Saturday, September 18, 2010

Travel and Cultivating

Pubpic Transportation

In Burkina Faso there are two basic types of public transportation for long trips, bus and bush taxi. I already told you about bush taxies, but the other day I road in one that was beyond belief. It was a tiny pick-up truck with benches in the bed along each side. I said I would only take it if I could ride in the cab with the driver. I am sure it was better than the back, but I felt sorry for the other lady who got to sit up front. The passenger door kept popping open and the driver reached across two of us to grab the door by the window opening (no window of course), and slam it shut. Each time he closed it, it would pop open again at the next big rut, which was quite often. I will try my best not to take that one again, but if you are in one place and need to get to another place, it may be the only thing going that day.

While there are a few busses that run rather like an American Greyhound bus, (I actually see them on the road near my house) most are very old, with ripped and worn seats, sagging over head shelves, and windows that may or may not open or close. On these busses air conditioning is not a concept. The amount of baggage and other things that are carried is amazing. First of all, there is a roof rack on which big bags of things, like charcoal, rice and so on may be stored. Next come the motorcycles and bicycles. Yes, on the top of many of these busses you see fifteen or twenty motos and bicycles all standing in a row. Things are also stored in the usual baggage compartment under the bus. If there is not enough space under there, things come inside, into the aisle. They make fine seats for those who get on after all the regular seats are taken.

In the city

In the capital there are some city busses, but I have not tried to use them. When we are there we walk or take taxies, but they are nothing like American taxies. First of all, there is no meter. Before you get in you tell the driver where you want to go and negotiate with the driver about how much you will pay. If you are experienced you just say how much you will pay, with confidence, and the driver agrees. If the driver thinks he can get more because you do not know the going rate, he will ask for more. The taxies themselves almost all have cracked windshields, ripped upholstery, and little in the way of shock absorbers. Another interesting thing is that you may be the only ones in the taxi at first, but then the driver will stop to pick other passengers along the way. One night it was raining and we were lucky to get a cab. It started out with me and a friend, but we stopped three times to pick up other people, so we ended up with four in the back seat. The defroster, of course, did not work so the driver had to use a tissue to wipe the steam off the inside of the windshield for the entire 10 minute ride. The drivers are amazing, weaving around the bicycles, motos, donkey carts, other taxies and pedestrians. It takes a little getting used to, but it is beginning to seem perfectly normal. I am sure those of you who have lived in a third world country will recognize the situation.

Walking in Town and Village

In the city there is no concept of a sidewalk. Occasionally you think you have found one and, guess what? It is actually the cover over the sewer. This cover is about the width of a sidewalk and is divided into blocks about the size of sidewalk blocks, but with cut outs that let the water drain in when it rains. It makes walking have the smell of an open sewer, which is what you have under the cement cover pieces, and there is always the danger that one of the pieces will be missing, so watch your step!

In the village most people walk to most places they are going. In addition to the dirt roads, wide enough for cars, there are many paths to go between family compounds. Right now there tend to be mud puddles on these paths, but for the rest of the year they will be quite convenient.


In the rainy season just about everybody cultivates. If you live in a village your family is assigned the land you cultivate. After the first rain (or second one) you go out with your hand tool that looks a bit like a big ax, but the blade is more hoe like. You turn over the soil and plant your crop, the hope for rain. Below is a picture of me, trying to use one of these gizmoes to plant beans earlier in the summer. After each rain people are out in the fields, using this tool to chop out the weeds. Here are some of the crops I see around my village: petite millet (the kind we think of as bird seed) that grows to over 7 feet tall, grand millet, that must be 15 feet tall now and growing, corn (field corn for cooking, not sweet corn), gumbo (aka okra) which is NOT slimy if you just sauté it, peanuts, and beans (like black eyed peas). In other places you see rice and cotton being raised.


In my village most people seem to have a donkey and cart. The donkeys braying to go out so they can eat is what wakes me up in the morning. There are also lots of sheep and goats. It is a bit hard to tell them apart because the sheep are adapted to the heat and do not have all the fluffy wool you expect on a sheep. They are bigger than the goats and have a different shape so after a while the difference is obvious. If you are not Muslim you probably have a couple of pigs to eat up your scraps from the table, if any, the chafe from the millet, and so on. And then there are the chickens—everywhere! The roosters crow all night so you get used to them. The hens and chicks run around among the crops, scratching up the bugs, with the roosters in hot pursuit of the hens. There are also petards, AKA guinea, fowl that tend to hang out in groups more than the chickens. Most people seem to have a dog in the court yard, although they are not actually treated as pets. In some parts of the country a dog may end up in the cooking pot. I have also seen cats, but not too many.

Feel free to write

If you have questions or things you would like to know about, drop me an e-mail at I am running the computer from my solar re-chargeable battery and using a USB to cell phone modem. I do check my e-mail a couple of times a week if I get a chance to get on to the computer early in the morning before there is a lot of cell phone traffic. The blog website is very slow to access so about the only time I look at it is when I am posting to it. If you post a comment I am not likely to see it. If you write to me I will try to answer and maybe use your questions for ideas for future bolgs.

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