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Holidays in Burkina Faso: Days off and good traveling

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Burkina Faso, Environment, Religion, Travel

For foreigners living and blogging in Burkina Faso, this year’s clustering of Christian and Muslim holidays not only provided a countless number of days off, but gave people the chance to do some good traveling.

Charlie from Blooming Desert [1] tried to make the best of both worlds: Traveling home to the United Kingdom for a friend’s wedding before Christmas before catching a plane back to Burkina Faso in time for hosting 50 guests for Christmas Eve dinner. However, even the best laid plans sometimes fail. The second leg of her flight was overbooked, and Charlie was unexpectedly sent off with a group of passengers to Togo, where she spent the holiday:

Of course, when you are stuck with four strangers in a foreign country for two days you can't help wondering if God has a greater purpose in mind. For sure we were a curious bunch – an unlikely throng comprising a Burkinabe businessman who lives in Norwich, a Muslim returning from Mecca, a French backpacker and a Islamic religious leader who pioneers Mosques around Burkina. All were very friendly and we got on remarkably well, united in our grievances and swapping cards and email addresses at the end of the ordeal.

Burkinamom [2] and her family stayed in Ouagadougou for the holidays, but she found it necessary to negotiate a few cultural barriers in order to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a local restaurant. Those cultural barriers weren’t erected by locals, but other foreigners:

We had come late to the gathering and the others (an all-American missionary crowd) had decided to segregate the seating. There were all the women at one end and the men all at the opposite end of the table. The center was occupied by a hoard of small children. After one look at the table, JP shot me a look of the acutest misery. He's an anthropologist and knows that foreign cultures have their own customs, but he finds this particular one very painful. He sat down among the men and they tried to draw him into the conversation with such gems as “What's your favorite winter sport? and “Where are the next Olypmics being held?” Now, my husband loves to chat about politics, philosophy, current events…anything EXCEPT sports. I could see that action had to be taken. I somehow managed to convince the other women that the kids would be happier at a table of their own and the xx and xy camps could be combined.

For Girl Raised in the South [3], New Year’s Eve became the tale of two parties. The first took place at her local village bar where she began ushering in the New Year in grand fashion with a bunch of young kids dancing their hearts out. Shortly after, however, the young were escorted out to make room for the adults who wanted to dance. After returning home, she was summonsed to the home of the Prefet, the regional Governor, to celebrate with the town’s “elite,” whom she quickly learned didn’t know how to throw a party:

After that the Prefet stood up and gave a rousing speech telling everyone that the “funcionnaires” (i.e. rich people…compared to everyone else in the village) should stick together, and do these kinds of parties more often. I couldn't help but feel a bit elitist…while we were having this reserved soiree, you could here the blaring music and hollering of the villageois. If given the choice, I might have preferred the villageois/common folk.

For those bloggers who left the country, the coasts and forests of Ghana was the most popular destination. As Ex Africa [4] points out, however, travelers from Burkina Faso may find a different world in Ghana, but that doesn’t always mean a better world:

Ghana is definitely a high-light spot, with great jungles and rainforests, good wildlife, beautiful beaches, and more great people and West African culture…It was such an awesome place. Just the travel. I now realize Burkina actually has some of the best transport in West Africa.

Becca Faso [5] did enjoy a good trip down Ghana’s Butri River:

…[W]e climbed in a hollwed-out log/canoe and paddled down the river. It was pretty neat. We were surrounded by mountains and mangrove forest on either side – which is pretty cool if you are a bio nerd like me. There were beautiful birds and mudskippers and crabs. Then, when we were turning around the guy asked if we wanted to see where he makes palm wine. “Hell yes we want to see that!” I felt like Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart as we pulled over to a hole in the mangrove forest and followed a jungle path to the guys palm wine factory. It was pretty cool. They just take the phloem out of the palm tree and ferment it in barrels. The guy also takes the palm wine and distills it into a liquor that tastes like PGA. Yuk. I had a sip and lost a substantial portion of my brain cells. I'll never get ‘em back.

For those living abroad for a certain amount of time, traveling to another foreign country can be a lesson in humility. Not only because the culture is different, but because your hard-earned local knowledge no longer is suitable. Like everyone else, even Ex Pats can become tourists. From Jill and Marcus in Burkina Faso [6]:

In contrast to Burkinabe hecklers, who aggressively shove postcards and leather boxes in your face and walk next to you until they finally give up, often hissing “racist” as they do, Egyptian hecklers are smooth. Really smooth. On our first outing, we savvy Peace Corps Volunteers took the bait on a classic scam–a charming dude lured us away from the Egyptian Museum, where we were headed, by telling us it was closed and ushered us into his buddy's papyrus shop. His buddy then managed to sell us a few pictures by turning the charm way, WAY up, culminating in his giving us a “special price” because he said I looked like his daughter. Even though we knew we were being scammed, the guys doing it were so freakishly polite, we felt bad trying to get away. Now that's good scamming.