Burkina Faso: Vegetarians need not apply

First, the news. In late March, Burkina Faso’s Prime Minister fired the long-serving minister of agriculture, and one-time right-hand of the country’s President Blaise Compoare, leading to a whole round of speculation and political second-guessing. Staying with Compaore, rumors have begun to swirl that the man who has spent more than 20 years as Burkina Faso’s president is sick – and, some say, journalists have been warned they will be punished for making continued reports on his health. Repercussions continue regarding what people feel is the government’s poor handling of price increases that have affected the country since the beginning of the year. On April 8, public and private sectors organized a general strike, which Burkina Mom reported was nothing much more than a quiet day (at least in Ouagadougou).

As much as Ouagalais love political intrigue, most people are much more preoccupied with the power cuts that have afflicted the city for the past five weeks or so. First, a galet poussoir, which translates as a roller tapet, failed at one of the city’s main power stations, forcing Sonabel, the local power company, to schedule rolling blackouts throughout the city every day for more than a week until someone was sent to France to pick it up a new piece.

That’s not all. March begins the hot season throughout West Africa, forcing people to use more electricity running fans, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc. The power company found that Ouagadougou’s burgeoning urban population has finally begun to outstrip the city’s once regular power supply. Pressure is now so great on the power grid that Sonabel has scheduled rolling blackouts through 2009, leaving people unsure if their power will be on when they return from work.  

From a bloggers perspective, let’s check in with Burkina Mom:

Once again, I blog to you from a cybercafé in (way too) sunny downtown Ouagadougou. The power cut out in our neighbourhood at about 7am this morning and who knows when it will be back on… My technique is to spend the maximum amount of time out running errands in cool places like banks and supermarkets. My car (repaired now!) is also a nice place to be, as the air-con works really well. Nothing else does, mind you, but the air-con is fine.

I am just hoping that we're not headed for a long, hot, electricity-less wekend.
Curse you, Sonabel!

Peace Corps volunteers are always fond of bragging how tough they are, reminding the rest of us they live in villages that suffer blackouts whenever the sun goes down. Watch out, however, when these people congregate in large numbers in a city.

A post from Jill in Jill and Marcus in Burkina Faso:

To throw a good PCV party you need:
-several cases of beer
-so that you can get the courage to slaughter an animal
-so that you can have meat.

That's it. We're currently in the middle of an Animal Slaughtering Cold War. PCVs try to outdo each other with bigger, squealier, bloodier slaughters. Chickens, turkeys, pigs, and sheep have all been victims of PCVs’ blood lust. And there's talk of slaughtering a cow. After that it'll be a slippery slope until slaughtering camels and elephants becomes the norm. And if that's not bad enough, it's also become standard to video the slaughter and even post it on the internet. Vegetarians need not apply.

For those who can’t make it into town, the hair-dryer-like heat that is currently slow cooking the region makes it a good time to hunker down at home and catch up on domestic projects, like building more shade for your house. For Clay’s most recent project, we’ll go to Notes From Burkina Faso:

This weekend I'm building a hangar to give my courtyard some much needed shade. I actually bought the “ceiling” (branches and grass) a while ago, but of course I haven't gotten around to it. A few days ago my neighbor told me that they'll spoil with the rain if I don't do something soon, so to make good on my 4 dollar investment I'll try to do it this weekend. I'll take a picture once it's done and try to get it on here.

I keep trying to buy a canari (sp?), but each week at my market they're too small. I'm talking about a terra cotta type vase that you surround with sand and fill up with water to make your water cold. Everyday between noon and 4 it is so hot that I'm drinking hot water. Not warm, hot. It's best to drink water right when you wake up in the morning. It's cold. Or cool.

During my last post, we debated the realism of former Peace Corps volunteer Sarah Erdman’s book Nine Hills to Nambonkaha, which took place in Cote d’Ivoire. In this week’s installment, Clay gives his two cents on the book he feels truly captures the spirit of Africa:

If you're at all curious about Africa, I recommend Kapuscinski's Shadow of the Sun. It is the best book I've read on Africa since I've been here. Not only is his style the closest thing I've seen to great minimalist writing since Hemingway (Sorry Raymond Carver fans, I just don't buy it, not completely anyway), he lived and traveled throughout Africa for close to forty years. He was a Polish journalist and possible Soviet spy, and was present through most major coups and revolutions during the sixties and seventies. Now this shouldn't give you a false impression about what I live through day to day, but it is a great book on African social life, the countryside, and the “African” mentality, if there is one (Africa being so large and all – no one says there's an American mentality which includes everything between Canada and Patagonia). Most PC volunteers will recommend Dark Star Safari by Theroux, but I liked Kapuscinski a lot more.

One way to escape the Sahelien furnace is to simply leave. Of course, that’s easier said than done for many who live here. Peace Corps volunteer Mac Wisdom was lucky enough to book a trip with his family to Spain. Walking through Madrid’s Prado Museum, he found that his mind couldn’t help but wander back to Burkina Faso and reflect on his good fortune.

But, as I always do, I am going to harp on the fortunate people, comme moi. We can do almost whatever we want to do. My neighbors and friends here, the villagers, some will never set foot out of the reality, the harsh reality, that they live day-to-day. They are tough. Some tell me I am tough because I come here to live a communal life with them. Bullshit. I will be here for another 17 months roughly, that's much different than a whole lifetime spent sitting on a cart lashed to a donkey, steering the poor ass towards the water pump. There I was, one day, walking through the Prado, listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers on my MP3 player. The next day, there I was back in Burkina. I realized how good I got it when I was flying over Aribinda. We probably flew really close to right over my village. Man, what a life I live. I am truly blessed.

It wasn’t long ago that Caleb was living rent free on a couch in a damp shed. One of the lessons he learned – other than the positive influence of not paying for housing – was when living amongst other creatures (read: creepy crawlies often found in sheds) one must not try to master the environment, but learn to live in harmony with these insects. It’s an important lesson learned because it’s come in handy for him in Burkina Faso.

From his blog Burkina Faso or Bust:

Having already had this ecosystem disturbance experience in the past, I had learned that spiders are our friends and can be allowed to live to catch flies, malaria carrying mosquitos and what not. Also, since I now had my protective mosquito net to sleep in, I had no worry of “bug attacks” throughout the night. I embraced my new ecosystem and integrated into it. After integration, I soon realized that it wasn't only the spiders that were helping out. If I killed something such as a centipede or roach, I left it were it met it's untimely end. Then, during the night, the other inhabitants of my house that either live in my walls or in my drop ceiling descend and dispose of the body and evidence by morning. It is like a well oiled machine. I believe it is the ants that are doing the majority of my dirty work, but now they have gotten to an annoying population level and have started to bite me, leaving welts on my skin that last for weeks. I need to introduce the lizards that live in my ceiling into the ecosystem to keep the ants under control, but then I would have a lizard problem. Eventually this wourld turn into an ”I know an old lady that swallowed a fly” type of situation and there would be no end in sight.

Changing subjects a bit, I recently recounted a tale told to me by a friend who had her house broken into. When her family awoke, they scared off the robbers, but not before they could make off with two laptops. The next morning, her husband went to report the crime at the police station, where he was asked a peculiar question: Did the robbers leave a phone number?

From Africa Flak:

Apparently, thieves have been breaking and entering into peoples’ houses, making off with their goods and then offering to sell the goods back to them. Rumors have it getting your laptop returned to you will only set you back around 100.000 FCFA, about $240. The reason for this, my friend says, is that thieves usually have to sell the purloined laptops out of the country to make a profit. So they may as well cut their losses and sell the computers back to their happy owners.

Needless to say no number had been left.

Let’s end with this, another crime story with a strange ending. It involves Girl Raised in the South, or GRITS, whose mother happened to be visiting  when hey were about to take a bus ride down to Ouagadougou from one of the country’s secondary cities. After reserving two seats in the back of the bus, she went to put their luggage on the seats. It should be known that GRITS’s luggage contained the following items:  

  • Two passports
  • A birth certificate
  • A social security card
  • Driver’s license
  • Two Ipods
  • A laptop computer
  • One lucky hat

She placed the bag in her seat, walked off the bus to say goodbye to her host family. By the time she re-entered the bus with her mother, the bag was gone. Everybody was embarrassed – a crime that took place right in front of a visitor. After everyone excited the bus to help search for the bag, and a quick trip to the police station, GRITS and her mother continued on the bus ride. From Ouagadougou she made frequent calls to her host family, who had taken out an ad regarding the theft on the local radio station.

From GRITS Heads to Burkina:  

A week and a half later I am still in Ouaga working on training stuff with the new volunteers when I get a call. The most magical words I have ever heard come out of my host dad's mouth…”Stephanie, we found your bag!” WHAT?!?! In a city of over 300,000 people you found my bag?!?! With everything in it?!?! Oh yes! Truly, joy can not describe what I felt at that moment. Relief, gratefulness….it was amazing. As it turns out, 2 kids heard my radio announcement, and when they saw the kid with my iPod they called the station. Additionally, a teacher at the local high school had been informed about the laptop with missing cord, and saw two kids with my computer walking around looking for a power cord. When the teacher saw them, he stopped them and questioned them about it. They didn't have any good answers, so the teacher took their name, and called the police. Truly, it was a joint effort…a community effort…that I don't think would happen in the States… Oddly enough, all my valuables were in the bag, but all the small cheap stuff was missing.

…The kid who stole it was 17 years old, and evidently had followed me on the bus, and gotten off shortly after me. Since I wasn't in Ouahigouya when they found the bag I can't tell you what his consequences were, or what happened with him (a lot of people are asking me if he got his hands cut off…and honestly I don't know…although I did ask them not to physically abuse him–for what that's worth anyway).



  • dec

    Did BF PC get a new Director or does your house still have PC furniture?

    There is a way around the five year employment law. The Director can give an extension. Extensions can be given for classified security reasons, etc. The I.G. tried to have the law changed before Congress, but that didn’t pass because the limits are 2 years for some employees. So, the ‘soft power’ and ‘civil society’ has had federal budgets for agencies like Peace Corps extended out five years. The budget usually doubles over five years to close to a billion for PC. The agency five year budget, PC, is usually hired through another funding and hiring agency like PEPFAR, also on a five year budget and doubled to 50 billion.

    The five year employment law for employees wasn’t changed, so they lobbied for five year ‘sustainable budgets.’ Eventually, they’ll have to treat all PC employees equally at least to five years, but the soft power and civil society can lobby. ‘Five year sustainable budgets’ are becoming the norm for US agencies, etc.

    The farm bill was lobbied by soft power and civil society too. It’s about a year old. Food prices have doubled or tripled. Emergency aid like the Global Aids bill is needed. The US has paid 200 million emergency aid, but the UN says that, based on the five year budgets, the US is 2 years behind and owes 500 million(500 million over 7 years owed).

    The sustainable farm aid has failed again with the farm bill, but the agencies and bills do have five year sustainable budgets. The idea of paying to produce food in country makes less sense.

    A year later.

  • Brian Maher (PCV Tanzania)

    It is good to see some truth getting past the Peace Corps censors. The primary activities of Peace Corps volunteers seem to be congregating, drinking, and exhibiting dreadful judgment trying to entertain themselves. I have little doubt that the situation with Peace Corps in BF is any more professional than the summer camp atmosphere in PC Tanzania.

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