18 August 2009 Burkina Faso Day 1

Today Lenore and I traveled to Burkina Faso. Let me tell you a little about my travel companion. She from D.C. She worked in the holy of holies for a librarian. She worked in the Congressional Research Department of the Library of Congress. She is married to Bernard. Bernard did not join the Peace Corps but it has been a life long desire of Lenore’s so here she is. She turned 60 last November.

One thing will give you a clear picture of Lenore. She understands the joy of the Barack Obama flashlight. We were in Bolga yesterday. I wanted to buy a flashlight for Cantuace. I asked the sales woman to demonstrate one. She is struggling to turn it on and clicks it one way then another. I was pretty sure that the first click I saw an image. I asked for the flashlight and clicked it. There he was Barack Obama with a stylizes American flag behind him. My laughter brought Lenore to my side and I demonstrated for her. We laughed and laughed. I said I think I have to buy this and without hesitation Lenore agreed. She then laughed every time I lite the bedroom walls with Obama. I didn’t test her good nature by doing it at 2:00 am when I woke to go potty.  That’s Lenore!

This morning we woke up early enough to catch the 7:00 am bus. We had planned no further than taking a car from Navrongo to the border and getting our visas. We heard we could get a taxi to a town close to the border and then a bus to Ouagadougou.

We arrived at the border. A young man met us. We were open and friendly but said we didn’t need help. That we could find our way. He kept with us. He lead us to the Ghana border station. Here we met two nice border guards. Coco wants computer lessons when I return from Burkina Faso. They gave us advice about getting transport. We should get a taxi to Po. in Po we could get a Rakieta bus to Ouagadougou. We decide to change 100 more Cedi for CFAs. Coco helped us get a good rate.  Coco directed us to the Burkina Faso border and called  out he would visit me when I returned.

We left Ghana border station. I though we had ditched our self appointed guide. Ah but there he was with a bicycle to walk us through Daboyla to the Burkina Faso border post. It was about ½ a mile to the station. It was set back from the road and surrounded by a mud puddle. We waded through. I managed to get my right big toe covered in mud and Lenore’s blue canvas shoes were spotted with mud brown.

We walked through the door and a curl of cigarette smoke was highlighted in the light through the window. The border guard’s beret was strapped to his shoulder and he was holding the cigarette in his thumb and forefinger. “Bonjour” he greeted us. Viva la France!

Thirty Cedis lighter we left the Burkina Faso border post and again waded through the mud puddle to the main road.  We walked another ½ mile with our ‘guide’. There were many commercial trucks waiting in line for inspection. Lenore said it was the same at the Mexican border.

Our self appointed guide brought us to the most decrepit taxi I have seen since I have arrived. If you have read this blog you know that is saying A LOT! There were no dashboard instruments at all. Just big holes and where the glove compartment was supposed to be no dash at all. Inside you could see the workings of the door and the part of the rolled down window you usually can’t see because there were no door panels. The floor had a few rust holes in it. But that was it. It was this taxi or nothing.

Lenore and I agreed to give our self appointed guide a what we considered reasonable amount, since we didn’t ask him for his services and we told him we would be able to find the border posts on our own. Well he did not think it was reasonable. He refused the money and kept heckling us to give him more. This went on almost the whole time we were waiting for the taxi to fill. Finally I told him it was what we offered or nothing and to leave us alone now. Oh that left such a bad taste in our mouths.

I won’t keep you in suspense we did make it to Po and in about 45 minutes. Along the way we picked up a woman clearly in distress. She was holding her stomach and we think she was in labor. We dropped her in Po with no hospital in sight. As I looked back someone had come to meet her.

We arrived in Po at 10 am. The Rakieta bus was old but fine enough. My small French got us two tickets to Ouagadougou on the 12:30 bus. There were ‘toilets’  at the station. They consisted of a cement stall with a 5×5 square hole in the floor. You squat and aim!

Lenore and I took a stroll around Po. We discovered sugar coated peanuts. I think there were also some that were also heavily salted. We also had fried dough. We were hoping for cheese right away but we were disappointed.  Then we returned to the station to wait. We read and communicated with some women sitting near us. Our limited French and sign language were enough to connect with them.

At 11:30 we noticed that the baggage handlers were loading bags into the cargo holds of the bus. What a surprise. In Ghana they don’t start loading the bags until departure time! Then Quelle surprize!(Don’t expect me to spell correctly in French when I can’t even spell correctly in English!) They began loading passengers at Noon. The equivalent of the mate reads form a list and calls your name to board. I wondered why the ticket seller asked our names. It sounds civilized and would be except people still crowd the door and you have to “excuse moi” yourself through them all. (Some things are the same!)

I promptly fell asleep. I have been sleep deprived the whole of training and was on the 6th day of a very bad cold. Recovering but still easily tired. When I awoke I saw the Burkina Faso savanna out the window. It looked a lot like the Upper East but there were more trees spread out over it, still not a forest though. The vegetation was more varied.  There were spots of sand. The grasses were long and short.

We arrived in Ouaga on time. Both of us had to pee. We found the stalls. We saw women carrying plastic teapots to the stalls. We were not sure why but we copied them. They were concrete,  about 3 feet wide by 4 feet deep. There was the same square hole in the floor. You squat and aim! After peeing Lenore and I had different uses for the water in the teapots. She rinsed the floor around the hole. I rinsed my ankles. I have learned in Ghana that pee bounces when it hits tile or cement.

Our cell phones did not work. Later on we found that we could receive calls and text but not send them using the Ghanaian chip. First we tried buying a cell chip but they wanted to sell them to us for 5,000 CFA. No way that was about 15 GH Cedis. So we decided to find a telecenter to use a phone.  There was one close to the bus station. Yeah! We went in to the office. There was a stall with a phone on a bench. It was connected to a meter at the reception desk. We tried to dial the Peace Corps office. We tried at least three times no luck. The woman waiting for us to finish came in and helped us. Gee we can’t even figure out how to use a phone in Burkina!

I talked to the receptionist at the PC office. I asked about staying at the transit house. She said they were having an IST so the house was full. She offered to direct us to an inexpensive hotel near the PC office. Then she said to get a taxi and tell them to drop us at  Croix de Rouge and the office would be right behind it.

I hung up. Relayed the info to Lenore then we went out to get a  taxi. Well, the taxis were all gone. They must have come for the arrival of the bus then all left with passengers.  Two nice men helped us get a taxi and made sure the driver knew where we were going. We gave them at tip. This time they said thank you and took it.

We dropped at Le Croix Rouge. We asked a the people sitting outside O et les corps de paix? One man took us to the intersection. He said “many uninteligable, to me, French words then voila something i understood!  “tourne al a gouche” more advanced french” I repeated “Oui Tourne al a gouche”. He replied with more advanced french, pointing down the road and i heard “gouche’ again. I nodded and though we would start out and ask along the way. But this man was not convinced I knew where we were going. He was right of course so he walked us the three blocks to the left turn. Then pointed out the white vehicles far down the road on the right. Corps de le Paix.

Our reception was less than war, maybe neutral is the best word. The guard demanded our PC ids. When he called the receptionist we had talked to on the phone, she told him to point the way to the Hotel Zomdogo. I guess we are use to people in Ghana who drop everything to greet a stranger.

After walking four blocks straight down the road from the PC office we asked a guard outside a house “o et l’hotel Zomdogo?” He pointed to the third building on the right! We had arrived.

The room costs 12,500 CFAs. You pronounce it ceefaas. That translated into 40 GH Cedis. Lenore said she paid 30 GH Cedis for a nice room in Cape Coast with a distant view of the ocean. But we had no idea what rooms cost here and were already starting to think things were more expensive in Burkina Faso. I decided to think of it in American Dollars so that would be 27 American Dollars. It had a fan, ventile not climitize, an air conditioner, and one room that included sink, toilet and shower head.

By the time we settled in it was time to eat. We said to the man at the desk “Nous avons mangon, s’il vous plait. ou?”  His reply was simple and understandable, “ici, mesdames.” We were ushered into the dinning room. The table were covered with a white cloth. On the walls hung three paintings and a border of a vine with fruit and vegetables was painted on the wall near the kitchen.  But on closer inspection the paintings were directly on the wall. I thought they were wall hangings because they were signed and had a border around them making them look like paintings. These small details speak of an appreciation of the artistic side of life that I don’t see all that often in Ghana.

Our waiter returned in a white cooks jacket and took our order. He brought our drinks. Poured them for us. Lenore had a vegetable goulash over rice. I had a steak sauteed in onions, garlic and green peppers with Pomme de Frite on the side. (French fries!) It was a lovely dining experience.

At dinner we discussed a walk to Rue Charles de Gaulle but it had turned dark by the time dinner was over. We retired to our room. Thus ended day one in Burkina Faso.

-vc

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