Sunday, November 27, 2011

Farming in Burkina Faso

Raising Animals
In America, if you are raising livestock, you put a fence around your pasture and turn your sheep or cattle out to graze. Here, in the time between harvesting and planting, you just turn them out in the morning and hope they find their way home at night. I think the way you make coming home more likely is that you give them some grain or other food each evening and they know there will be a treat when they arrive a night. When people start planting, you are supposed to tether your animals in some way when you put them out to graze, and to do it in such a way that they do not eat other people’s crops. If you look closely, you may be able to see the rope holding these sheep to the bush.

There is a person who is responsible for deciding when it is time to tether the animals. This is announced to the villagers by a griot or singer who acts something like a town crier from the old days in Europe. On the day you are supposed to start tying up your animals, he goes around the marché delivering the message. Even then, some people do not respect the message and some people assign one of their children to guard the field from the animals. In the fall, after the harvest, the griot sings out the news again, saying it is now fine to let your animals roam free. If you are late getting in your harvest, too bad for you!

The cycle of planting and harvesting

I now have pictures of the whole cycle of raising grain. First, here are some folks preparing the soil the old way, with dabas, small hand-held hoes.

If you had a good harvest last year, maybe you could buy a mule and a plow to make things easier this year.

As the millet grows, at first it looks a lot like corn, with the tassel. The tassle is actually the part that turns into grain.

When it is ripe, it is so heavy it makes the stalks bend over.

People cut off the part with the grain, by hand, and then cut down the stalks. When that are finished, you can actually see your neighbors' buildings, that have been hidden behind the grain for several months.

People take the stalks they have cut down to their homes and store them to feed to the animals during the dry season.

Because this looks like it will be an especially bad year, with the lack of rain and poor harvest, people are stocking up as much fodder as they can. They store it on top of structures like you see below. It not only stores the fodder, but provides shade for the animals.

It starts out looking like this:

Than you add as much as you can. Not quite like a barn hay loft, but the same idea

This picture is quite hazy because the farmer was burnign the stubble that was left after the stalks were harvested.


After the chief of the land gives the word, by way of the griot singing in the market, people can let their animals range free. People with cattle usually have people (African cow boys) walking along with the cows to keep them together and to make sure they do not wander off. I suppose the cattle contribute fertilized in return for what they eat in the fields.

Smaller animals, like sheep, goats, and pigs, are just allowed to roam free. They generally come home at night, but sometimes people have to go out looking for them when it is getting dark. Unfortunately, as I have said before, there are bad people everywhere, and sometimes people will grab a goat or sheep that does not belong to them and take it to market to sell. Chickens and guinea hens wander around freely all year. They are also vulnerable to thieves grabbing them and selling them. Just one more photo. This is another crop a lot of people raise, peanuts. They are eaten raw, boiled, or roasted. I prefer the roasted by far, although I guess they are more work to prepare.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Arrivals and PC Medical Checkup

New Arrivals


Some of the young folks whose parents follow my blog like pictures of animals.  Here are a couple of pictures of baby lambs that have been born to the sheep owned by my friend Prosper.  Sheep seem to have lambs any time of year rather than there being a time of year that is lambing season, like spring time in the US. The one with the black face was born back in April and the all white one that prosper is holding was just born in October.
New Baby

These same friends and neighbors, Prosper and Martine, also have a new member of the family.  I happened to be working at the Maternity center helping with weighing babies the day he was born so I got this picture of him when he was about three hours old. All of the babies are born missing a lot of their color. Their skin darkens after a week or so.  A good thing, too, with the sun they have to live under all their lives!


Here he is again, at two months old, big, and healthy!


Medical checkup
Peace Corps always says the health and safety of the volunteers is their first priority.  In keeping with this, all volunteers get a full medical checkup after a year of service, to make sure everything is OK.  At the end of August I had my medical exams and all is well.  I had my mammogram plus sonogram and, at least from the reading of the Burkinabè Doctor, there is no problem there, thank goodness. I understand they will be sent to the US for a second opinion, however. My TB test was negative, although I was a bit worried they would not be able to read it because the nurse nicked a blood vessel and the area was bruised. All she had to do was run her finger over the place and see that there was no bump to know that there was no reaction. I have gained weight and the doctor is happy, because I lost a lot when I good food poisoning last year. I want to quit gaining, however, so I guess there will be fewer pancakes for breakfast and other goodies for a while.

Dental Checkup

Another standard part of the medical checkup is a dental exam and cleaning.  They have a different way to take dental X-rays than my dentist in Cleveland uses. There is a small, flat square thing that is connected to a computer that they put in your mouth. As they zap it with X-rays the information goes to the computer where the dentist can check it out.  Another volunteer told me her dentist uses it in the states, but another said her dentist thought the resolution was not a good as with the old bite-wing X-rays. The tooth cleaning session with the dentist was also a bit different.  They clean with an electrically driven instrument and water under pressure.  I am not sure if it vibrates or rotates, but it was not too bad. Over all I found it a little less painful than the metal pick they use at home, but there were a couple of “shocks” that felt like I must have an exposed nerve at the gum line. The continuous spray of water in the mouth made me gag a few times, too. They did not find any cavities, however.

New Glasses

I did have to get new glasses because the gold plating (or paint?) on the ones I brought from America had worn off and I am allergic to the nickel, like you find in cheap earrings.  I think it may have been the sunscreen and bug repellant I always put on every day that removed whatever was covering the underlying metal. In any case I started to get red sore spots on my nose where the frames sometimes touch my face, just like the reaction I get in my ears to cheap ear rings.  The visit to the eye Doctor was quite similar to what you might experience in the US, and I did get a new prescription. When I told the optician I wanted trifocals, he said it is not possible.  They only make progressive lenses here.  Ugh! They give such a limited field of view that I find them really annoying.  I learned that there are different qualities of glass that can be used and, if you pay a premium price, you can get a larger field of view.  Thank goodness Peace Corps willing to pay for the better ones.  With these glasses here is distortion in about half of the lense. If you look through the wrong part of the lenses the world is not just out of focus, but moving as you turn your head.  After a few days your brain gets trained not to look there, but I also find it annoying to have to turn my head to keep the print in focus when I am reading. I am looking forward to being able to get trifocals when I get home.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Questions and comments

Several people have responded to things in my blogs with interesting information that I would like to share with you. I will also answer a couple of questions people have posed.

Nancy Drew in French

Several people did internet searches and found information about the French translations of the Nancy Drew series. They confirmed my guess that the reason for changing the name is the difficulty in pronouncing Drew, just like the difficulty in pronouncing Larsen. R in the middle of the word here tends to come out as a W.

Apparently this was a very popular series over the years and there is a lot of information about the various translations at if you are interested.

Bird on the road

Here is the picture of that bird again.  My sister in law identified it and sent me the following information about it:

It is a Red-billed Hornbill. It lives in quite a few places in Africa. They feed by hopping on the ground, searching the surface and probing holes for insects. They follow the paths of game animals in order to hunt for dung beetles. As with most hornbills, the nest is in a hole in a tree. The female inside the nest, helped by the male outside, plasters the entrance with mud and droppings, leaving only a narrow slit. The male brings food which is passed through the slit, and droppings are squirted out. The female leaves when the young are half-grown, when they know to come to the slit for food. The parents reseal the nest until the young are ready to leave.

Quote on the carving in the forest

One friend suggested it was similar to an American Indian proverb:
We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

My daughter who speaks French better than I do, having lived in Paris for 4 years, said:

I would have read it more in the sense of something that is not our birthright, something that belongs to us and is ours to squander as we will (as an inheritance might be considered to be), but an obligation, something we have to protect for the future generations. I think that contrast between squandering and preserving, rather than the idea that the forbearers didn't think of it, is probably what the saying is about.

Answers to a few questions:


A friend reported that Cleveland has been having record rain fall this year, with 55 inches so far, compared to an average of 36 inches and asked how much rain falls in Burkina.  There is some variation, but the web indicates that the range is 23 to 36 inches.  The big difference between here and Cleveland is that here it all falls in the four months of the rainy season, June-September, and there is virtually no rain the rest of the year. I am in an area that is closer to the 23 inches.


Another question was why the schools are the way they are. I certainly do not know the whole story, but I am sure much of it is because of the poverty of the country. They try to get everybody to send their kids to school, but, in reality, there is not enough room in the existing schools. Why not build more schools? Buildings cost money, even if a community gets together and builds classrooms out of mud bricks. There is still the cost of doors, windows, and roofs.

Another problem is that teachers are paid by the Burkina Faso government, and not the local government, so money to hire more teachers competes with funding roads, water, electricity, and so on.  You have to get governments permission to build a new classroom because that will mean a new teacher will be needed.

Because teachers are government employees, the central government decides where they will be assigned, rather than local school districts hiring. That may be why it takes untile the second week of school to get teachers assigned to classrooms.

The Provisor, or principal of the local Lycée or High School was just moved to another town and the new man arrived Monday.  I asked him if this was a promotion and he told me that this was about the same size school as where he was Provisor for the past five years, but the government has a policy stating provisors should not stay in one school for more than 5 years. The idea is that if you stay in one place too long you lose your edge for innovation and fall into doing things the way they always have been done.  When people move around they bring new ideas with them.  There may be something to that, but it must be hard to know you are not going to staying in a place and it might discourage people from taking on long term projects.

Teachers move around, too, but mostly at their request.  When you start out you may be placed in a less desirable location.  After you have been there for five years, you can request a transfer to a location you prefer.  You may or may not get the place you want, but your new place may be closer to where you would like to be.

Village Chief

I was asked about the role of the village chief and his relationship to other government officials there are in small town like the one I live in.  Please realize this is just the way I understand the system from talking with folks here and there could be some misconceptions.

The position of village chief is more or less hereditary, although I understand that the oldest son may not want to take on the responsibility or may be living in a big city.  In that case the community (somehow) selects the new chief who may be related to the old chief, another son, a brother or nephew, for example. It may be that the village can chose a man from a different family, but I am not sure about that. There is a sub-chief for each small community (or neighborhood), but there is an overall chief for the town, to whom the sub chiefs give homage.  There are responsibilities of these chiefs that I probably don’t know about. Someone told me that it can be a problem if the son who would inherit the responsibility has moved to the city.  He may not want to return to his village to take on the role, and he may not have been trained in in how to make the appropriate sacrifices and how to conduct the traditional ceremonies..  These folks have no official authority from the government, as I understand it, but they are still held in great respect. For example, the chiefs of the various sectors of Ouagadougou and the head chief were invited, along with government officials, to the swearing in ceremony for Peace Corps. The head chief of Ouaga has the right to say who can use the field where we played games with the students in the English camp last summer. They probably have other responsibilities I know nothing about.