Biking on the main road is challenging. I showed you the pictures of bicycles 3 abreast in the street with a car, bus or truck trying to get around the bikes and motos. What you do NOT see in the pictures are the donkey carts, guys pushing hand carts loaded with 4X8 pieces of plywood or 2X8 boards that are at least 8 feet long, and maybe a lady riding along with a baby tied to her back and a tray of fruit on her head. As you ride along you have to watch out for groups of sheep (not enough to call a flock, but 4 or 5 in a group), the random pig with piglets, goats with a couple baby goats following, and dogs looking for a meal. These are likely to walk across the road in front of you at any time. This is on the paved road that runs through the middle of town.
The rest of the streets in the town are dirt roads and have other challenges. The dirt here is reddish brown. Think of Georgia clay or the Southwest in the US. Most of the dirt on the road is sand, clay, or loose gravel, but the ruts get down to the bed rock, so that, as the dirt washes away in the rain, the under lying rock, which is pretty uneven, pokes through. All of the motos and bikes, as well as the walkers, tend to follow a winding path along the road to avoid the worst of the ruts and the bumps of the bed rock. Along the sides of many of the bigger streets there are ditches. Sometimes at the intersections there are concrete “bridges” over the ditches, but other times the path dips down through the ditch. This is not a big problem until there is a big rain, such as we have had recently. Then the ditch turns into a stream and you have to find a detour, which may not be easy.
Shopping in a small town
In the small towns there are not any supermarkets or the kind of stores we are used to. The closest thing to an American style store is an alimentation, which is a bit like a very small 7/11 store. The one advantage for Americans is that the prices in the alimentation are marked on things and you do not have to haggle about the price. Some of your shopping will be done at the little shelters along the road, referred to as boutiques or from women or children (and the occasional man) selling things at the side of the road. This could be some kind of fried dough, tomatoes, water, fruit, or field corn roasted on a small charcoal brazier. The corn looks good, but you have to like gummy, hard corn to appreciate it. Most shopping is done at the marché. I have not done much to date because we are living with families who feed us breakfast and dinner, but I will probably describe these to you when I move to my site and start cooking for myself.
The mainstay of the traditional Burkinabé diet is to (pronounced toe). It can be made from just about any grain including corn, millet and sorghum. The woman pounds the grain in a wooden mortar and pestle and dries the flour by spreading it on a sheet for a day or two. Of course the flies and the chickens check it out, but eventually it is sifted and ready to cook. A round bottomed pot, called a marmite, is set on the charcoal brazier, 3 rocks, or whatever cooking surface the family uses, and water is heated. The flour is gradually added and this is allowed to boil for quite a while. There is a little stirring at this point, but surprisingly little, and I have seen no evidence that the to burns on the bottom of the pot. Eventually it is the right texture or temperature and the fun begins. The cook whips the to vigorously for quite a while, until the texture is right. I am guessing the whipping is rather like kneading bread in that it releases the glutton in the grain. In any case, when properly cooked the to will hold its shape. If put in a bowl and let it cool you can dump the to out and have a bowl-shaped glob of to. This is a very labor intensive food that has little nutritional value. It is served with sauces of various kinds. Many are loaded with vegetables, like tomatoes, onions okra, and leaves from trees like the baobab tree. Unfortunately these sauces are also cooked to death so all those good vitamins and minerals are cooked out of them before they are eaten. If you are lucky the sauce may contain dried fish (well, I do not appreciate the flavor, but the bones cook down and you get the calcium) or a bit of meat. I have yet to meet a to sauce I like, but I am told there are some out there. I will let you know if I find one.