torsdag, august 03, 2006

Update - July/August 2006

A delayed report from the Sahel Belt.

Bobo-Dioulasso, summer, 2006

Quite a few people must think: ”That was about time!”, when they see that I have finally updated my little webblog. I have received quite a few very stern requests to do so, anyway, so I guess I can’t delay further.
Quite a few things have happened since my last real post back in May. For example, I have decided to begin posting updates in English, in order to keep my friends abroad filled in on what it is I am doing down here in the depths of Africa. (One of my mates in Scotland keeps calling it ”the Congo’s”, and yes – sometimes it feels like it too…). I haven’t planned to quit the Danish ones, but I will have to mix them a bit, I think, since I really won’t have the time to publish 2 versions of each post – (I’m busy (and lazy!) enough as it is).
But, to get back to the important stuff, I have now spent the last few weeks in my new home in Burkina Faso (BF). I presume, that it is always in the beginning of an endeavor like mine, that things will feel the most difficult. Anyway, I hope that is the case, because it is indeed not what an American would call a ‘walk in the park’ to move to West Africa (WAF).
Before arriving in BF, however, I spent a week in Dakar, Senegal together with two colleagues, in order to prepare our activities there for the season. It was my first trip to Senegal, so naturally I arrived with high hopes of interesting experiences ahead. Dakar is probably the closest, WAF comes to a modern city, and, as far as I understand it, there is not much to do or see in Senegal EXCEPT for Dakar. I hope to get a chance to prove that statement wrong at a later stage, but for this trip, I was ‘confined’ solely to the city of Dakar due to a rather pressed working schedule. The schedule got even tighter than planned because of the slight difficulties our friends in Copenhagen have been experiencing, when it comes to running Airports in the holiday season. I have never in my life seen such chaos as we did upon our arrival in Kastrup Airport. You couldn’t even enter the terminal! Long queues were formed that made the whole building look like long snakes was sprouting out of every door. My colleague spoke to the local security and discovered that not only had the baggage-belt given in – the whole service-staff of the airport had commenced an impromptu strike, just to make the day perfect (and that day was of course the busiest traveling day in Denmark). The security guy said, that they had already stopped several fights in the Terminal! Encouraged by this information, my colleague and I sent happy thoughts to our travel agent, who promised us, that 50 minutes between connecting flights in Lisbon was more than enough… Needless to say it wasn’t, so we got stuck for 24 hours in the Portuguese capital after a debacle of hitherto unseen proportions in the Copenhagen Airport.

Apart from our ridiculously poor hotel, Lisbon proved to be an excellent place to go exploring, and I must recommend it as an ideal destination for a holiday. My colleague and I walked miles and miles and experienced both Cathedrals, military forts, grand plazas and of course the tourist-trap-hospitality of the small restaurants of Lisbon. A great experience – and all in one day.

Thus encouraged, we hoped our flights with the Portuguese Airline TAP would be a milk run. Unfortunately, my distinguished colleague quickly stated that the airline’s name was an abbreviation for: “Take Another Plane” – and I must admit, that he was definitely right. It was like a goat-market being on that flight to Dakar! NO service, microscopic seats, people running around and yelling in the plane at 2 a.m.!. The only time we actually got any attention from the flight staff, was when the tax-free trolley was pulled through the chaos – everyone was almost forced to make a purchase, and if you happened to be asleep as the trolley passed you by, you were shaken awake to make a purchase. I should probably mention, that the staff of TAP is working on commission – thus the more they sell, the more they earn. Jeez!

Arriving in Dakar was also a great experience. There is no visa-requirement in Senegal, but one has to complete a form upon entry into the country. This form was of course not provided by the wonderful TAP, and the airport only supplied a few. Something close to a fight broke out in order to secure one of the scarce forms, but fortunately we were lucky (and violent) enough to get a few – and we entered the customs queue well ahead of the rest of the plane. Then came one of the more “interesting” experiences of WAF: Arriving at the little booth with the customs officer, the only two words we got from him were: “passport” and “Coke!!”. The first word is self-explanatory, but the second may require a bit of comments. It simply meant, that the officer wanted “a little something” for his cola… Think about it – uniformed staff, wanting money to give you your passport back with the required stamps for entry! The scale of corruption in WAF never cease to amaze me! Thus, with a lightened purse we proceeded through the security check point in the airport. All your luggage is scanned upon entry, to make sure that it doesn’t contain anything dangerous. I have no idea why this is done, since they baggage has already been checked ahead of the flight, but the best part was, that no one was actually looking at the screen of the scanner! Nevertheless, we were sharply ordered to put our bags through the x-ray machine?!? Always good fun to try and understand the logic behind a lot of the things and procedures down here, but it certainly isn’t easy, most of the time…

The following days were spent working in Dakar. We didn’t have much time to go exploring, except getting the full tour of the port, which represents the core of our activities in Senegal. I think my Ivorian colleague Marcellin summed up Senegal nicely: “It is like Mali – but clean!”. A very accurate description, actually. It looks like an (almost) modern city, and things seem to work, but basically there isn’t a person there, who wouldn’t like to cheat you of something. Everything is expensive – very expensive even – and peddlers and vendors are extremely aggressive, when you walk the streets and markets. We had a great laugh with one of these street vendors, though. He had just sold ‘beautiful’ set of bags – Louis Vutton (spelling excused) of course – to an American soldier for the tiny sum of 150 Usd. Needles to say: 150 bucks is a virtual FORTUNE in WAF, so we of course asked the guy why on earth anyone would pay that much for a cheap set of copies. The vendor promptly replied: “I don’t sell copies – only ORIGINAL copies!!!”… Well, I guess there’s a certain lady in the U.S. who will be a bit annoyed when her new bags break the first time she uses the zipper…
Apart from this, there are great (I’m talking size, here!) slave forts outside the city on an island called Gorée, and we saw that from afar. I would love to go there, but it will have to wait for a later occasion, since our pressed schedule didn’t give us a day to spare. (Thanks again, Copenhagen Airports!).

After all the work and negotiations were done, it was time for me to head for my new home in Burkina Faso. The flight from Dakar to Ouagadougou (the capital of BF) with ‘Air Burkina’ was uneventful save for my constant prayers. The bloody thing was one of the oldest planes, I have seen in my life! The thing still flew though, one should learn to be grateful for the small mercies in life… Besides – Air Burkina only has one plane, as far as I have been told. Thus, one should also be thankful that no president or prime minister needed it, because when that is the case, all flights are of course cancelled until further notice…

After a few days of meetings (and a bit of rest) in the extremely hot Ouagadougou, it was time to go to the town that is going to be a form of “base” for me in the coming months. I am not going to really live anywhere (in the sense that I will not rent a house, hire a housekeeper etc. etc), since I plan to be constantly on the road in Mali, BF, Ghana and also Senegal. I will, however, be spending a lot of time in Bobo-Dioulasso, as my “base” is called. Translated, it means “where the Bobo lives” – ‘the Bobo’ being the biggest local tribe in the area.

Down here, everyone is seen as tribe first, nationality later. This makes a lot of sense, since the colonial powers created the countries down here based on lines drawn with a ruler – not even considering the potential problems that would arise from splitting and combining ethnic groups that were very, very different. No border was made with ANY consideration as to old kingdoms, cultures and peoples – they were made to look ‘nice and square’ on a map… It is no wonder, that Africa has seen so many wars after colonialism did its dirty work down here. The creation of new countries to replace long lasting kingdoms and cultures simply had a devastating effect on the peoples of WAF.

That bit of bile spilled, we can move on to more joyful descriptions of Bobo-Dioulasso – or simply Bobo, as it is normally called. It is Burkina Faso’s second largest town, with approx. 230,000 inhabitants. (This figure must be based on an educated guess, because it is extremely difficult to determine, where the bush ends and Bobo begins… As a general piece of info BF has a total (estimate) of 11 millions citizens.
“What’s it like”, people keep asking me, and I keep giving the same answer: “You have to see it to understand it.” I will try to add a few photos, in order to give some sort of idea of what is like to be in Bobo (and a few more to illustrate traffic in WAF – my personal favorite is the one with all the wooden furniture on a small cart!), but pictures alone cannot tell the full story. You really have to experience WAF in all its splendor and misery to get an idea of the enormous cultural, financial and ethnical gap, the relatively short flight from Europe bridges in a matter of 6 hours. Like I have said before: should you wish to ‘give it a go’, I will be happy to help with accommodation, advice and tips for a trip to the worlds greatest continent in so many ways.

In future posts, I will nevertheless try to make an attempt to describe what life is like down here – for the Burkinabe as well as for the Danes!

In trying to avoid repeating former mistakes, I will quit my little update here. I think I am loosing readers on my website, every time I post 14-page updates on the blog, so from now on I’ll try to limit myself.

Much more about the life and travels of Per in West Africa as soon as I get around to it…