”Ouch!”, I had to utter.
A nerve-breaking rattle goes through the car, as my driver crosses a big bump on the dusty bush-road in western Burkina Faso. As we are blazing through the bush, I thought I would try and give you, my dear reader, a bit of an insight into the changes of the seasons and as a result of that also the changes in living conditions for man and beast alike here in West Africa.
The rainy season has come and gone, so one can once again observe amazing changes in the landscape. From a bleak, extremely dry and reddish brown savannah with scattered trees with small and pale leaves the entire scenery changes in a matter of weeks if not days when the rain comes, and as soon as the rains cease the transformation to a desolate moon-like world begins again.
Down here it’s completely dry from late October until May/June where the big rains begin in earnest. April/May/June is also the worst period to be down here – so I’m quite thankful that the shea season is peaking in the period from mid-July until late January. The month of May is marked by huge dust storms, daily temperatures in the vicinity of 53-54 degrees Celsius and a complete lack of humidity that dries out your sinuses in a matter of minutes. When one gets out of the car, the brain ceases to work after about 2 minutes under those conditions…
Then, when the rains finally arrive, the entire landscape seems to come to life simultaneously. Everything grows, sprouts and blossoms and the open, barren view changes to a green wall of 8 feet tall grasses and plants enclosing the road completely. The bush is nothing short of beautiful when it is literally bursting with life and growth. The month of August presents any visitor with spectacular green views and pleasant day-time temperatures in the high twenties/low thirties with frequent rains to keep the dust down.
August represents the perfect climate if it hadn’t been for the numerous mosquitoes being hatched everywhere in this period. The deaths and illnesses that are brought on by these malaria-carriers defies belief – and during the months of September to November companies and hotels etc. struggle to keep their staff at work because of the many malaria attacks their employees have to stomach. A good friend of mine working at the hotel I normally stay at in Bobo-Dioulasso lost his sister-in-law the day before yesterday. In the morning she was fine – in the late evening she died leaving her husband and 3 small children… Malaria is not a thing to be taken lightly – although so very little is being done to control it compared to what we do to find a cure against AIDS… - but, as we all now – its only AIDS that white people have to worry about so why bother with the malaria?!? To be fair, quite a few efforts are now underway – focusing especially on handing out inexpensive nets to sleep under – and these efforts have been tremendously successful. What bothers me is that it has taken us so long to do this…
Now, in late October, the climate now changes once again. The last rains are short and infrequent and slowly all of the green colours of the bush grow pale, brown and grey. The locals start to burn the bush during the coming weeks and months – for hunting and farming purposes, I guess. A lot of effort is being put in to educate the local farmers not to do this, but as it is with all change down here a change of mentality is slow if not impossible to facilitate. Now, over the coming months, the landscape will slowly turn to the characteristic brownish-red, and all the lakes and quite a few of the smaller rivers dries up. In a few months time there are only a very few watering holes available for both livestock and wild animals, so one can get lucky and see herds of elephants drinking in one of the permanent lakes close by the roadside in the dry season where they cannot find water anywhere else.
As the grasses disappear so does the nutrition for the livestock, so cattle, sheep and goats start to loose weight. When the rains finally come, there is not much left except walking skeletons – and the same goes for a lot of the farmers and their families. People loose a lot of weigh when the food supply is nearly depleted. Particularly in July where the farmers await the maturing of the newly planted crops of especially corn and millet, life is hard. This period is normally called the ‘month of hunger’ by the Africans. The local variations of cattle have even developed a camel-like hump on their backs, which they use to build up a fat reserve during the time where the food is plentiful. At the end of June, that hump is completely deflated and it hangs down on the side of the animals like an empty balloon.
So - even though this time of year is good for the Burkinabé – the climate is pleasant, the food is plentiful – it also marks the beginning of a very long period of drought and dwindling food supplies. Once can understand why a lot of the local festivals, dances and masks are performed and made in the honour of the coming of the rains. The coming of the rain is essential to everyone here, and mere variations in the timing of the arrival of the first rains can mean the difference between life and death in West Africa.
“PANG!” A great bang once again shakes the car as we return to the main tarmac road and the driver speeds up to his standard leisurely pace of 120-140 km/h on our way to the Burkinabé capital, Ouagadougou, where my flight awaits me tonight. I ponder a bit about how lucky I am, having the possibility to return in a matter of hours to a Danish winter climate and our super-modern and equally rich country. If nothing else, travels in Africa offers one perspectives and appreciation for what we have in Scandinavia…