If you are poor in Burkina Faso and live in a village, you can build a house out of the dirt from the ground and make a roof out of the tall grass that grows wild here. Your village chief can designate a plot of land where you can build a house and where you can farm the land. Here is a small house my friend Prosper built on this new farm plot. It will be a house for a caretaker when he gets the place fenced in for his sheep and goats.
If you are just living on a piece of ground the village chief assigned to you, you can plant millet or corn, and, at the end of the growing season, you may have food for the year. If you want a window or door for your house, that would require money. You would need to get someone to loan you seeds to plant, but it is not like being homeless in Cleveland, Ohio. Here you do not need to worry about freezing to death in the winter, and the possibility of growing enough food for a year is there. Of course farming is an iffy business and if there is a bad year for crops, things may not be so great. Most of us would not like to live that way, but at least nobody freezes to death under a bridge here!
Property rights (or lack there of)
Property ownership is just being westernized. If you were that poor person who asked the village chief for land to cultivate and to build on, it would be yours to use only as long as the chief lets you live there. If he decided to grant it to someone else, you would have to move. Now days it is possible for you to get a paper showing you have the right to that land, a title of sorts, but that costs money and requires a degree of sophistication that most village folks do not have. Prosper is a school teacher so he is what we call a functionair here, that is, a civil service employee. He has both the knowledge and resources to get a deed to this little plot of land.
Unfortunately, the traditionally way of dealing with land use is changing. I have heard of a village in Mali where the government decided to give a long term lease on parcel of land to a Chinese group and the people who had been living there for generations had to move out. Their village was destroyed with no compensation for those displaced. There have been articles about this in the New York Times, explaining that this seems to be happening all over Africa. It seems that richer countries that are running out of land see a lot of apparently vacant land in Africa and want to get the use of it to feed their own people. That really leaves the Africans in a bad way. The government gets the money and the people who lived there really become the homeless poor. They have to find a new place to live and the crops that are raised where they used to farm now leave the continent.
One similarity to Cleveland is that ants like to invade the house, especially if you fail to wipe up sugar spilled on the counter. These ants do not look like the American red ants I see each spring and fall. They are bigger and almost transparent. They also move really fast if you try to squash them. Another type of pest that has an American relative is termites. They are a constant problem in the villages. You may be fine for weeks at a time and then, suddenly, there is termite trail climbing your wall. Here is a picture of one, before I knocked it down.
When you go into any house in the village you are sure to see the signs that people have had visits from these critters. People say, “just spread some Rambo insecticide and they will be finished,” but really it only lasts a few weeks, and they are back again. I had a termite attack on the branches that support my hangar. My friend Prosper was visiting and saw the signs of the termites. He jumped up and started knocking their coating of mud off my support and later on sent his nephew over with a can of used motor oil to coat the base of the posts (see below). That seemed to keep them at bay for a while, but it also lost effectiveness and had to be re-done.
Early in my stay the termites attacked some of my books that were sitting on a little wooden table next to the wall. I am sorry I did not think to take a picture of the attack until I had destroyed it, but it looked like some mud had fallen out of the attic onto the top of several of my books. When I pried it off, the little critters scampered down the tunnels, back out into the yard. Here is a picture of the edge of one of the books they chewed. Fortunately they mostly ate the margin, and not the text, so I can still use it.
You have already heard about my bat problem, but I wanted to show you a picture of my new bat house. The last time they exterminated the bats, I decided to try giving them an alternative place to live. I had the carpenter construct this bat house but I am not sure if they have decided they like it better than my attic.