Le Retour - 3 Weeks in Burkina Faso
The last time I was in country was as a Peace Corps volunteer (2011-2013). And I’ll be the first person to admit that prior to being a PCV, Burkina Faso had only crossed my mind when memorizing capitals for a Social Studies quiz in 10th grade…(FYI – The capital of BF is Ouagadougou [Wah-Gah-Doo-Goo])
While staying in Ouaga, I have been fortunate enough to interact with several of our government officers at the US Embassy, as well as both current and former members of the Burkinabè government and military. Understanding both the US and Burkinabè perspectives on our security cooperation has been at the foundation of the research. However, I’ve found that in all of the interviews and conversations I’ve had thus far (on either the US or BF side) there is a recurring issue that is brought up each time without fail – “Everything depends on the elections…”
Last October, protests swept through the capital and several other provincial capitals on the eve of a parliamentary vote which was slated to decide whether President Blaise Compaoré could amend the constitution and abolish the presidential term limits. After 27 years in power, Compaoré relinquished his power amid the chaotic uprising and has been living in exile in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire ever since. There has been a transitional government in place since November 2014, and now the country is less than two months away from what promises to be an interesting double election (Parliamentary/Presidential) in October 2015.
The population is anxiously awaiting the elections as so many other policy issues will be predicated upon the results. The fate of the Presidential Guard and other military defense/security forces, the restructuring of the local governments (in this transitional year the traditional mayoral roles and local governance offices throughout the country have been suspended and replaced with regional transitional councils), national constitutional reform, etc.
Whether you go out to the marchés (markets), street food stalls, bars, etc or even someone’s courtyard for some tea under the tree – you’ll be sure to overhear passionate discussion and debate on the future of the country. With over 45% of the population being under the age of 20yrs, the youth make up the majority of the population in Burkina and have therefore only ever known one president in their lifetime.
I am truly grateful to SSP for the opportunity to come back to Burkina at such an exciting time!
What is the best day you had on your trip?
I couldn’t come all the way back here and not visit my village/site! Going back to Tougan, my old site was definitely the best part of the trip. Albeit a quick weekend excursion, it was an incredible opportunity to reconnect with the people who became my family over the two years I lived there. I will always cherish their kindness and selflessness.
While the visit was great and seeing everyone was fantastic, I forgot how the voyage to get to Tougan was not-so-great. It is the end of August, and rainy season is at its best. The distance between Ouaga and Tougan is roughly 220km (approx. 136miles). But because only half of that distance is paved and the rest is “voie rouge” (or “red route” aka dirt road), you should prepare yourself to be on the road for a while. It started raining only thirty minutes after we left the station...we departed on Friday at 13h00 and arrived in Tougan at 21h00. And believe it or not, that was considered “making good time.”
But the trials of tackling the “voie rouge” were immediately worth it once I got to see everyone!
What are two interesting things about Burkina Faso that the average person doesn’t know?
- That it exists!? (Sorry, that was too easy! But really…until that Social Studies quiz…)
- Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, is about the same size as Colorado and has a population around 17 million people. Within that population, over 60 different ethnic languages are spoken throughout the country. French is the official language, and Mooré and Dioula are two of the most popular local languages widely spoken.
- Burkina Faso is also home to the largest and oldest film festival in Africa. The Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou aka FESPACO was established in 1969. FESPACO takes place in Ouagadougou and is hosted every two years. This event is one of Burkina’s largest tourism draws. There were talks of cancelling this year’s edition of the festival due to the Ebola crisis and last year’s political uprisings, but ultimately “the show went on” and this past March marked the 24th Edition of FESPACO.
Show us a picture of your first meal. What is it?
Riz Sauce Arachide – Rice with Peanut Sauce – an absolute classic. For me this dish is total comfort, West African food. I arrived pretty late in the evening and went straight to the hotel, but the next morning a friend from village, who is living in Ouaga now, picked me up first thing in the morning and said, “Let’s go! Mariam [his wife] is making you tige dige na (Dioula for Peanut Sauce) and I found some beers from Togo, but don’t ask me how I got them.”
On the mound of the rice you can see a little yellow pepper. Hot peppers here are amazing, and I have yet to find the same kind of taste you get from these hot peppers anywhere else in the world. (Yes, I am that person that always reaches for the Srirachra) Piment (Hot Sauce/Spice) is always served with your food and it is either frais (fresh, and in liquid form - straight up crushed hot peppers and oil) or a dry powder (ground-up dried hot peppers). If you hold the jar of piment frais too close to your face, your eyes will start to water! It’s definitely a lot stronger and so my motto is always ‘Fresh is best!’ Mariam remembered my spice addiction and sought out the BEST hot peppers.
I couldn’t have asked for a better first meal in country! Good friends, good food. “La vie, c’est comme ça.”