Back in February, I was in Ouagadougou when it happened to be the time of the Africa film festival, called FESPACO, that is held in Ouaga every other year. Quite a few of the volunteers came to town that week to see the movies, and a couple of committees conveniently scheduled meetings that weekend. I was there for a meeting of volunteers who were going to be bringing students to a youth leadership conference the following month. We each had to select a piece of the program to do and make plans about how to do it. In any case, the Transit House, where I was staying, was full of volunteers. I had not planned to go to the film festival, but a meeting with my counterpart that I had scheduled for that evening fell through because she was not feeling well, and I tagged along with the crowd. It was a movie called “When China Met Africa” and we had expected it to be mostly in English because it was done by BBC. It was a documentary set in an English speaking African country, but much of the dialogue was in Chinese and the local African language. The English was also a bit hard to understand because of the accent. There were subtitles, but they were in French and I found I could only read about 2/3 of each one as it flashed by. I did get the general drift and it was a bit discouraging. The Chinese were planning to do several projects there that are now on hold because of the world economic crisis. One Chinese farmer immigrated to the country and bought three farms, thinking there would be one for each of his children, but the children are not interested in farming in Africa. A road project and manufacturing project seeing to be going well, however. It was the only show I saw, and I am sure it was not one of the prize winners.
Living in style (for one night)
Kriss Barker, who is a vice president of Population Media Center and who is co-author of the training manual about how write and produce soap operas to change behavior, was in town to make final arrangements with group that will fund the project for a Burkinabè soap opera. Actually, the project is mostly funded, for writing TWO soap operas, one in Moore, and the other in Jula. These are the two local languages most commonly spoken here.
I had talked to her by phone and Skype several times, as well as having a number of e-mail exchanges with her, so when she was in the country we wanted to meet each other face to face. At first she thought she might be able to come out to my village, but that was not going to work out. I had offered to go into Ouaga if that would be better for her, and she asked if I would do so. I decided that, after five weeks in the group living at the transit house, I was entitled to one night at a real hotel, so I asked her to get a reservation for me at the hotel where she was staying. For that one night I paid the equivalent of about half of what I get to live on for a month as a volunteer. That makes me glad that the transit house is a place I can stay for a reasonable price. However I did enjoy my day of luxury. I would have thought I was back in the USA for 24 hours: good European style food, hot water and a bath tub, and real high speed internet.
It was great to meet Kriss, who is quite dynamic and exudes enthusiasm for the project. We had dinner with the man who owns 11 radio stations and a TV station, who had worked with the Peace Corps group when we started trying to find financial support for such a project. He is very enthusiastic about this project, too, but I think the funder Kriss has found wants to use the official national radio for the broadcasts. Maybe they will decide to allow it to be broadcast on community and other commercial stations as well. I think the people in the target audience, folks in poor rural areas, are more likely to listen to local stations than to the official government station, but I don’t know that for a fact. That is one of the things the first phase of the project, which is research about local conditions, will show.
Profiling, Burkina Style
When I came into the hotel in my traveling cloths, with just a back pack, I think they wondered about me. They told me I would have to wait a while for a room to be ready, so I sat down in the lobby and started my knitting. Almost immediately they had a room for me. Maybe it was chance, but I bet they thought I did not fit in with the clientele very well.
When I was leaving to catch the bus back home, I asked the door man if I could get a cab from there to the bus station. No problem, except that the taxi driver wanted three times as much for the cab ride as the standard door-to-door rate for volunteers. I ended up calling one of the approved Peace Corps taxi drivers, who not only took me to the bus station, but also went in with me to be sure I would be able to get on a bus before dark. He would have taken me to another station, at no additional charge, if there had not been a seat available. So here I am, back in my village, with the contrast of rich and poor, European and African, spinning through my head.
In Ouaga the main streets are paved, but there are many side streets, and whole neighborhoods, that have only dirt roads, like we have in my village. It is not surprising to see something like you see in the picture below, a donkey cart driving down one of these paved roads, with cars, motos, and trucks sharing the road with this very traditional means of transporting goods.
You may also see motos load with goods to sell. I actually took this picture just outside of town. This guy is transporting some kind of produce to sell in the capital.
As in the villages, most houses are surrounded by walls, but in the city they tend to be higher, so you can’t see much of what is inside, unless the house has more than one floor. In the more upscale neighborhoods, two or three story houses are not uncommon. Any fancy house has a guardian at the gate. There are a number of companies that supply guardians, each group having a different kind of uniform. Houses gowned by the American government are guarded by people in blue uniforms with a US flag patch. If you are a Peace Corps volunteer living in Ouaga, you are required to live in a place with a guardian. Mixed in among these rather fancy houses you may find people living much as you might in a village, cooking on a wood fire and sleeping on the ground, with animal in the courtyard. It is a land of contrasts.