So we’ve been back in the city for about two weeks now and in only one more week we’re heading back to the villages for our long stay! Life here has started to seem normal, which in itself is kind of weird. One day last week a friend and I were walking in our neighborhood. Usually on walks around the neighborhood it is normal to be stared at and to have the little kids yell “nassara!” – which means foreigner – and run up to shake your hand. On this walk, however, my friend and I were walking down the side of the road when a tour bus drove by filled with white people, which is an extremely weird sight here. All of a sudden, we were the ones doing the staring, instead of observing like tourists! In that moment I felt a little bit like an insider and a part of the neighborhood (an extremely rare occasion, seeing as I stick out like a sore thumb as a white American). Other random things, such as having soda can labels written in Arabic or having an armed guard outside an ATM, now seem normal. Also, everyone in our group has started to get the hang of taking taxis here, which I wrote about a little bit before. Taxi drivers aren’t with companies and while our group sometimes catches taxis on the large goudron (paved road) by our house, it is sometimes simpler and safer to call a taxi driver directly. Lucien, who is the taxi driver that found my cell phone and accidentally talked to my parents, is now a friend of everyone in the group. He knows all of our names and is very kind and protective of us. One night this week we all went bowling – which was an experience in itself. It seemed as if a miniature sized bowling alley had been shipped straight from the US, new bowling shoes, funky bowling paintings on the walls, automated pins, electronic scoring, etc! Anyway, after Lucien dropped us off none of us were quite sure where the bowling alley was and we started walking down the wrong street. He started calling after us telling us not to walk down that street. Even after we insisted that the bowling place was really close he insisted that he follow us in his taxi until we got to the place. Of course we headed in the wrong direction, walking for about two blocks down a not so nice street when we finally realized it must be the other way. Lucien stuck with us, and because our group of 9 couldn’t all fit in the car, he turned it off and we all pushed it down the street, I’m sure we were all quite the sight! In the end we found the bowling alley and Lucien saved the day!
After visiting the village of Bereba, Ouagadougou makes much more sense and I can now appreciate it for what it is – a much bigger, more urbanized village. There are a number of large paved roads in the city, especially in the down-town area, but the neighborhoods have dirt roads. Sometimes people in the neighborhood try to keep the dust down and even out the road by dumping rocks and broken tiles onto the dirt, paving the roads with what they have. Animals wander around the streets and green areas in the neighborhood and garbage here is collected by a donkey pulled cart (when it’s not burned in the middle of the street, which is one of the most disgusting smells ever). While there are some more developed parts of the city, many people who live in Ouagadougou live in very simple and small houses similar to those found in the village.
Our neighborhood is one of the nicer neighborhoods in the city but you still see a bunch of kids running around with distended bellies and dirty, falling apart clothes. Our next door neighbor is a very nice woman named Germaine. Her husband is French and stays with their two kids in France as they go to school. We also live really close to a small neighborhood mosque. We can hear the call to prayer from our house and our classroom (in a four story! technical college two blocks away from our house) as it marks the beginnings of our meals and our classes. All of our classes are two hours long and we can have anywhere from one to four classes in a day. Usually, class begins at 8 am. We always get a break at 10 am where, back at our house, Absetta, Bibatta, and Sallimata set out fruit, tea, and Nescafe (which is NOT coffee). We usually have bananas (which are smaller and sweeter here), papaya, pineapple, and apples. I tried guava for the first time a couple of days ago! During the mid-afternoon everyone pretty much takes it easy if we’re not in class. The few times I ventured out to walk in the heat I came back with my face literally tomato red, not from sunburn but from the heat. The dry season has technically started here even though it rained last night. Many people are saying this is the longest rainy season they have ever seen! It does, however, supposedly cool off later in October – here’s hoping!
(two days later)
Our group visited the sacred crocodile lakes yesterday in a village not far outside of Ouagadougou. Our two guides carried thin sticks for protection and three small chickens we bought to have fed to the crocodiles. (The guides use the squawks of the terrified chickens to attract the crocodiles.) Stopping on the side of the road by a small pond it didn’t seem like there were any crocodiles around at first, until our guide shook the chickens a little bit (they hold them by their feet) and all of a sudden a massive crocodile came out of the water. Almost everyone in the group, including myself, each had a turn to sit on the back of the crocodile! Walking further along, we reached the edge of a bigger lake. One of the guides attached our last chicken to the end of his stick and started to swing the poor chicken out above the water. All of a sudden you could see a crocodile start to swim towards the edge of the water. The thing came out onto the shore. Our guide tempted the crocodile with the chicken, placing it above its nose and moving it away every time the crocodile attempted the eat it, eventually getting the croc to stand on its hind legs as it jumped for the chicken!
As for one more story – When out in the neighborhood taking pictures for our photography class, our group ran into a group of women studying Arabic and the Koran. They had a chalkboard, chairs, and benches set up outside. There were older women and younger women, and some even had their young daughters with them too. It was really cool to see and I got some good pictures too!
Talk to you all later!