Monday, February 04, 2008

Here's the truth:If you are a person possessing two X chromasomes and an even minimal sense of modesty, the first rule of travel by car in Burkina is: Don’t Drink Anything. Drinking leads to peeing and the highway rest area "facilities" consist of roadside shrubs. Small, scrawny, practically leafless shrubs that could not even provide Paris Hilton with sufficient cover.
And while the countryside may seem deserted and traffic minimal, I guarantee you that the minute you step out of your car to enjoy a moment alone, a couple of young boys herding cattle will appear as if by magic. Then an old guy on a bike will pedal past with almost painful slowness. Finally, a bus from Mali will trundle by, the roof covered in bikes, bags, chickens, baskets and young men who couldn't get a seat inside, but have a great vantage point for being entertained by the sight of half-dressed travellers lurching around out in the bush.

So, for shorter trips, it’s just less stressful to get into the car thirsty and stay that way. But it does make you extremely anxious to reach your destination and have a glass of water. Luckily JP drives pretty fast. Even more luckily, he has pretty good reflexes, which you certainly need for highway driving here. At various points on the way to Gourcy on Saturday, he had to swerve to avoid goats, sheep, and pigs as well as a small, very adorable donkey.
When we finally got to Gourcy, it was quite a surprise, Our pal Antoine calls it his “village” but it’s actually a good-sized population center. The urban area has electricity and even boasts a nightclub called “Le Titanic”! There are no two-story buildings, though, and most of the people live out in the “neighborhoods” of Gourcy. These neighbourhoods are actually small villages, but they are considered to be part of the town. Anyway, this means that the place is very dispersed. We had to drive around quite a bit to find the party site. I took the first photo while we were searching. You can see that I’m not exaggerating when I say “dispersed”.

Antoine runs the NGO that JP works for. Gourcy is his home village and he was very graciously hosting a goodbye party for our Dutch pal Yann at the hotel/conference center he has built. I was very surprised when we finally found it. I had kept my expectations low, but was delighted to find that he and his wife have built a lovely inn/conference center with 30 rooms. It was very charming, pristinely clean and landscaped with lots of flowers and greenery. The rooms were simple and small, but perfectly nice, in a West African kind of way. (You can see the front of our room in the second picture I posted).
As I was putting my bag on the small table beside the door, JP checked out the bathroom.
“You know,” he said “The way this is set up, I could brush my teeth, pee and shower, all at the same time. What a timesaver!”
I came over to have a look, which was easy because the room was tiny and the bathroom had no door on it. Not even a curtain. And the interior of the 1 meter by 1.5 meter bathroom was set up just like many “modern” ( indoor) bathrooms here in West Africa. The toilet was in the corner, with the sink right beside it. Between the two was a drain. And set in the wall right across from them was the showerhead, with the towel bar right below. So, turning on the shower resulted in the sink, toilet and towels all getting completely drenched. It’s not a very easy way to shower, but it is particularly unpleasant for any person that might want to use the facilities after you are done washing. And as a finishing touch, the drain had no cover, just a gaping portal leading directly to the sewer line. It gave me nightmarish visions of cockroaches boiling out of it in the middle of the night, taking the lack of even a symbolic covering as an open invitation to join us. I was imagining something like that scene in The Mummy when the flesh-eating scarabs attack. (Actually, "scarab" is Ancient Egyption for "roach". Not many people know that.)

But I wasn’t going to let that bother me! I was happy to be there, sitting in the shade, drinking a large glass of water. JP went around asking after our host. He was told that Antoine was in his “garden”. We weren’t quite sure what to make of that. We asked if it was nearby, like maybe he had a little potato patch behind the hotel. But no, the “garden” was “far”, so we settled in to wait.
The guests of honor arrived soon after that. Yann and Freida unpacked their baggage and joined us. They had news from Ouaga. None of the other guests were coming! Most of the people invited are development experts and spend much of their time travelling. Unfortunately, Air Burkina employees decided to strike on the weekend. People who had planned on making it to the party were trapped in various other African cities with no hope of arriving by Saturday night. So, suddenly the party went from modest to minuscule. So we thought……


oreneta said...

I laughed out loud and laughed out loud and even spluttered when I read it to my hsuband...very conjured the mental images spectacularly

Alison said...

Loving your blog....I'm off with a colleague to Burkina Faso next week. We are going to look at what our school in Amsterdam can do to help the schools in Gourcy - I recognise the photo of the hotel you describe as the one we will be staying in....sounds great.
Will be my first time in Africa, have very little French language...but lots of enthusiasm..would appreciate any advice.
Enjoy France