Friday, 27 August 2010

"Tu es anglais?"

I think I look and sound quintessentially English. I have pasty white skin, which, when exposed to the sun for about 5 minutes, turns bright pink. I have ginger hair – a prerequisite for most Scots and Irish but reserved for those few lucky Englishman. And I speak French as if I was saying, “alright mate, hows it goin?”, down the pub.

So, stood outside my favourite restaurant in Bobo Dioulasso, Dankan (not least for the free Wifi but they also do a mean ‘Riz et sauce’), I’m approached by two young lads. In the knowledge they will be trying to sell me something, I prepare my best and fastest English speak, a tactic I use to get rid of people quite quickly (my French also does this anyway so I don’t know why I bother). They are ‘artisans’ looking to sell their latest ‘African’ t-shirts. Not interested. Anyway, they ask whether I am ‘francais’, “No”, I reply. “Belge”, “No”. “Swiss”, “No”. “Canadienne”, “No”. Ok, so we’ve been through all the Francophones. “Allemagne”, “No”. “Italien”, “No”. Ok, we’ve removed the other obvious European countries. Looking increasingly frustrated, one of them asks, “Grec”. Greece? Come on mate, try harder. And I am not kidding, his next question........“Chinoise”. Sometimes I despair.

As you can see, it is the little things in Burkina Faso which tickle me most, none more so than this warning sign.

What I would give to attach this to the front of my house
PS –can those of you with a decent grasp of French not be too harsh on the spellings of the countries above. They’re better than the guy’s grasp of my nationality.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Paula Radcliffe

My mum hates Paula Radcliffe. I never really can understand why, but she does, and often vents her ‘Paula-fury’ with some vigour. She isn’t the only one. The English press shower her in the very stuff that Paula herself, has a tendency to produce, during her marathons.

Athens, summer 2004. Paula Radcliffe breaks down during the Olympic marathon, exhausted, and clearly in distress. Cue the tears and the trauma of a failed attempt to win gold. Loser. Failure. Briton hasn’t got talent.

A quick look at the BBC website weather section and Athens is currently about 32-34C daily. This is roughly the same as Ouagadougou right now, although it is a lot more humid here. Furthermore, from what I understand, Athens, like Ouaga, is quite a polluted city during the summer months.

Now, if you allow me a little bit of modesty, I think I am a semi-decent runner. After a few days of settling in to Ouaga life, I decide to brave it and go out for a run. This is more out of necessity since I am running the Berlin marathon next month and my training has been akin to a three-legged elephant with gout.

I go out for 12 minutes up and down the street and back. The next day, 17 minutes around a football pitch. This isn’t very long for my modest self. There are stares, shouts and hissing from the locals, presumably because they think I’m a lunatic, but I can deal with this and on the whole; it is all good fun and banter (except for the kid who threw a pentanque ball at me – I’ll get you next time - punk!).

The heat, however, is unbearable. And this is at 8am. Honestly, if I was on the menu and you ordered me, I would come back ‘char-grilled’. Perhaps my decision to leave the water behind was slightly naive, but if after 12 minutes you’re running top turns from ‘traffic light red’ to ‘dark mauve’ through pure sweat, there is a serious health issue to be addressed here. Plus, I probably breathed in enough soot and ash from the bikes to make my lungs look like that of a ’60-a-day’ smoker.

The point of my ramble, and there is one, is this;

1) Running in Ouaga is not healthy.

2) Mum, go easy on Paula.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The lizard

There are certain things in life you must not do. Add trying to urge a lizard from your hotel room to that list.

After a couple of beers with Antoine and Seydou, I returned to the Hotel des Conferences to find a small lizard perched precariously near the biscuits I bought earlier in the day. For some reason, and I guess this was in large part due to the ‘Brakina’ beer, I decided that I wasn’t prepared to spend a night with this lizard – I have standards. I tried as many tactics as possible. I threw my shoe at it. I threw water at it (bottled water – strange choice given this actually costs money – but that’s how I roll!). I tried to blow on it (don’t ask why). And I tried to put in it in my trainer so I could throw it outside. Nothing worked. All the lizard did was scurry off with most probably a heartfelt chuckle. At one point, the lizard moved over on the ceiling directly above my bed. I don’t care how good he or she is at climbing walls, I’m not going to sleep with this thing hanging above me. So, I climbed onto the head board behind my bed, only for the lighting in the room to cut out. My guess is the wiring runs through the head board and so now, I’m stuck in this room in the dark, wondering whether to call the hotel manager to get it fixed or simply move to another room. The latter would indeed mean that I get to have a fresh towel.

The lizard still roams free.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Bobo Dioulassou

John Lennon once famously described there being ‘four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire’, after reading a local newspaper report about the number of potholes peppering the local roads. Well John, there are four thousand and one holes on the road and Burkina's main highway, from Ouagadougou to Bobo Dioulassou (Burkina Faso’s second largest city). The trip is about 200 miles and our driver, Sadu, clearly knows which holes to avoid judging by his slalom at 70miles an hour. I call Sadu, “Voila Sadu”, after his endearing habit of saying “voila” at the end of every sentence. Sadu is the kind of guy you need in an emergency or indeed, if you need a Land Rover driving across mud, water and.....errrr, some holes, in West Africa. We get a puncture 10 minutes into the journey on the way back from Bobo. Many of us I’m sure would simply call the AA but Sadu and the rest of our crew change the tyre as if it were as easy as spreading butter on toast. I just stand in awe, looking like a ‘pleb’ pretending to help. Lads, I think that if you want to impress the ladies, then learn to change a tyre – there isn’t a more manly function. Sadu. Great guy.

It’s nice to get out of Ouaga. This part of Burkina is just a wallpaper of green and not like the dust bowl I thought it would be. Lovely! Although, occasionally spoilt by the sight of a lone man, standing up straight and relieving himself, free as a bird. P****** in the wind?

We were on a ‘mission’. The centre I am working with officially declared it a ‘mission’ – it says so on the paperwork - which I think is wonderful and made me want to buy some kind of hat. About 20km south-east of Bobo is the village of Soumousso. I am guessing the locals didn’t expect to wake up for the past two mornings to the sight of a pasty white, ginger male stood over a puddle of water, a ladle in one hand and bucket in the other. I’m also guessing you’re not so clear on this either. There are five of us – Me, Antoine, Voila Sadu, Eva and Vallia – the ‘A team plus one’. We’re here to collect mosquitoes for the project we’re working on – the actual point of my visit. Soumousso is rural so it is very poor, but every single local (with the exception of the donkeys) has a ‘ca va’ for you and this makes you feel really welcome. No shortage of mossies so once they’re caught we’re off back to Bobo for the rest of the day.
The entrance to the Grande Marche, Bobo.

Bobo is nicer than Ouaga. The locals say so. Lonely planet says so. I say so. It’s not that Ouaga is particularly bad, but Bobo just feels a little more hassle free, less motorbikes and a load of decent cafe’s lining the streets. Except the market (la Grande Marche) – but I knew this before I braved going in. If you get the chance, experience a West African market. I don’t mean go out and buy a bunch of bananas and a dodgy washing machine, just sample the atmosphere. It is so intense and loud. You will get hassled but the banter is all part of the fun. Some guy told me he was from Mali, how he wanted to be my friend, could he have my address and that it was his first day out of prison – I told him it was my first day out too – he seemed a little perplexed by that one and left me alone. On the last evening, I am on the phone when I see a white guy in a car coming out from the sports centre outside my digs. It took two, looks, and I’m contemplating going over and looking like a complete idiot to see if it is a guy who I met and spent many happy and hazy drunk nights with in Benin four years ago (yes, another obscure West African country – go get your map again). So, I go and look like an idiot. “Is that you Cedric!!!” It is! Small world isn’t it? Anyway, Cedric knows Bobo’s ‘cool’ places so we go off for another hazy night. Mission complete.


Cedric and I reunited in Burkina. I've just realised how drunk I look in this picture - I wasn't that bad......

PS – It took 6 days and approximately 10 hours. My gung-ho approach to sampling the local delicacies has well and truly, and quite literally, backfired.......

Monday, 16 August 2010

Top10 things to bring to Ouaga.........

It has been five days now and there are clearly some items you must bring out to West Africa if you ever find yourself staying a whole month and like me, have plenty of time to kill. I am slowly beginning to regret not packing my suitcase to the brim with them. Top 10:

1) Chocolate. Plenty of it. I brought four boxes of jaffa cakes and have munched my way through three boxes already. Perhaps bring some will power with you to!
2) Coffee/Tea. If you’re like me, and like a decent brew, trust me, there are no Starbucks in Burkina Faso (I’ve looked!).The little packets of Nestle coffee topped with a sprinkling of powdered milk (which never dissolves no matter how vigorous your stirring ability is!) will not do the trick.

3) A good DVD box set. The one item I did bring. Sopranos. First time I’ve seen it. Immense.

4) Light long sleeve shirts. Forget fashion. Just stay cool!

5) Your work. Yes, I am very busy at work during the day but if you’ve got some work left over from home then bring some. My most productive evenings ever cooped up in les Hotel des Conferences. The thesis is nearly nailed!

6) Football shirts. And wear them! Nothing gets a conversation started better when you’re French Make a great present too.

7) A hat. Simple. Yes. For me. No. What an idiot!

8) A towel. The hotels des conferences clearly seemed taken aback by my request for another towel after my 17th shower. You will sweat a lot.

9) An instrument. Sounds daft and yes, I know it isn’t essential, but with so much spare time, a great chance to, I’ve already requested a trip to the nearest music shop in Ouaga.

10) A ‘Ca va’ and a ‘bonne journee’. Every local appreciates a good hello, how you doing? And you can pretend you know some French for a few minutes..........

Best wishes, Chris

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Barack Obama

No, I am not referring to America’s premier black president, nor the symbol of ‘hope’ or ‘change’, but in fact, this is the name of Ouagadougou’s favourite motorbike. A black (naturally), 50cc mean machine. Now, in a city, where ‘le mobylette’ is king, this is no mean feat. You honestly cannot comprehend the number on the orange dusty streets, particularly first thing in the morning and during home time around 7 at night. Around 8am, Antoine (friend and colleague from work) picks me up on his motorbike (I joke with him that in our case it’s a push bike with a motor attached). The journey is not long but if the cartoon, ‘Wacky Races” was going to be made into a Hollywood smash hit then I’d look no further than Ouaga. The sheer number of bikes also makes the air thick with soot and ash so if you want to stop climate change Barack, nevermind getting a bike named after yourself, I’d start here mate.

Talking of bikes, I’ve just been to my first, and most probably, only Burkina Faso wedding (friend of Antoine’s – no, I don’t just go to random weddings for kicks!). The wedding itself was all pretty standard but after the ‘I dos’, everyone got onboard a bike and we all made way for more ceremony and food in a huge convoy, travelling purposely slowly and subsequently, causing gridlock throughout the city centre. Anyone up for this on the M25 at the next wedding?

Meanwhile, back at ‘les Hotel des Conference’, we have 32 ‘couples’ who have requested double rooms (i.e. two couples to a room) away from any other guests, according to the hotel marketing manager. The swingers are in town baby!


Picture: 'The mean machine'. Antoine or the bike?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Ouagadougou: Probably the best baggage reclaim in the world.

The baggage reclaim at Ouagadougou airport is a lesson for all those breakdown prone conveyor belts and ‘let’s have another strike’ baggage handlers all around the world. Two guys. One big trolley. Mission: to dump and scatter the luggage on the floor in the most random way possible. Cue a massive passenger scrum. Job done! I am guessing the success rate of obtaining the right bag is significantly reduced but this is way more fun.

I email from ‘les Hotels des Conferences’ on the outskirts of ‘Ouaga’ city centre. I have a desk, a cold shower and an itchy bed. And plenty of flies to keep me company. It does more than a job although you would have to be a large giraffe, with an unusually long neck by giraffe standards, to see the ‘one channel’ TV from the bed (that is the view from my pillow). But hey, the WiFi works so whats there to moan about.........

Once settled, to the hotel restaurant. I am guessing I was barely three minutes into my rice fish supper last night, when something MarsBar sized and scurrying along caught the eye underneath the table. A small rodent perhaps? Oh no, not to worry, it’s only a cockroach. Now, if you’re in the Little Chef back in the UK (never mind somewhere with actual real food – I urge you to go to the Little Chef and have the scrambled eggs – might as well just eat some Playdoh) most of us would be storming straight over to the ‘Hot Plate’. It’s strange how these things simply make you shrug your shoulder over here. You’re in Africa now boyo – get on with it!

A demain..............

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

"Waga where?"

“Chris, where are you going?”, “Ouagadougou”, “Waga what?”, “Ouagadougou”, “Wag-ya-dodo”, “No, Ouagadougou!”, “Where’s that?”, “Burkina Faso”, “Never heard of it”.

I’ve had this roundabout conversation everyday for the past month now since I knew I was off to Burkina Faso for four weeks. So what do I know about Ouagadougou apart from it pretty much guarantees you a comprehensive victory in Scrabble. Not a lot to be honest. It’s in West Africa, its poor, it’s hot and wet (in August anyway – not the poor bit, that is an all year round thing) and their football team are affectionately known as ‘Les Etalons’ (The Stallions). So, sat in Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and full-up on a most expensive and anti-climatic ‘le ceaser salad’, I thought I should touch base back home with this blog and tell you about a country most of us have clearly never heard of. So go and look Burkina up on a map and until next time......