cereals. The harvest is stored and you live of it, either by selling it or eating it, until the next harvest. Everything is hunky dory. I am guessing now, but I think that’s how farmers have lived around here for ages.
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In comes trouble. A suspect who is already a lot more usual here than in many northern countries. Climate change. The climate appears to have already shifted, making the rainy season shorter around here. Obviously, this makes the dry season longer, which in turn means that the grains you stored to make it to the next harvest won’t be enough. So what do you do? You try and cut down on spending or find an alternative source of revenue. Or a combination of both. Unfortunately, in Burkina Faso, this may imply taking the kids out of school to save the school fees. Or sending the kids to the cotton fields, the artisanal gold mines or the city to work. In sum, insufficient harvest often means no school for the kids.

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During the dry season, open water sources progressively shrink because of the heat and use of the water. If they’re not big enough, they’ll dry out before the rainy season starts. The fields are resting, and the soil is apt for agriculture, but the lack of water makes the situation complicated. The solution that’s being put in place in the village I visited is this. A part of the fields where something else is grown during the wet season was cleared and fenced off, which I think is to keep animals out. Three wells were dug. An association was formed of villagers who were interested in trying to grow vegetables during the dry season. And that’s what’s being done now. With the additional revenue from the vegetables, parents aren’t forced to take children out of school. No one is being forced to participate in the village, but as it proves to be a pretty good idea, more people join in on the project.

The final stop was the town of Matiacoali, where Eriks has contributed to the construction of a new building housing two classrooms. The Matiacoali high school is the only high school in a municipality of around 60 000 inhabitants, which puts a lot of pressure on it to receive a large number of students. I was amazed by how quickly it was built. Construction started in December. Not three months later, the classrooms were about ready for the concrete dust to be swept out and the desks brought in. We met the headmaster, a representative of the construction firm and a consultant hired to make sure the construction complies to applicable norms and the terms of agreement. The classrooms were simple, but nice and clean. There is no central grid electricity in Matiacoali, but because it’s less than 50 kilometres away and expected to get there within a few years, ceiling fans and lights were installed. Although the classrooms are roughly the same size as the ones I sat in throughout school, a normal class here may well have 70 students at a time. More if the school is under a lot of  pressure, I was told by the headmaster.

I am really glad we went on this trip and I am already looking forward to the next one.  The countryside is a whole other world compared to the city. A part from a few very bumpy roads it was great to come out and see the landscape where most burkinabe live their lives. That’s all for now – back to Ouaga.

 

Field trip part one – Bilanga

This week was field trip week. Bargo, our driver Daniel and I left Ouagadougou early in the morning on Tuesday in one of ODE’s pickup trucks. The project that I work on, PAPPDE, is implemented in two municipalities in Eastern Burkina Faso called Bilanga and Matiacoali. Bargo usually goes on field trips once a month to meet his colleagues and se how things are proceeding. Having read a lot about the project I was very excited to see it and meet our colleagues in the east.

Roads in Burkina Faso are of very variable quality. Bigger and more important roads tend to be paved, but there is usually a lot of holes in them. We hadn’t been on the road for more than thirty minutes until one of the front tyres went flat. Fortunately, all of us don’t use the driver’s licence mainly for identification. When I asked Daniel if flat tyres occur often, he replied that it was the first time in February. That’s a yes I guess. In defence of Burkinabe roads, it was something dropped from a truck that pierced the hole.

 

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Bargo and Daniel both seemed familiar with the tricks of the trade.

 

The first intentional stop was the Bilanga Centre for Girls in High School. High School are not everywhere to be found in Burkina. If you’re from a small village in the Bilanga area, and bound for high school, you may have to travel as much as 100 km to go there. Naturally if you’re from the average rural Burkinabe family, you can’t afford going back and forth to much. So you rent a room in Bilanga town, where the High School is. This is what all girls who went to High School there did before. Some still do. Unfortunately, they faced a broad range of difficulties when renting rooms. Insufficient means to pay the rent, conflicts with landlords and poor safety were some of them. This forced many girls to abandon high school before graduating. If there’s one thing to recall from the development basic course, it is that we do not need women to get less education. The opposite, and lots of it. So ODE raised the problem in Bilanga with Eriks. They agreed to build a centre that would provide housing for girls who came a long way to go to Bilanga’s high School. And here it is.

 

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Girls have the right to education, let’s protect them!

 

Around 40 girls live here during the semester, in a safe and suitable environment to study in. The centre is run in tight cooperation with a parental organisation, which has payed a part of the construction and continues to pay a part of operational costs. The municipality is naturally also involved as a key partner. There’s been a tremendous increase in school enrolment in the last 20 years in Burkina, but that is mainly true for elementary school. High school enrolment remains feeble, especially for girls. I will get back to that later on.

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.