25 August 2009 Worst Day Burkina Faso

This was the worst day and not because we were leaving the land of cheese and croissants either. No in any other story that might have been so. This day may have even been my worst day in West Africa. Worst than the day i had a fever so high I had to wrap myself in a wet two yard. Worst than the day I lost my keys and had to kick my bedroom door in at 9:30pm so I could go to bed. Worst than the day I saw the two buses crossing as I was walking to the junction which meant no means for another 2 hours at least. Worst than the day I had been sitting in a meeting 3 hrs and we had only gotten to the third item, Matters arising from the minutes, of a twelve item agenda. You get the picture it was a horrible day!

The day began bad enough. We were leaving Burkina Faso. Cheese and croissants were not the only thing we would miss. We had enjoyed the familiarity of the French language. We would miss people we had met; Ibrahim was at the top of that list. We would miss the variety of foods available. I was going to miss Lenore’s company. The day already had a black mark against it.

We decided to get an early start so we could get to Sandema between 3 and 5 pm. C’est possible! Oh be first we must have one more croissant. We hail a taxi. I said in very understandable French that we were going to Sonnapost. (Lenore and I were both quite proud of ourselves for being able to communicate in French.) From Sonnapost it was only a couple of blocks to Le Bonbonnerie. Croissants here I come! We entered and two waiters greeted us remembering us from our last visit.

My last meal in Francophone Africa consisted of one croissant with unsalted butter, a ham, cheese, tomato, onion and green pepper omelet, mango juice, baguette and tea. The croissant was perfect. The outside was brown and crispy. Inside I could see the rolled layers of dough and it was light and fluffy. The butter added to the perfection. If Johnny Depp were there and I had to choose. …. Oh so I’d choose Johnny Depp but he wasn’t there and that croissant was a pretty close second. The rest of the petite dejune lived up to my expectation except the tea. Yellow label lipton tea just didn’t cut it. I will bring tea from America next time I am at Le Bonbonnerie.

Lenore and I are talking and then we hear other American voices. In come three RPCVs, Sarah, Carley and Allison. They have just finished their service in Ghana and doing their COS trip. They will travel across West Africa to Morocco then fly to India to spend two months. They will study yoga in India. If we were going to meet other PCVs in Ouaga I guess Le Bonbonnerie would be the place! We visited with them for a while. They asked me to take their picture.

We decided we needed to get moving. We said goodbye and left them to their croissants. I have to admit I was envious. On Kwame Nkrumah Avenue we hail another cab and asked to go to the Rakieta station for Po. While talking with the driver he discovered we wanted to go to Ghana. He talked some rapid French. I told him I didn’t understand but he kept right on talking. Whatever. At the end of the ride we were not at a Rakieta station but in another bus station. The driver said that we could get a tro to Bolgatanga. Lenore and I consulted. We guessed it was ok. Lenore said she was just trying to think what could go wrong. I laughed and said Well everything of course! The taxi driver helped us find the Bolga cars and buy a ticket.

The wait began. After only 6 days we were spoiled by on time departures. We had quickly lost tolerance for waiting for transport. As we sat there no one else seemed to be buying tickets to Bolga. I went in search of water sachets. When I returned it seemed that still we were the only ones waiting for transport. It had been about 45 minutes. We passed the time but after 1 hour and 15 minutes waiting I was getting worried. In front of us were two tros. One was in a state of disrepair and a man had been working under the body, the hood and fiddling with various things. I could no longer quelle the fears that this was going to be our tro. So I went over and asked. Whew! thank goodness the other tro was the one headed to Bolga. That was a close call.

It felt like we waited another 35 or 40 minutes then the driver called us. There seemed to be no discernible reason why NOW was the time to go. No one bought tickets since we arrived. The tro was in the same condition it had been when we arrived. Ah-FREE-Ka! We boarded with a few other passengers. As we were trying to find a place to stow our gear and settling our selves in the tro driver yelled at us to Assiet Assiet. Sit sit. Lenore replied quietly “Assiet assiet yourself we have been waiting and waiting for you now you want to rush us!” You go girl!

At last we are off. We turn on to the main road traveling moderately fast. I was pretty sure it was a straight shot on this road down to the frontier (border) but we turned into a new development full of dirt roads and pot holes. Here the driver decides this is the time to speed up. I turn around are we racing someone? No. Then Lenore and I and the rest the passengers are tossed into the air miraculously landing back in our own seats. I make unhappy noises. We were so busy grabbing on to anything to keep us down and upright I lost count after I was airborne for the 4th time. I have now experienced breakneck speed. We could have broken our necks by hitting the roof of the tro.

Why didn’t we say anything. Oh there were moans and gasps and my goodness’s but before we could get anything else out we were going over another pothole or swerving to avoid another car on the road. As I was considering bailing out the window because I figured I was in no more danger of breaking something if I jumped out of this speeding vehicle than if I stayed we turned on to the main road again. We were still driving fast but the potholes were gone. We also stayed on the correct side of the road so there was no longer a reason to swerve out of another car’s way.

I was just feeling relaxed. I looked out the window and saw a policeman on a moto. That’s interesting because I had never seen police on the road in Ghana unless they were at a barrier collecting “fees”. Wonder if they have traffic patrols in Burkina Faso. Then the policeman signaled that the tro should pull over. Oh my goodness I thought are they actually going to get this guy for speeding?! I have never seen that.

The mate and the tro driver get out. This is interesting. In Ghana and Burkina Faso when you are stopped by the police at a barrier the driver gets out of the car and approaches the policeman. Do Ghanaian and Burkinaian drivers get in trouble in the US because they don’t understand our custom of waiting in the car for the police? Ok back to the horrible day. Afer talking to the police the driver and mate get back in the car. We turn around and drive a short ways back to a police barrier. Ah the light dawned on Lenore. The tro driver was trying to avoid that police barrier. That’s why we went off the main road. Then he tried to out run the cop.

We sit and wait. I got my kakuro puzzles out, employing one of my waiting strategies. While we wait I can’t help but notice tros and buses going by us on the way to the border. But we paid and I don’t want to lose my money. Some of the passengers get off the tro and stretch their legs. Another bus goes by on the way to the border. A woman who was on our tro flagged it down and got on. We wait some more. I notice another bus with seats goes by. Lenore asked if the man in the blue shirt was our driver. I said I thought so. She said she would go talk to him. I watch her go to him and have a conversation. I am not sure what news she came back with but the driver and the mate return shortly thereafter.

They get in the tro. If they have explained any of this to the passengers neither Lenore or I could understand what was going on. I think Lenore’s assumption was correct the driver had tried to avoid the police barrier and the accompanying ‘fee’ and then tried to out run the police when the saw him emerge from the side road.

We started to drive but in the wrong direction. My heart sank. I figured that the police had also condemned the tro as well as collecting their “fee” so we were going back to the station. Oh drats I thought we would have to start the whole process of getting a tro again. Some distance down the road we turned and pulled over on the other side of the road. The driver parked under a tree and there was a woman selling water and a few toffees. Well at least we are headed in the right direction. The driver and mate leave the tro again. And we wait. looked at my phone for the time it was 11:30 am. Well at least we are headed in the right direction again.

We began to question other passengers. Someone showed us a piece of paper asking if we understand French. We toke the paper. At the bottom there is a figure 30,000 CFAs. The mate points to this and says “The police took all our money. We will wait here for more passengers.”

Lenore and I look at each other with eyes wide open. What here? In the middle of nowhere? On the side of the road on the outskirts of Ouaga? We wait for someone to decide to go to Bolga from here? We agree this is not going to happen. We decide to wait a little longer to see what the tro driver does.

Will we get home today? How can we find a place to stay if we are stranded here? Do I even want to travel anymore with this jerk? Can we get a taxi back into Ouaga? What if we can’t leave Ouaga today? What will they say at the border if we overstay our visas? I began to feel trapped. I was hot. I felt like the sides of the tro were moving in. I said to Lenore “I think I am going to explode. I have to get out of this tro.” When I got out I walked away from the tro to the tree and shade. I bought some water and then stood in the shade. The woman selling the water brought a bench for me to sit on. I smiled and so did she.

I sat for awhile. I did some yoga breathing. I thought pleasant thoughts. I finally began to be able to enjoy the moment again. I was ready to talk to Lenore about our options. I headed back to the tro. Lenore was inside I joined her. We discussed options. We agreed that we would not be able to get our money back and should count it a loss. We thought we would try to get a tro from here.

I got out of the tro and stood by the side of the road. I flagged down the first tro that came by. It looked pretty good. No rust on the outside. It was pretty full but maybe there was room for us. I started to negotiate with the driver. I thought he said he could take both of us so I went to get Lenore. Lenore and I return. There was still some negotiaiting to be done it seemed. I asked the driver again if he had room then all of a sudden there are many people around me yelling and shouting at each other and me. Lenore pulled me aside. She pointed to a total stranger, not even someone who was on the tro with us, and said that he said the driver of the new tro is not a safe driver. Lenore does not want to go with this tro. My first thought is can this new guy be any worse than the one we have just ridden with? But I didn’t like the yelling and shouting. So we don’t go.

After this I talked to the driver. I made it very clear in French, English and with body language that we needed to start moving to the border now or we would not get home today. I think they agreed to get a tro for us. I went back into the tro to sit down and do kakuro. Now it is not a strategy to help me wait it’s a strategy to help me keep my sanity!

While we waited Lenore told me she had asked the driver to take us back to the station. She said he reacted like she was asking to be taken to the moon! It was out of the question.

The driver and the guy who recommended that we don’t take the tro I had flagged down came into the tro and said they have a tro for us. This tro is the equivalent of the taxi we rode in the first day we were in Burkina Faso. The last two rows of seats are unattached and kitty corner in the back. Two thirds of the seats are just metal frames with no padding and a big hole where there should be a pad. On the remaining third the pads are not attached to the seat they are just laying there on top of the metal frames. The body of the tro looks like ti has come out of a junk yard. Holes in the floor. Rust ever where. I didn’t even want to look at the dashboard. But I get on and we pay for a ride to the border again.

It was close to 1:30 when we finally got on the road again. I was in a foul mood. I was hungry. I was tired. I was stressed. I wanted to be home and had very little control over if and when iI would get there. Because I was worried what would come out of my mouth I shut up and did my kakuro. (Just writing about this is making me tense and miserable. Maybe I’ll join Alexander in Australia!)

During this part of the ride Lenore told me that the brother in her house in Ghana had told her never to take a tro from the side of the ro ad. They will cheat you. Rather you should go to station and take a tro there. I said I had never heard that. Ah but it explains some of her reluctance to take the tro I had flagged down.

I return to kakuro. At a stop light I see the nice tro we didn’t take a ride on. Through the rest of this part of the journey we raced with this tro. He would go ahead of us out of sight then later on we would catch up and pass him. Every time he passed us I tried very hard not to wish I were on that tro. Not to wish I were sitting on a seat with a seat that was not tipping forward every time we slowed down. Not to wish I were on a seat where the pad stayed in place when we swerved. But when we passed it I consoled myself that at least we would be home before them. I kept my head down, my mouth shut and solved my kakuro puzzles.

After we were on the road for an hour and a half we stopped at a small town. Lenore asked for a toilet. A fellow passenger led her to one. It had been hours since we urinated but I am not leaving that tro. I didn’t trust that it would be there when I returned. Then another tro stopped next to ours. Our driver talked to their driver; we transfer to this new tro. It is marginally better than the one we were on. I toke our bags and made sure to tell the driver that my friend was coming. Finally Lenore and her guide return. I think we got some food here but I don’t really remember. I do know we ate something in some tro on the way to the border. Then we are off.

As we drove we were still playing tag with that other, nicer, tro. We arrived at another town.I don’t know how long we had been driving because I was blessedly absorbed in my puzzles. Lenore has been keeping busy updating Bernard by text on the progress of our journey. She has shared some of his responses and at least he has made us laugh a little.

Our tro stopped and unloaded a multitude of plastic three gallon containers. We then drove a small bit and pulled over into parking lot. The nice tro we had been playing tag with stopped beside us. Yeah! We are going to get to ride in that nice tro after all. But no not even that could go right today. The passengers in THAT tro came and got into our tro.

When I apologized to Lenore for being such a bitch queen she laughs and recounts our journey. We have been yelled at by a tro driver after waiting one and a half hours for a ride. Then we raced over potholes to avoid a police barrier then we were in a contest to try to out run the police. We were stranded on the side of the road in the middle of no where. We have had to pay twice to go to the border and have changed tro two times. You bitchy?!

Well maybe the worst was behind us.

We passed through Po about 3:30. If all goes well we should be home by dark. I began to discuss dinner plans with Lenore. I have always liked to cook when there was someone else to enjoy it.

At last we arrived at the border. The tro stops at the border office. I think I made a big scene with the tro driver. I asked him if he was going to wait for us and he kept saying leave your bags we will drive. This was all in French. I kept asking over and over if they would wait and he kept nodding assuringly and saying leave your bags and we will drive. Well everything had gone so badly that the topper would be them driving off with our bags. I just wanted to hear him say OUI we will wait. But I never heard it. So finally we both took our bags and schlepped them into the border office with us.

As we were walking across the yard some boy asked us if we wanted help. I pretty much shouted NO. The guard laughed at me and said something in French about me being ready to fight a war. Actually I felt like I had been in a war zone that day. Luckily it was finished and would be home soon.

Quick hello. A stamp on our passport and we are out of the Burkina Faso border office. When we got back to the road our tro driver was waiting for us. I apologized to him. Tried to explain that I didn’t understand that they would wait for us. Then we drove through no man’s land t the Ghana border office where they left us. When we drop from the tro a man on a bike came up to us and says he will help us. I say NO THANK YOU. WE KNOW WHAT WE ARE DOING. Then we left him behind to go into the office. We saw Coco sitting outside and he called to us. “Remember me?” he asks. “What’s my name?” I hate that game because I am terrible with names. I am still amazed I didn’t bite his head off instead I waved and smiled and said “Hello Coco!” It was nice to see a friendly face and chat with someone nice today. We finished and left with promises to see Coco again.

The man with the bike was there. He had arranged a car for us to Bolga. I told him we were not going to Bolga. We knew where the taxis were and where we wanted to go. We didn’t want his help. He went off on a rif about how everyone needs help. I turned my upper body away from him and talked to Lenore. I didn’t answer him. I didn’t respond to him. Yet he still stayed with us.

He was really getting on my nerves. He didn’t stop talking. He was demanding my attention. I was finally out right rude and shouted at him “Leave me alone. We just want to be left alone.” Then he started philosophizing about how no man can do it alone.

Then on the other side of the street from the taxi station we see a white woman with a Ghanaian counterpart. I felt salvation was coming. I wondered if she was a new PCV but she didn’t look familiar. I figured we could talk to her and the guy would leave us alone. I also think she might be trying to help us ditch this guy. She greeted us. We exchanged vital information. I am sorry to say I was so stressed that all I remembered from that meeting is that she was from Toronto and volunteering here for a few months.

Oh but bicycle man did not go away. He waited! When we finished talking to the woman. He call This way this way. We ignored him and walked to the taxi station. When we go there the boy who refused Lenore’s money at the start of the trip greeted us like we were old friends. I was not in the mood to let bygones be bygones so I curtly said hi and moved on.

A driver asked us where we were going. I said to Sandema. He offered to take us for 25 GH Cedis. I refused saying that we wanted to go to Navarongo in a share taxi for 1.40 GH Cedis. The manager called us over and chastised us because he had a car ready to go to Bolga for us then we are going to Sandema. At this point I am livid but I do not speak. I have done enough this day to reinforce the ugly American image.

I calmed down and told him I wanted to go to Sandema but not for 25 GH Cedis. He asked me how much I would pay. I told him 1.40 GH Cedis for a share taxi to Navarongo. Ok he said and then he called over the same guy who wanted to charge us 25 GH Cedis to go to Sandema!

In the taxi I tell Lenore that I will pay for us to drop from Navarongo. She starts to say she will pay half and I snap NO. In ½ a second I apologized. Later Lenore said to me she wasn’t going to argue with me right then!

We reached Sandema station in Navarongo. It is 12 Cedis not 10 but I don’t care. We ride. Even in a taxi the 18 kms seemed like forever that late afternoon. At last, just as the sun was setting we arrived home.

The reception received wiped out all the ugliness of that day. Kantuace was there hugging me. Pat came shouting Madam Vicky is home. Mandela and Nathaniel said tia (welcome) and waved. Even Anala sat on the step and acted like he didn’t care that I was home. Home. Home at last.

-vc

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