Friday, January 27, 2012

Birds, Birds, Birds!

While we were at Ranch Nazinga we saw lots of birds. We saw them at many other places as well. Most of these pictures were taken by my grandson, Jesse, who has a great eye for nature and a pretty good camera. I suspect some of you bird watchers will have an idea of what these birds are. I found a couple of them in a bird book and put their names in the captions, but I could be wrong and am open to suggestions. Others are, for the moment, nameless. I will update the names as folks tell me what they really are.

First, here is one of my favorites, because of the bright colors. People reading this blog and responding to my request for help naming the birds agree that this is a red throated bee-eater,

Red throated bee-eater
It was fun to watch it swoop down off the branch, grabbed a bug, and returned to the same perch.

Red throated bee-eater in flight
They were quite common at the ranch, as you can see from the tree, below, that is covered with them.  Yes, those are birds, not leaves on the branches! 

A tree full of red throated bee-eater
 They have nests in a clay bank, kind of like swallows in the states.

Red throated bee-eater homes
 This is some kind of hornbill. Even though the bill looks yellow to be, I think it is a red-billed one.

Here are a couple of African red-billed hornbills hanging out together.

This is an African jacana.

African jacana

This amazing bird is a pied kingfisher.  We saw it hang in the air above the lake, almost the way a humming bird can stay in the same place above a flower. Then it suddenly dived straight down into the water and flew off with a fish.

Pied Kingfisher

I think these are cattle egrets. They follow the cows and eat the bugs they stir up.

Cattle egrets

 I think this is a Goliath heron or maybe a purple heron It is all a question of size, and this guy was quite far away from us and up in a tree so it is hard to judge how big it really was.

Goliath heron
This is a female Abyssinian roller and the male is below

female Abyssinian roller

male Abyssinian roller
They call this bird a pentard. We call them guinea fowl.  I think they have about the ugliest face of any bird I have seen, but they sure are good to eat. You know that this one is domesticated, because of the knob on top of its head. The wild ones look just like it except for the knob.

As everywhere in the world, there is a need for carrion eaters, like the vultures. These were at the ranch, but I have also seen them on the road, disposing of road kill.

vulture in flight
You may have noticed this big pile of straw in the branches of this tree in the middle of the lake in the elephant pictures. It is actually a bird nest.  If you look carefully near the bottom of the nest you can see a hole through which the birds enter the nest.  We saw a couple of them go in and out. The bird is called a hammerkop.


Here are the other birds I did not know before, but they are now named, thanks to the bird watchers who looked at this blog.
Black-crowned night heron

Spur-winged lapwing
Male long-tailed glossy starling

Thanks again to all how helped identify the mystery birds.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

More Animals at the Ranch and Elsewhere

In a previous post I told you about the elephants at Ranch Nazinga  There were lots of other animals there and here are a few pictures of them.  While we were out riding around we stopped by one of the dams and saw this crocodile lounging on a sand bar. 

Crocodile at Ranch Nazinga
We did not get up close and personal with this guy like we did with the sacred crocodiles of Sabou, which we visited later in our trip.

Dawn's family and one of the sacred crocodiles of Sabou
From the observatory by the lake we saw a troop of baboons that came down to get a drink and play in the water.

More baboons
 We also saw these wild boars (AKA wort hogs).

Wort Hogs
There were a number of different kinds of antelope.  I only have good pictures of two kinds

Bush buck
Bush buck baby

Water buck

Water buck
There were also monkeys. There were some that hung out in the trees.

Monkey in tree

Monkey jumping

There were others that came right up to the dining room windows, looking for a hand out, I suppose.

Monkey at the dining room
Not all the animals were big.  Here is a kind of lizard I had never seen before, with a blue tail.

Blue tailed lizard

Our final big animal adventure was in the southwest, near Banfora, where we saw hippopotami. At first they just looked like rocks sticking out of the water.
 Then we could see their eyes, noses, and ears.
Eyes, ears and nose.
 Finally one yawned and it was easy to see that it really was a hippo!
 What can make a hippopotamus yawn?
We went out to see them in these little flat bottomed boats.  There were five people in this boat. We had eight people in our boat, including the man who did the paddling.  I guess we must have been sitting pretty low in the water.
Hippo boat
As  you can see below, I am well looked after by folks here.  I call it playing the white hair card. It is one of the fringe benefits of having lived a long time! 

A little help for an old lady
Last, but not least, Camels! 

Five wise men?
Not wild animals, but they seem to belong with this blog. Reminding me to say a belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Christmas in Burkina Faso

As I have told you, my daughter Dawn, her husband Jay, and their two children, Annie and Jesse were with me for Christmas this year.  After we left Ranch Nazinga, where we saw all the animals, we went to my village to prepare for the holiday.  Things are done a bit differently here than in the US, as you might expect.

Burkina Christmas Customs
While you may see plastic Christmas trees in the big cities where there are lots of foreigners, in the village the only kind of Christmas decoration you find is a crèche that Christian families may build by the gate to their courtyard. These are usually built by the children. Here is an example of one. It probably does not look like a crèche to you, but if you looked inside you would find clay figures of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

Gift giving at Christmas time is not a usual thing.  You probably try to have your children have new clothes for Christmas.  If you have money to spare, you might buy one gift for each child, but none of the kind of over abundance of presents that you find in many American homes. There is not an exchange of gifts between adults or with friends.

Probably less than half the people in the country are Christian. Most of the others are Muslim, although there are many who follow the traditional religion to a greater or lesser extent, sometimes along with Islam or Christianity.  One nice thing about Burkina Faso is the religious tolerance.  Actually, acceptance of people regardless of their religion might be a better way to put it. Many families have some people who are Catholic, some who are Protestant and some who are Muslim. Most people celebrate all the holidays of both Christianity and Islam. On the Muslim holidays, the Muslim families prepare a great feast and they are visited by all their friends and neighbors, regardless of religion.  In the same way, the Christians prepare a big feast for Christmas and Easter and the Muslims come to share the feast with them. I described Tebaski in a blog last year, when I went with an important Burkinabè man to the feast at his house as well as at the home of his secretary and later at the home of the cabinet minister for who he works. Last year on Christmas day Janet and her family were busy painting my living room and I was not prepared for all the visitors who showed up. 

My Christmas

This year I decided to be prepared.  On December 24 Dawn and I fired up my Dutch oven and we baked several batches of brownies. In Ouaga we had purchased a number of jars of prepared American style spaghetti sauce and lots of spaghetti. We made Koolaid Pink Lemonade and had some candy Dawn had brought, too.

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve we went to the Catholic Church for the Midnight Mass. The church is quite a large one, probably seating about 2000 (with people crowded next to each other on the benches, as they do here). The church was only about half full, but there was still a good crowd.  In the processional the priest carried a baby doll to represent Jesus, and placed it in the crèche in front of the alter. As he did so, many of the women let out that yell that is called ululating.  There was lots of singing by the two choirs, one that sang in Moore and one that sang in French.  This is the choir that sang in Moore.

There were a couple of hymns Dawn recognized, but the only one I knew was the processional, Silent Night.  With all the ululating, it was definitely NOT silent in the church! Of course we did not understand a thing that was said, but you didn’t need to understand the language to understand the feeling of celebration. The congregation and the choir moved to the music, dancing in place.

Christmas Baptism

Christmas morning Mass was a time for some babies to be baptized, among them, Prosper and Martine’s baby, Jean Crystosome. Dawn took Jesse’s good camera and we sat up front to get good pictures of the event.   Moms and babies were seated in the front row, with dads behind them.

As with weddings, it is the custom for people with cameras to crowd around the principals and take lots of pictures of them. At first Dawn wasn’t sure it would be OK, but when she saw what others were doing, she got in there and got some good pictures.  There were about 20 babies being baptized.  These were the ones who were not able to be present when most of the new babies for the year were baptized back in November.

Prosper and Martine’s baby was not to happy to have water poured over his head!

There  were five people who were celebrating the 25th anniversary of their baptism At the end of the mass they were recognized and lead a dance around the church.

Dawn is the pastor of a small church in Nelson, New Hampshire.  The New Hampshire Association of the United Church of Christ (UCC) gave her a clerical stole to present to a church in Burkina Faso. There are not UCC churches here, and we attended the Catholic mass, so it seemed appropriate to give the gift to the church. We told one of my friends she would like to see the priest after the service to give him a gift to the church from some churches in America.  Imagine our surprise when, at the end of the mass the reader announced that there was to be a presentation from a church in America. I managed to mumble a few words in French trying to explain, and the priest said, “Thank You!” in English. He seemed to be pleased with the gift and put it on over the other robs he was wearing. Maybe you can make out the word "Holy" that is embroidered on the stole.

After the service the thing to do is to take pictures of your kids by the crèche. Here is Jean Crystosome and his mom and dad. (Notice baby Jesus lying in the traditional woven African material.)

Christmas Visitors 

When we returned to the house we prepared for visits from neighbors.  We had quite a few people stop by, but not as many as we might have had.  They arrived in twos and threes and we were able to serve them on the porch with the few dishes I own.

 And that was my Christmas.  Hope yours was a good one!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Want to Help?

When I left Cleveland, many of you asked what you could do to help me with my work in Peace Corps. Here is a chance for you to do something for some Burkinabè young people. Peace Corps volunteers and Burkinabè men and women are going to be running week long summer camps for girls and for boys in four locations around the country.  These camps are based on a model that has been used in other Peace Corps countries to develop leadership among girls.  It was originally called Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). The name has been change here in Burkina Faso to Camp G2low (Girls and Guys Leading Our World). That is, there will be sessions for guys as well as for girls. It is important to educate boys as well as girls about gender equality, good decision making, and leadership in a patriarchal society such as Burkina’s.

These week long camps will be for boys and for girls in the equivalent of 7th and 8th grade.  There will be 4 girls from each of 15 communities attending each of the girls’ camps, and 4 boys from each of those communities attending each of the boys’ camps. That means there will be 60 boys and 60 girls in the camps at each of the four locations, for a total of 480 students attending in all. The communities that send students to the camps will help in selecting the students who will come, will send adult leaders to be part of the adult leadership teams, and will pay for the transportation to and from the camp.  The communities where the camps will be held will be donating space and other support for the camps.  We hope to raise about $6400 (about $50 per student) in donations for each camp so students can come at no cost to their families.

You can read more about the goals of the camp at If you are moved to make a donation, or an organization you belong to would like to contribute, go to that web address and click on the bottom picture on the left hand column, for the Leo camp. That is the one where I will be working.  (If that camp has already received full funding, feel free to select one of the other camps.  I have been told this is unlikely to happen, but one can hope!) The donations can be made by credit card.  Your contribution will be sent through Peace Corps directly to the financial officer for the camp, who has to turn in recipes for all expenditures.  I hope some of you will be interested in assisting with this project.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012



My younger daughter, Dawn, and her family were here over the Christmas vacation and we had several interesting adventures.  The first one was a visit to a place called Ranch Nazinga, an elephant and wild life preserve. It was started in the 1980s by a Canadian who wanted to try to save the elephants in the wild. He located the preserve in an area elephants sometimes visited and attracted the elephants and other animals by building dams to hold back the water that falls in the rainy season. The dams are built of the rocks and stones you find around there, and the road goes right over the dam. 
Stone dam

The preserve covers 98,000 hectares and there are 11 dams that have created ponds and lakes.  To get there we took a nicely paved road south from Ouaga for about two hours and then spent another two hours on dirt roads that got progressively bumpier and more rutted until we reached the ranch. There are one room cottages with showers and toilets and there is electricity between 6 and 10 at night, from a generator. Here is what they look like. 
cabin at the ranch
There is a dining room/restaurant were you tell them a couple of hours ahead of time what you want to eat from their rather limited menu and they fix it for you. It is a good thing that they have one, because there is nothing else around for miles. Here I am with Dawn after a meal.
Jan and Dawn in the dining room
On the drive into the park we saw several different types of animals including antelope and elephants, but not too close to the road.  We arrived at the ranch just at dusk and did not see much there.  The next morning we started early with the family perched on top of the 4 X 4 we were using for transportation.  I stayed down below with the driver and guide. 

Riding on a 4X4
We drove around the park for two hours or so and saw several more groups of animals, including a couple of kinds of antelope and more elephants.  There was a mother with a very small baby (well, small for an elephant) and two other juveniles.  They crossed the road right behind our car and my grandson got this great picture of them.
Elephant family
 After we got back I wondered what we would do for the rest of the day.  There is a viewing area by the lake at the ranch and we went down there to see what we could see.   Here is what it looks like from across the lake, as you approach the ranch.
Observation place
 Here we are, checking things out from inside the observatory.
Observing in the observatory
About 11:00 my grand children came running into the observatory and told us there was an elephant right outside.  Annie had been reading on the porch and the elephant walked past her, juts about 10 feet from the house.  It was heading for the lake and we watched it dust itself off by blowing sand over its back with its trunk, and then go into the lake to get a drink and take a shower. I always thought the cartoons showing elephants with their trunks extended at a 45 degree angle looked a bit odd, but that is actually how they draw water up into their trunks.  Here is a video showing the process:

At about the same time a group of elephants came down to the lake on the shore opposite the observatory. As you can see, we saw LOTS of elephants, compared to last year when all Janet and her family saw was the head of one through the branches of a tree. More about the other animals in my next posting. 

Lots of elephants!