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Burkina Faso - Smiling People

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Travel pictures from Burkina Faso

by Dr. Günther Eichhorn

Itinerary

Burkina Faso map
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In January/February 2010 I had arranged for an individual tour through West Africa. After a great experience in Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda on an individual tour, I decided it is worth it to pay for an individual tour. It allows me to stop wherever I want, take pictures for as long as I want to and rearrange things as I see fit. The tour was organized by Balanzan Tours. I did have a bit of a problem with them, but eventually we came to an agreement how to solve it.

Itinerary

After a day stop in Dakar, Senegal, I arrived in Ouagadougou late in the evening. My guide was waiting for me with a driver in a Toyota Land Cruiser, the transportation for most of the trip. I was very happy that my guide was there. I was a bit concerned, since I sent a lot of money to Mali. They could have just taken the money and never show up. The fact that they were waiting for me took a load of my mind.

On the first day in Ouagadougou (often just called Ouaga) I was on my own. I walked around town for most of the day.

On the second day in Ouaga, my tour guide showed me the city. In the evening I visited a restaurant that had live music and other entertainment. It was pretty good, including a show with three men on high stilts that gave a really good performance.

The next day we started driving. The first leg of the trip was to Ouahigouya, for the last night in Burkina Faso. In Ouahigouya I visit the local market.

The next day we drove northeast through Burkina Faso into Mali.

Observations

Of the three countries that I visited on this trip through West Africa, I liked the people in Burkina Faso the best. They were generally very friendly and smiling. There was a distinct gradient in the propensity of people to smile from Burkina Faso to Mali to Senegal. A similar gradient was in the pressure from hawkers. There was much less pressure from hawkers in Burkina Faso than in Mali, and in Senegal it was even worse than in Mali.

The two hotels I stayed in in Burkina Faso were OK, clean, with running hot water (which was not always the case in Mali). The food was decent, basic local fare, nothing special, but usually tasty. The local beer is a fairly good lager, just what I like in a beer. It was quite inexpensive, especially outside of Ouaga.

Outside of the main cities, people live in small villages, mostly mud brick and straw huts. Food and other things are stored in separate granaries. Each family has a man's and a woman's granary. Women are not allowed to look in the men's granaries, and vice-versa. My guide said that part of the reason for this is that men are afraid that a woman might leave them if she looks in the man's granary and doesn't see enough food there.

There are may different tribes in Burkina Faso. Some are farmers, others (e.g. the Fulani) are herders that raise cattle, goats, and sheep.

Women mostly wear traditional ankle long dresses. I did see women wearing western style clothes, but these were distinctly in the minority. Men's clothing was more equally divided between traditional kaftans and western style t-shirts and pants. One thing that had to do with clothes was baffling me till almost the end of the trip. When women work with things on the ground, they bend down from the waist, not squat down in the knees. I somehow always had an odd feeling about that, it just didn't seem right. I finally realized why when I saw a teenager in a mini skirt in Saint Louis in Senegal. I am a cross-dresser, and a while ago I started wearing mini skirts myself. I very quickly learned the lesson how to pick something up from the floor while wearing a mini skirt. You do not bend down from the waist, as I saw the women in West Africa do, when you wear a mini skirt, unless you want do flash the people behind you. I had learned that embarrassing lesson so well, that it made me uncomfortable even to see other women bend down like that. However, women in West Africa almost exclusively wear ankle length dresses, so they can afford to bend down from the waist.

The most common food crops are millet and sorghum. My visit was during the dry season, so the fields were fallow. After the harvest, the millet and sorghum are thrashed. The millet straw is collected and stored in trees to dry. The straw is later used as building material.

The other important building material is mud. There are mud holes near every village, where the villagers make the mud bricks for their houses. The mud bricks have to be redone every year after the rainy season. The mud bricks are sun dried only, they are not fired.

I saw men, women, and children make these mud bricks. In general, it seemed that most of the work is done by women (which was also what my tour guide told me). Children also work frequently. The men seem to mostly sit around and talk. This was the same in Mali and Senegal, and was similar in East Africa, although maybe not quite as obvious.

Transportation for people between cities and within is with buses. Private transportation is a lot with motorcycles and mopeds. Outside the cities a lot of transportation of goods is with donkey carts. In the towns, people drawn carts are frequently used to move goods around. And a lot of goods are carried by men and women on their heads, especially when they bring goods from the settlements to the markets and bring back their purchases.

The markets are an important part of society. In the larger towns, the markets are daily, in the smaller villages they may be only once or twice per week. I visited a large market in Ouahigouya; it was quite interesting to walk through the market. Everything is for sale that you may need. One part is the food market, the other part is for other household goods.

The largest market that I saw was the Grand Marché in Ouagadougou. It was brand new, it had burned down a couple of years before and was rebuilt.

With the population density fairly high in the area that I traveled, there is no large wildlife left. The only wildlife that I saw was birds and small animals like lizards and geckos.

Summary

Burkina Faso is a fairly poor country, but the people seem to be happy and friendly. I didn't have much time in the country, so I only have a very superficial impression of everything.

Burkina Faso
Birds in Burkina Faso