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.


  1. Leah-The strawberry woman looks so beautiful and stately!--Sounds like an amazing trip.

    Love, Sue

  2. Great writing and descriptions, as always Leah-- how about you create a new air freshener when you get home called "spicy dust"!