Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Dry Weather
The north is spectacularly beautiful with its whitewashed mosques and arid streets. Walking around in midday is comparable to sticking your face into the path of a giant hairdryer, but somehow wearing scarves and long robes still sounds appealing. It must be the dry weather. The dust can give you a little cough, but after waking up sweating in Accra for so long the, chilly mornings in the north are incredibly rejuvenating. Sleeping on the roof in the Muslim village of Larabanga a cloth was almost enough to keep me warm, but Junior our host’s five-year-old son was still clinging to my neck to fight off the chill. At night before we fell asleep, all the men in Larabanga joined together in prayer at a certain point on the street where mats were laid out and prayed before going to sleep. In the morning before sunrise and even before the roosters the three mosques of the one street village all took turns announcing their call to prayer. I lay awake listening to the loudspeaker voices, but Junior and Al Hassan (P2) just rolled over and went back to sleep. I guess the call is just for kicks because no one in the town seemed to be stirring.

The dry weather feels so clean to me. When we would wash our clothes and hang them to dry in P2’s courtyard the sun would almost bake them clean. Bucket showers are always refreshing, but in the dryer climate instead of feeling instantly sticky you stay clean for the day.The smell of cooking fire is sharper in the dry weather. Since P2 doesn’t have a kitchen we brought a charcoal stove to the courtyard (living room/washroom/bedroom/kitchen) and we all helped our Scottish friend Uwen cook his birthday soup. The stove would spark and embers would explode all the way up to the roof, like our own private fireworks.

Roads: Unpaved and Paved
All but the city center of Bobo is made up of wide unpaved avenues and big open lots, sometimes used as a market place, sometimes a football field. As soon as the sun sets the streets are unlit except for a few scattered lights where people are sitting on stools outside their homes and businesses. The open field becomes a strange restaurant where plastic tables and chairs are spaced out throughout the field, but the field is completely dark. People sit together drinking a beer and chatting, but its dark enough that you cannot make out the person’s face sitting across from you. Walking through Bobo’s unlit streets is a hazard for people who don’t know where the big potholes and frequent trash piles are, but we followed the sound of music managed to stumble across a big wedding reception were a crowd was all dancing on the street around a single florescent bulb. Farther down the streets we went to eat our staple of egg sandwich and the guy somehow managed to cook up four delicious omelets on his little coal stove completely in the dark. Usually when sun sets in an unlit town, the community tends to shut down or at least slow. But in Bobo I think there may have been more people out on the dark streets that were out in the hotter hours of the day.

Past the water tower and Place de la Nation the paved roads start and so does the slow bustle of Bobo. The market is surrounded by rows and rows of motos on every side and it wasn’t clear weather they were there to be sold or people had parked tightly to go to the market. Maybe it was the days we went, but Bobo’s market was nicest I’ve been to. The cloth, the jewelry, the food was all so different from Ghanaian markets. We spent the day with these brothers from Mali who got involved when Andrea was haggling in broken French, but were more tranquil than anyone you meet in the markets here. Baba Mussa wore eye charcoal and brought us around to the cosmetic stands showing us the different makeup for men and for women. We didn’t have much room, or much money for that matter to buy too much from the market. But is was nice to just spend the day in there talking to people and looking around.

When you are driving down the dirt roads that cut through the huge open farms and villages on the outskirts of Banfora it gets tricky to avoid colliding with the donkey-drawn mango carts, even on a moto. The carts are piled high with stacks of green mangoes that roll off when the cart hits the bumps of the dirt road and are scattered all along the way to the waterfall and dome cliffs. We crashed our moto hitting a big mud puddle, and gracefully face planted so that everyone could see we had wiped out, but there were some close calls hitting fallen mangoes as well. The trees along the road are a mixture of scraggly Savannah trees, Baobab and of course mango groves dripping in fruit. On the walk to Banfora’s breathtaking waterfall you walk through a village who’s livelihood is based off of the thick mango grove that thrives next to the waterfall. I’ve never seen such huge mango trees. They completely block out the sunlight above and it would probably take three people joining arms to reach around some of the tree trunks. The ground is scattered in mangoes and the air is thick with the tangy smell of ripening fruit. The village women spend their days in the shade, piling up mangoes and the babies sit with them eating nearby mangoes. None of them spoke French, but we collected mangoes with them and ate them for lunch. Back in town everyone seemed to be making a meal out of mangoes as well. I lost count of how many stands of yellow mangoes were being sold by the market ladies, and when we caught the bus from Banfora to Bobo we were rushed by no less than 30 grinning women with mangoes stacked up on their heads, all calling out for us to buy theirs.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Burkinabe Road Trip

As soon as the lush rainforest of the coast starts to thin out into sparse savannah, the humidity plummets. When we left Accra at 5am it was still dark and we managed to pass most of the bumpiest dustiest roads on the outskirts of Accra before sunrise. We stayed out the night before to ensure that we would sleep for a good deal of the 18-hour ride ahead of us. Turns out it's almost impossible to sleep through those bumps and potholes. Then there was Yao, filming our sleepy grumbling faces, trying to capture the first moments of the trip for his FESPACO documentary. We were not able to use AC for a good deal of the trip (only when stopped in traffic) so it was a good thing that the humidity subsided on our way north. On the way home we weren’t so lucky, with our van breaking down or being pulled over at the hottest points in the day until we eventually got a flat smack in the humidity of Greater Accra. On the way up we drove through Kumasi by ten and ate a full Ghanaian meal even though must of us had just woken up from a nap. It was a much longer stretch to Tamale. The majority of the trip switched between laughing at Danny falling asleep in George the driver’s lap or on Laurine’s chest as she was trying to push him back upright.

Driving into Ouaga was mesmerizing, with all the ladies riding bicycles and motos, decked out in full dresses and head scarves. Some would even carry a heavy load of strawberries on their head. I think the amazingly aired desert weather had me captivated as well as we were entering the city. Everyone emanated a vibe of coolness, despite the heat (which I actually think is much less draining the Accra’s humidity; the Ghanaians I was with strongly disagreed). It might also be the French language and the head scarves that the Burkinabes and Malians wear that created this vibe, but Burkina felt way more laid back than the friendly intensity of Ghana. Burkina also has a really nice smell to it. The smells of Accra are kind of comforting at this point, but I’ll be honest, it doesn’t smell great here. The humidity traps whatever smells are present, so there is always the smell of burning trash and stove fires (which smells strangely good) and the markets always have a very strong odor of smoked fish and stagnant water (which just smells strange). Burkina smells cleaner, like spicy dust. At least during FESPACA there is much less trash and sitting water in the markets so they smell like baguettes and material. Food in Ouaga was more expensive and the spaghetti was less spicy, but I would go back there just to get another spicy avocado sandwich and a bag of strawberries from the biking strawberry vendors. I also really wish we had Zamcom (rice/millet/ginger drink?). They sell it cold with ice-cubes out of a big pot by the sandwich stands, and its so much more refreshing than the hot millet porridge sold in Ghana. (Anyone in Ghana: try refrigerating the millet, its actually pretty tasty).

The music in Burkina is kind of dry and raspy- a lot like many peoples voices. The dust dries you out and the friends I went out with could put some Parisians to shame with the amount they smoked. There isn’t quite the same need to dance that you feel in Ghana. I danced when we went out with friends, and Yao definitely represented Ghana with his moves, but we stopped by a few concerts where everyone was just standing listening to the music. Coming from Ghana it felt almost eerie.

After watching so many African films, making our own documentaries and knowing a few of the filmmakers personally, the atmosphere of the festival was so exciting. A lot of the films were only in French, but with some translation help I didn’t have any trouble following along. Some of my favorites of the festival were in French. There was a short documentary (like were making!) on child Tro Tro drivers in Algeria that I though was fantastic. I really liked this one fictional film about murders of Albinos in Mali and of course Rasta’s Paradise, which is our professor Parine Jaddo’s documentary was awesome. It explored Rastafarian culture in Ethiopia (Zion) where they have a big Rasta community and Rasta schools and Rasta families. Parine made a great film and just generally is incredibly cool.
Well, soon I am embarking on Burkina Road trip round two. Considering the distance I think that speaks for itself.