Hello everyone. The end of the month is nigh, thus, we must have our west african adventure, for this month, the month of October.
If you haven't been following along, I have been putting my travel logs from 2007-2008 up, when I lived in west africa. You can see my previous adventures here:
This time, we went on the longest roadtrip to date; here is a map of the route; read on;
For this of you who don’t know I took a trip to Burkina Faso from dec 30 to jan 6th.
Burkina Faso borders Ghana on the north and the northwest. I left Accra around noon, got to Kumasi around 6 because we had problems with the bus. (what, delays on motorized transport, say it ain’t so!) (this picture wasn't the trip to Burkina, but whatever, I have lots of pics of motorized breakdowns in africa, the principle is the same).
From Kumasi we drove to Tamale and arrived at about 2am, from Tamale we drove to Bolgatanga arriving at around 7am. From there we drove to Paga another 40 mins north, and the site of the Ghanaian – Burkina Faso main border crossing.
For all you hear about crossing the border in Africa crossing into Burkina Faso was relatively painless. One thing that is different is the “no mans land” instead of being a couple hundred metres (after you leave Canada but have yet to enter the USA) is actually a couple kilometers long.
We finally entered Burkina around 9am and started to drive to Ouagadougou the capital of Burkina Faso. As soon as we entered Burkina Faso, it was apparent that it wasn’t too similar to Ghana.
For one, Ghana’s road network is well utilized and always filled with tro tros, cars, buses, trucks and a ton of taxis. Burkina Faso’s roads on the other hand are mostly empty. I suppose the main reason for this is that Burkina Faso is struggling economically.
Also on the way to Ouagadougou there were traditional mud walled huts of the Mossi I believe, the villages are created in a circular mud wall, with huts sharing the back wall with the back wall of the compound. Southern Ghana doesn’t seem to have such things, in terms of “stereotypical African architecture”. (EDIT: added picture of Mossi hut's),
I imagine most of you people know only 2 things of Burkina Faso, 1) It’s far from where you are, and 2) you don’t know anyone who has been there. Well now you do, so I’ll give you a brief background of Burkina Faso, so that you can know more than 2 things about it. Burkina Faso is a landlocked state bordering Cote D’Ivoire to the south east, Ghana to the central south, Togo to the southwest, and Benin to the extreme southwest, Niger to the North east, and Mali to the North and Northwest. SEE!
Burkina Faso was colonized by france and used as a way to connect Mali and other French west African possessions and was of little use in and of itself.
The French attempted to produce large scale industry by introducing cotton, and today Burkina Faso is still west africa’s leading cotton producer.
Burkina Faso gained independence in 1960 as Haute (or upper) Volta, a reference to the 3 rivers that run through the state (white, red, and black volta rivers). In 1984 Thomas Sankara changed the name to Burkina Faso, meaning “the land of honourable men”. Economically Burkina Faso is a bit of a basketcase. The sahel region which covers most of Burkina Faso is poor for farming, only 13% of Burkinas land is arable, mostly concentrated in the southwest.
Pictured: Thomas Sankara, folk hero to Burkinabe:
In terms of development Burkina Faso tells a sad story, consistently poor, Burkina has low human development. From 2001 to 2005 Burkina ranked 175th on the UNs development index of 177 countries. In 2006 it ranked 176th. Almost 50% of Burkina’s population lives on less than US$1 a day and 84% lives on less than $2 US. (pictured: Burkina countryside)
Literacy rates are around 13%., Ghana’s literacy rates are around 76%.
Now that I’ve sufficiently depressed you with Burkina’s dire statistics (the literacy rate is so low it almost defies belief) I’ll tell you about my experience and perceptions of Burkina Faso. Arriving in the main motor park (or as they say Gare Routiere) in Burkina Faso was way way less chaotic than arriving in Ghana to even a regional motor park such as Tema station in Accra, nevermind a place like Circle (Accra’s main and awesomely chaotic motor park).
I was to find that this would characterize my stay in Burkina. A guy who was from Germany that I was meeting in Burkina Faso came to meet me and picked me up on his moped.
The moped and motorcycles in general are the love affair of Burkina Faso. Here is the one's we used:
Everyone who can afford it rides one, since Ouagadougou and Burkina in general lacks any kind of public transit system, and very few people can afford cars, whereas motorcycles are way easier on petrol.
Unlike much of Africa, Burkina Faso has no tro tros, a bizarre development considering few people can afford their own cars. Unlike southern Ghana where riding a motorcycle shortens your life expectancy to about 15 minutes, riding around on Ouaga’s motorcycles is actually fairly tame, probably because of two factors: 1) Motorcycle lanes on many roads, and 2) an utter lack of other vehicles.
Walking around Ouaga is somewhat unpleasant since though not as humid as southern Ghana, it is damn hot, and I went during what Burkinabe’s term “winter” (meaning at night it gets below 20 and during the day it’s not more than 40). Edit; In Canada, we would term that "summer".
I saw the temperature one day climb to about 37 degrees, pretty warm for “winter”.
In Ouaga, the city is a little short on must see attractions, it spreads out in an organized low rise fashion, the tallest buildings being about 4 or 5 stories tall, and everything is covered in layers of dust, especially now that it’s the harmattan season. (Edit: Harmattan is a seasonal dusty wind that blows southerly, during December in west Africa).
Anyways during my days in Ouaga I got the general impression that as far as cities goes, Ouagadougou is about as safe as they come. I could walk around all the neighbourhoods day or night and unlike Accra where walking down a dark empty road is likely to end up with you coming out the otherside after being knifed or (rarely) being held at gunpoint, nothing of that sort is likely to happen in Ouaga.
Here you can walk down those roads without worrying about such things. This improvement is due to a Ouagalais police crack down characterized by a shoot on site approach to criminals, consequently most criminals were either killed or too scared to try to pull anything.
During my stay in Ouaga I met many Burkinabes, with which interacting is quite different from interacting with Ghanaians. Ghanaians are loud, everything they do is loud, they’ll yell at you from across the street, when they drive they lay on their horns constantly, and there is always music blasting from a bar, bus station, taxis, and private vehicles, stores or all of the above at once.
Ouagadougou on the other hand is characterized by the buzzing of mopeds and silence. Burkinabe are a laid back lot or, as they would say, tranquil. They are more reserved and unlikely to either hassle you or blast music from every available speaker. (Pictured: hanging out in Ouga, that white guy isn't me though)
I have to admit, after living in loud and obnoxious Accra, it was weird to walk around a very quiet city, which is so much more relaxed. In terms of the Burkinabe psyche it seems that Burkinabes are very calm, and as mentioned before, tranquil. One somewhat interesting tradition I witnessed is the Burkinabe New Year tradition, in which when friends see each other for the first time after new years they “air kiss their foreheads”.
That’s about as best as I can describe it, it’s like the latin American air kiss on the cheek but without the kiss so you just rotate your head from the left side of your friends head to the right side of it. They do this 4 times, it is also done after a long absence.
While Ghanaian children are likely to yell “obruni obruni obruni” as you walk past, the Burkinabe children most likely won’t say anything, most likely they’ll just wordlessly extend a hand for you to shake, it’s not uncommon for a group of children maybe playing soccer or otherwise occupied upon noticing you to stop whatever it is that they are doing and all extend you their hand to shake without saying a word.
In Burkina due to the poor farming land much food is imported but typical Burkinabe food is somewhat similar to Ghanaian food, they make a starchy dough called “To”. It’s like Ghanaian Banku but more doughy, it’s served with a sauce. In terms of what I did in Burkina Faso, there was nothing too special, I stayed with some German foreign exchange students and met their Burkinabe friends, we went to bars, played soccer and otherwise hung out, it was pretty sweet but low key.
I went to visit Ouagadougou’s cathedral which was a large stone cathedral and evidently one of the largest in west Africa, as you can see in the photos one of the top pieces has fallen off somehow.
That’s probably the biggest sight that I saw, aside form the traditional Burkinabe huts in the southwest which were kinda cool and more “stereotypical African” than anything else
I’ve encountered. I’ll just conclude this email by saying that Burkina Faso, is way different than I expected, and hopefully I will be able to go back someday to visit the Burkina Faso which lies outside of Ouagadougou’s ever expanding boundaries.
Cheers Oppo. Thaks for reading! -Boss!