Friday, July 10, 2009

Burkina Faso has been on my mind a lot lately, as you may have guessed from my last post. It's not only the rain that keeps it constantly on my mental radar. There's also the fact that JP is still there, nearly at the end of a one month research stint.
And Aisha just called a couple of nights ago, to see if I'd "forgotten" about her.

The answer to that question was "no", of course. When JP left France he had one duffle bag almost completely full of little gifts and letters for Yvonne, Aisha and other people I'll certainly never forget.

Knowing people there seems to be the only way to get any real news of the country, that's for certain. There's little to be had online, anyway. If you google for some news of the place today, for example, you'll find out that the president of Burkina just named a new army Chief of Staff.

It's very hard to find anything about the news I got last night from JP: There were riots yesterday in the marketplace in the center of the capital city. You only find an article about this if you search with both the words 'Ouagadougou' and 'marché'- so basically, you have to already know the news in order to find out any news- if you see what I mean. And you have to speak French, of course.

As for the news I heard last night- here's what I know: The Rood-Woko market (where I bought most of our household odds and ends when we arrived in Ouaga) caught on fire and was badly damaged in May of 2003. It was an ugly thing- Sankara's graceless modern replacement for the old colonial-era structure. But at least the new cement box was huge and provided shade and shelter for many, many small merchants. Built in 1989 to hold about 2000 traders, by the time we arrived in the country (1999) there were about 5500 present.

It was chaotic and overcrowded and noisy. It smelled like dust, rotten fruit, Oro brand insect spray, blood, spices and a million other things.
The lower level was the basics: cheap polyester clothes from Asia, pagnes, shoes, hair supplies (it was the go-to place for wigs and extensions). And just after the wigs was the meat market, buzzing with big black flies and full of huge, scary machetes -my least favorite place.
Upstairs you could find the touristy arts and crafts and fancier fabrics. In the southwest corner of that level was my favorite place: the bead merchant stands with baskets and buckets full of nothing but brightly-colored beads of every kind.

Getting through the market was not for the faint-hearted. You had to duck under beams, squeeze up crumbling cement stairs nearly completely blocked by the goods of traders who'd set up their shops ON the steps and then hop over the many jerry-rigged electrical lines hanging like 220 volt spiderwebs everywhere.

Crazy as the place was, it was the center of life for thousands of people. This in mind, I had thought the Burkinabé government would make a heoric effort to get the place running again quickly. But the clean-up and repair dragged on for years. It was only just re-opened in March 2009.

And, unfortunately, things haven't been going very well. It's badly organised, the merchants claim, and inaccessible. Business is slow. It's nothing like the dynamic and lively place it used to be.

One real sore point is the presence of a great number of machine-gun toting police officers. This , in fact, was the cause of Thursday's riots. They chased a young man through the marketplace and he died while trying to escape them. The people in the market reacted by burning some of the officers' motorcycles.
There's other news, too. For the last months the crime rate in our old neighborhood has been steadily rising. The robbery at our house last year was just one of many more to come. And now purse/backpack snatchings have become a huge problem, as well.
Good news? There's not so much. Even the climate has gone funny. Out in the Winye villages, where JP does his research, the rains have come late and people are worried for their crops. The people are blaming the Earth Priests, who carried out the proper sacrifices, but too late in the year. They were disorganised and the ceremonies didn't take place at the right time. They admit that the lack of rain is their fault-how could they do otherwise. They're very sorry, but the damage is done...


Joy said...

I am sorry to hear of the rioting and unrest in Burkina Faso, and the lack of news which compounds the worry. I hope for safety and peace for all of your friends there, and a quick and safe journey home for your husband.

Heidi said...

Wow. Burkina Faso is normally such a peaceful country (as I recall it) that it comes as a bit of a shock to hear it. Will pass on the news to my parents - they have friends in Ouaga and may want to find out more.

oreneta said...

It is odd to be between places psychologically. Feeling home in both. I know you were ready to go, but still....

It is hard to leave all the people and the rhythem of life so completely too.

La Framéricaine said...

I have always thought that it would be quite painful to have friends and loved ones in far flung places where inequity was the name of the game. I hope that the situation concerning the market improves rather than deteriorates AND that JP returns safe and sound sooner than later.

Beth said...

Joy- Thank you. Jp's plane ticket is for Wednesday night, so it won't be long now.

Heidi- When we arrived in 1999, there were lots of really violent protests against Blaise Compaore's involvement in the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo.
Since then, there have been several protests that turned violent in Ouagdougou.
And, of course, there was the December 2006 attempt at a military coup. That was fun. Not.

Burkina has changed a lot in the last 15 years.

Beth said...

Rocky- I was indeed very ready to leave and it's taken me this long to miss anything about being there. The robbery and other weirdness at the end took it's toll. I just needed some distance to start seeing things more clearly.

Pam- You are right about that. Burkina Faso does SO little for it's citizens, while President C. lives in a brand new palace that looks like a really nice Hilton hotel. Don't get me started...

Rick said...

These reflective pieces are very powerful. You needed the time to achieve perspective and distance in time and space is important to seeing clearly and acutely. Great writing.
Love, Mom

Kelly said...

Thanks for sharing this information about a country which is not on the US radar. Sorry to hear it is struggling.