This is a devilishly long post, but well worth the read if you have an interest in slice-of-life writing from the forgotten continent. The fine line between reality and stereotype gets a little clearer in these letters, I think
My friend Andrew, whose email follows, fills me with awe. Over the years he has become just about my favourite person in the world and is now in the process of repairing it… Well, he’s making a worthy effort. The gov. of Canada gave him a scholarship to travel to Ghana and help them write their anti-corruption law. Last year he was in Kenya working on the new constitution. My high school friends and I consider him our own personal Bono. Someday I’ll tell him that and how much I admire him. And he’ll call me an idiot.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Today, I had pizza.
I come all the way to the renowned Ashanti homeland of Kumasi, Ghana, and my first night, I have pizza with a soda. For $4 (an unheard-of amount). I feel a little bad, but not really bad. We haven't been eating healthy lately and the three strips of baked green pepper are some of the only vitamins we've had in weeks. Food is generally a stew (or rather a soup with a piece or two of rotten or fatty random meat) with a maize/millet/sorghum paste, no matter where you go. So it was nice to have a change.
Not that I'm complaining. I have something to eat, unlike approx. 90% of the population in Burkina Faso today. Eleonore and I got to witness the famed famine firsthand last week when we were taken to visit the village of Gourcy in northern Burkina. It's getting incredibly bad up there. If they don't get a couple more days of rain this year, the populations of eastern Burkina, Mali and western Niger could be finished.
As I wrote in the last email, we ended up staying with a family in
Ougadoudou, the Ouedraogos. One little four-room farmhouse in a wealthy
residential suburb housing three brothers, three sisters, the father, us and at least 7-8 cousins, employees and other hangers-on. Very lively place, though not very familial. The siblings come from four different mothers so there is some rivalry.
Also not much sanitation. You'd think a wealthy family could afford clean sheets and toilets. They had one shower that doubled as a piss-pot, two FILTHY latrines, the handwashing bucket was browner than the sewer water and the boys' room smelled like... MANY BOYS. Eli said that in the girls' room she didn't want to touch the wall since the grime would rub off on her. But Raissa, our friend, kept trying to spoon her and she had to grab onto the wall to get away.
Still, it was great to stay with a family for a week and get to know how to do the domestic life in West Africa. For example, when eating from the communal dish, never eat different foods at the same time but always use your full right hand and lick your hands between bites.
Raissa's father, Mathieu, who is an NGO consultant specializing in food
security and basic education, invited us to, Gourcy, his native village. As always, there was some communication problem and we weren't picked up at the
bus stop. However we did get a lecture on the Cote d'Ivoire situation from a Burkinabe diplomat who freely gave his opinions on everything. For example, on pastoralists: "Si t'es toujours avec les vaches tu commence a penser comme elles." "If you spend time with cows, you start to think like one."
Eventually we met Mathieu and were taken to speak to a director of his
private NGO. On top of being a consultant, Mathieu is also on the Board of Directors of the largest Burkinabe national NGO and has created his own which aims to educate and clothe kids in the Gourcy area who have been orphaned by their fathers. The NGO currently has 39 kids under its care, but the principal donor from Finland has run out of cash for the project.
After a fascinating discussion on the issues facing Mossi agriculralists in the area, we were taken to visit a young boy, Remi, who lives with his mother and two siblings. The mother was kicked out of her village when her husband died and now lives hand-to-mouth on a piece of land that she will have to vacate within the next couple of years. This is because it has been
subdivided by the national government for administrative purposes and the subdivision goes staight through her house. Hence, she will have to destroy her house and buy the land she already lives on for the equivalent of $50, which she doesn't have.
These people were the sweetest, kindest people I've ever met. Some people, the eyes say it all. Such was the case here. We talked about her family situation, the subdivision, how Remi would like to become a journalist but won't be able to finish school never mind go to college, and of course the famine. That night, the family had no fire burning, meaning they had nothing to eat. Luckily, a neighbor brought some 'to' (maize meal) over, which we were graciously offered but of course did not take. Remi asked us if there was poverty in Canada like there. I said it wasn't quite the same thing. In the end, the mother thanked us over and over for coming and said that her fate was in God's hands... and ours. I promised her the only thing I could, that I would work hard. This made her very happy.
The main problem in Gourcy right now is the rain. They only get 15 days of rain a year there, but that's all they need for a proper harvest to feed themselves for the year. Unfortunately, they are getting less and less. Today, people in Bukina Faso and in the whole area are dying because of climate change.
I have to go now, but in short, the next day was spent drinking beer and dolo (millet beer) with the local deputes (MPs), some of the most corrupt I have every had the pleasure to drink with.
We are now in Ghana and hope to enjoy the year here. As usual, I'm waiting for news from abroad,
All the best,
P.S. I got malaria, but don't worry, I'm already cured.
P.P.S. Saw Youssou N'Dour in Ouaga. Amazing concert!!!