Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Things in Ouaga seem to be calm this morning. I'll be going into the city center in about an hour, so I'll have a look and see what's up. The government seems to be expecting a large, peaceful demonstration.

So, as I have nothing to add in the way of news, I will comment on the latest faddish craze sweeping the globe:

Everybody is moving to Burkina Faso !!

OK. Maybe there are three or four of you staying behind in North America and Europe to keep things going, so ice hockey and the Louvre don’t disappear from the face of the earth. But everybody else seems to be headed for West Africa.

I sort of feel that way lately. I’ve gotten so many e-mails the last few months from people getting ready to move to, or at least visit, Burkina Faso!

Of course, I think it’s great and I am very happy to share what little wisdom I have garnered over the last nine years or so. In fact, it makes me deeply happy to think that my advice might help make someone’s move here easier than my own was, so many years ago.
Actually, my first stay in Burkina was in 1994 and it was a complete disaster. I was supposed to stay for two months and I barely lasted two weeks. It was so mind-bendingly horrific that I’m sure I will eventually write a long, extremely humorous novel about it. Or at least an interesting blog post.

But we don’t have time for pointless digressions- we need to get down to business.

I started writing Part II of my list of what to bring to Burkina and quickly discovered that I have a lot to say on the subject. A whole lot. So, I’ll have to break up the list, publishing it here a little at a time.

Toothpaste : Don’t bring

At Marina Market a couple of days ago, I did an informal toothpaste survey. A close look at the shelves revealed over 13 different kinds of Colgate toothpaste. There is whitening formula, breath-freshening formula, sensitive gum formula and, in short, everything except a special formula for demented expat mothers of four who stand around for ten minutes in Marina Market staring at the toothpaste.

They also have four kinds of Crest, a wide variety of AquaFresh (pump and tube! Woo!) and Signal. They even have entertaining (in a disturbing way) French brands of toothpaste that taste like grass.

There is a heck of a lot of toothpaste at Marina Market, even in this time of shortages.

Scimas Market has lots of different types of Signal and AquaFresh. They also have various varieties of Close-Up.

Close-Up is the brand you are likely to find in the small local shops and stands outside of the city center. You can depend on finding your choice of red or green Close-Up. These places also tend to carry odd brands of toothpaste labelled in Chinese characters, with the stray bit of English thrown in to add glamour and exoticism.

They are quite cheap. I think that this is because they are mainly composed of plaster, powdered human bone and arsenic. Just a guess.

Stick with the Close-Up.

One exception: If you are bringing a huge container over and have extra space, you could bring along a case of good, cheap toothpaste. It might end up costing the same as, or less than buying it here.

But if packing space is limited, don’t waste space on it.

Battery operated (or rechargeable) fan: Bring

This is an item that you will only need (probably) three months out of the year. But you will be very glad you have it when it’s 10pm, 100°F, the power is off and you need to get to sleep. Or even worse, you have kids tossing miserably under their mosquito nets.

Our first years here, we used our personal fans a lot at night during power cut
But over the years, we got used to the heat.
Related anecdote: Last weekend, Valentine and I brought a visitor from England to see the Village Artisanal craft center. As we walked along, our visitor asked “So, how do you handle this heat?”

Valentine and I were shocked.

“But..this is NICE weather!” my daughter protested.

“Yes! It’s VERY cool today! Lovely!” I added.

The English Rose smiled and said “Well, I guess that answers my question.”

So, eventually you get so acclimatised that you don’t even know you are acclimatised. If that makes sense.

I have found that when I feel that it’s “too” hot here, I take the two-pronged Burkinabe approach:

1. complain a bit (they call it “venting” for a reason)

2. move very, very slowly

But the first few years, the fans came in handy.


Catherine said...


I hope all is well in Ouaga today!

I am getting ready for my trip and I have a little question for you.

I know you said not to bring mini skirts and shorts, but I was just wondering if capris were ok? Or if I should just stick to longer skirts...

Also, what do you think of tank tops and sleeveless shirts? Should I stick to t-shirts?

Thanks for the advice!


Benoit Lescarbeau said...

I'll be replacing someone, so I won't unbalance the nassara ratio!

It's probably just an effect of the web, but it does seem like there's a lot of strangers in Burkina Faso. I was wondering about the effect of seeing so many foreigners stay for a while and then leave their country. Does it make the average Burkinabé somewhat indifferent to the strange white couple next door? Is it possible to make local acquaintances or are there too many social barriers?