13 June 2007

I Bless The Rains Down in Africa

I can't even begin to describe it. It was truly amazing. Here's a small sliver.

We arrived last Tuesday night to 40˚C (114˚F) weather and the last few hours of daylight in Burkina Faso. Some of my first impressions:
  • I don't speak enough French. Eveyone speaks French and very little English. I speak very little French but compared to the folks who came from the States I was practically fluent! If you want to travel in Africa, learn the French.
  • It was hot. Damn hot. Real hot. So hot I could drop an egg in my shorts and do a little crotch pot cooking (name that movie) and yet, somehow still manageable. You wouldn't dare lay by the pool but if you just slowed down your pace you could get by in the heat just fine.
  • The landscape was filled with red dry dirt and small green trees. It looked like I expected this part of Africa to look. Later, when we got out of the city, we saw bigger trees and green areas around lakes and rivers - but for the most part, it's a very dry place near the southern edge of the Sahara.
  • It was very civilized. There was a definite order to things. Everyone rode their bikes and motorcycles (see photos) but they had their own lane and used it and didn't really compete with cars. Everyone was working, activity levels were high.
  • Colourful. Everywhere you looked were people in colourful outfits - not a black or khaki t-shirt in the bunch. I got some great photos.
What impressed me most in Burkina Faso were the people. You can't help but watch them in a bit of wonder. It all has a very good vibe to it. I was expecting people to want hand outs when they saw a westerner. I was expecting to just pay exorbanent prices for the handicrafts as soon as they saw a white person coming. Neither of these were true. People wanted to do business. People wanted to bargain with you on prices and feel like you respected them because you were doing business with them. Accepting the first offer is an insult. Tipping for a job well done is just plain confusing. They were just doing the job they were hired to do. People were very willing to work hard (and do work hard) but what seems to be lacking is the opportunity. A story:

We hired a driver for the day after the event and for $150 (that includes petrol for the car) he drove us west for the full day to see crocodiles and tortoises and towns and villages along the way. He had a nice car. Air conditioning and all! We took some taxis that were bare bones of cars, that they couldn't turn off the engine for fear of not starting again. This man was well off with his nice car and business of driving the westerners out to see the sites.

Over lunch in our nice garden restaurant, he asked us (in French with Thor translating) if white people could marry Africans in the US. Was this allowed? It was a shocking reminder of where we were in the world. These questions still exist. He then went on to gently tease me that I would make a good African wife because I work hard. This lead to us asking about his life and he told us about his 5 children (2 boys & 3 girls) and his hopes for them and then he talked about the opportunities that Africans see in Europe and the US.

He said, there is no industry for the young people in Burkina Faso. His son, at 23 years old, well unless you are in the military, there's no real work. Those that do have work, work all day for very bad pay. He said, in his mind, the best thing about the US and Europe is that if work hard all day you get paid a fair wage. You are fairly compensated. That's why so many Africans leave he said. To find opportunity. His son was in Euopre (I'm guessing France) to make money. As a father, he saves and spends his money on sending his son away to where there was opportunity.

One word. Opportunity. That's what he really wanted for his kids.

Needless to say, I'm going to remember that story the next time my job sucks. I'm going to remember that story and not be so angry about the little things I don't have and be thankful for the things I do. I was lucky to be born into a life that is filled with opportunity. So are all of you.


5 of 9er said...

I can't name the movie... help!

Prashant Sridharan said...

Great post!

The [Cherry] Ride said...

It just seems so hot and dirty there.

(I'm kidding!)

Matt said...

brilliant perspective! Lots of things that are probably true in a lot of developing countries. I'm impressed with the driver's insight, too.

carolyn says said...

wow, sounds like an amazing trip.

i'll try to remember the driver too today when i hate my job, because i will hate my job, but you are right and i need to remember that sort of thing.

Shaunaphone said...

All you need to know in French en Afrique is, "ou est le bar...holdez les ice-cubes"

Loaf said...

Good to have you back in one piece, and a great story to boot. Looking forward to seeing the pics!