23 Aug 2009 Quelle Differance!

It is amazing to me how different Burkina Faso and Ghana are. They are the size of two large American states. They are right next to each other yet each has it’s own distinct culture.  I am very ignorant of Burkina Faso culture. So these are my observations and generalizations from my limited experience there. And impressions I have discussed and refined with my travel companion.

I think the difference is the French influence. From previous reading I have learned that the French had a different attitude to their colonies. They considered the colonies as part of France. The local people had all rights and responsibilities of a French citizen. I think this attitude encouraged the local people to explore French culture. The English did not treat the people in their colonies as equal citizens. They also had the attitude that the colonies were there to serve the British empire with their natural resources and crops.

My favorite difference is the abundance of Librairies. On almost every street in the cities there are small shops that sell books. I took a look at one stall. There were French fiction, American popular fiction translated into French, ( Yes I looked to see if Stewart’s books were there!) and a wide variety of nonfiction. Most books were in French. I also recognized a few English books.

The most obvious difference I noticed was customer service. We noticed the difference at our first meal in Ouaga.  The restaurant had a nice atmosphere with wooden tables and chairs, tablecloths and paintings on the wall. At each and every restaurant the waiters poured our drinks for us. They were served in stylish glasses. The plates and cutlery matched. When I talk about the food in Burkina Faso I call it cuisine for they certainly show pride in the food. The food is always beautifully platted. My lasagna was served on two leaves of lettuce. The salads were laid with concern for color and shape of ingredients. The ice cream was served in fluted ice cream dishes set on decorated plates. The ingredients were fresh and cooked to bring out the best flavors. And best of all they used spices other than peppe.

The buses are another example of the commitment to customer service. As I wrote in my first post about Burkina Faso they actually started loading baggage before the departure time. And 30 minutes to departure they called us by name to board. Getting on to the bus was space small small making it easier to settle into our seats.  However some things are not different. People still crowd the bus door so when my name was called I had to push my way through to get on to the bus. Lenore and I figured out after one day that we would be called to board so we didn’t feel the need to crowd the door. I wonder why those who live in the country and certainly know they will be called to board still feel the need to crowd the door?

Each bus station has a toilet of some sort that is usually free.

On our 5 hour bus ride from Ouagadougou to Boboduilasso we stopped for a rest break about half way through. The equivalent of the mate carried cold drinks through the bus two times. The bus has a built in cooler in the front. And he placed plastic waste baskets at intervals along the aisle. The seats were roomy and the over head compartments were actually big enough to store our bags.

If Burkina Faso can solve the problem of audio acoustics on their buses there would be nothing to complain about. But the world around noise pollution is a problem in public places and on public transport.

People selling things are a pain. Oh they just won’t leave you alone. Our last day in Ouagadougou we went to the Grand Marche. It’s a very large market place with hundreds of vendors. The minute I decided to buy something I swear they could smell it and  everyone was all over me. Lenore just wouldn’t buy a thing because the people were so obnoxious. I felt like I couldn’t even stop and look at what was for sale or 3 people from similar stalls would descend upon me. We ran the gauntlet to the top of the market and found a small cafe on the roof.  I said “I have to sit down and recover” and flopped into a chair.

We ordered minerals. As we were drinking them a vendor came with his board of things. I didn’t even look and told him to go away. The cafe owner saw that the vendor was not going and told him to leave. He then kept all other vendors away from us. I guess he could see we were fed up. This man will be on my top ten list of nice strangers for a very long time.

Another example of determined vendors is the guide who latched on to us in Banfora. He sat with us through our taxi ride to the hotel and even after we told him we wanted to talk about it he still hung around the hotel. When we left the hotel to go to dinner he ambushed us. I am afraid I was rude and said with emphasis “We want to go to the restaurant ALONE!”  “Nous sommes fatigue” I said loudly in the street. At last he got the message.

I use to think women in Ghanaian shops calling me over to buy things were aggressive. I will be happy to return to that.

I have to say in regards to the food “Viva La France!”. I at so much French food I think that I was singing Les Marseilles in my sleep.  We had omelets with cheese, ham, peppers, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes. We ate baguettes, croissant, pain au chocolate. I had German potato salad with bacon, capers, mayo and crème fraise. I ate beef sauted with garlic, onions and peppers. I had half a plate full of green beans. I devoured a ham and cheese sandwich. I consumed at least one salad a day.

There was a rumor of strawberries but the only ones I ever saw were in my strawberry glace. The fruit during this time of the year was pretty much the same as Ghana. On the last day I bought a grapefruit. Haven’t seen those in Ghana. And I had orange and mango juices at breakfast.

In the Banfora market I saw zucchini and squash.  We  saw sesame treats in the supermarket and at the rest stop.  Avocado sandwiches were a popular street food. And I found puschnut. Fried dough balls like my Meme use to make.

As I said earlier the cooks take time to present the food in a beautiful manner. Lenore and I agree that some of the cooks have been trained in very good schools.

We only ate one local dish. Rice and arachide soup. It is peanut soup with no peppe. They make a thick puree of the onions, peppers, tomatoes and local garden eggs so the soup is thicker than the Ghanaian equivalent. When I told Perpetua that I ate their ground nut soup she said “Oh that is their best!” (Meaning their favorite dish)

I probably gained 5 lbs while I was in Burkina Faso.

The people are friendly but much more reserved than the Ghanaians. They will reply to your greeting and smile but I kind of miss all the questions Ghanaians ask. Where are you going is my favorite because it often leads to assistance with my journey.  In these post you will certainly read of people who went out of their way to help us. People who befriended us and helped a stranger.  I think the friendliness is just a matter of degree.

Another part of the culture that has made my stay so pleasant is the lack of in your face attention from men. I haven’t had one Burkinan male ask me to marry him and I DON’T MISS IT! But the men have paid us subtle attention. One man raised his wine glass to us. Another winked at us from across the room. Some come to greet us at our table but never over stay their welcome.  They make me feel attractive instead of making me feel like prey.

When I was posted to the Upper East everyone told me that there would be a strong Muslim influence. Well actually it is more Catholic or Roman as they call it here in the Upper East than Muslim. I did see a Muslim influence in Burkina Faso. I saw men in the long shirts and pants and the cap. I saw my first woman in a burka. We often saw groups of men facing Mecca and praying. There were mosques in every town. Most of the buildings are made of cement but there are many styles of architecture.

The clothing is more varied. The first day I was in Burkina Faso I saw a woman with a Japanese style shirt, French influences dresses and tops, a woman in a burka, and clothing similar to the traditional Ghanaian outfits as well as jeans and t-shirts. There is a certain sense of style what ever they are wearing. There are stands that sell cigarettes by the pack or individually much like the stands that sell phone units in Ghana.

Those are the big differences I have observed. Here are a few smaller ones. I haven’t seen any children over the age of 1 being carried on someone’s back. People don’t carry things on their heads very much at all. Restaurants have a small plastic kettle on a plastic pedestal
where you can wash your hands. The water drains into the pedestal. Bus stations and markets have trash containers. The men don’t shave their heads bare. The women wear braids and weave beads or ornaments into the hair or on the ends. The young children also don’t have their heads shaved bare.

My over all impression is that the country is poorer than Ghana. But I only have a few clues to make me think that. I saw less live stock around. People didn’t seem to have poultry, or goats around the house. There were more bicycles and motos in the city and less cars. People were aggressive in selling their wares. There are many people selling phone units with out stands. In fact I saw many people selling wares from a cloth off the ground. The restaurants and hotels were not very busy. There could be other reasons for all of these things so don’t take this impression as the final say about the economic situation in Burkina Faso.

There is an over all French influence in the culture – the cuisine, the customer service, the clothing, and the architecture. Small things like the border guards beret and his smoking a cigarette. Ashtrays on tables. Eyeliner under a man’s eyes. And of course the beautiful French language.

-vc

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