Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Village

First I must apologize for not keeping my word and posting pictures right away as I promised. I took so many pictures and wanted to write so much that the thought of actually sitting down and doing it was a bit overwhelming. But after an action packed week which you will soon hear about, I finally have some down time to update my entries. And now, as promised, I give you reflections and pictures of the village.


Leaving Ouaga Drew and I headed southwest to a small town called Koubri. It is only 15km outside of Ouaga, but takes about an hour to get to via moto. We left around 7:00 after having to make a run back to 2iE so I could change out of my shorts into Capri pants. Drew had mentioned it would be very hot and there would be very little shade so I though shorts would be best even though they are somewhat of a rarity. Well, when Drew mentioned that I would draw even more attention in shorts, I decided to change. Best choice of the day. I can’t imagine how awkward I would have felt wearing shorts!

The back of Drew’s moto is less than comfortable. Imagine those old plastic crates they used to carry milk in. It is kind of like sitting on one of those, and you just brace yourself every time you see a bump coming up. The trip there was without event and we met up with Mari once we arrived at Koubri. Mari is Drew’s assistant who speaks the local language and acts as the interpreter and cultural mediator. Anyway, Mari had a moto with a much more comfortable back seat so I rode around with Mari the whole day.

From Koubri, which is a town that still has electricity, we drove another 30 minutes or so to some more remote villages. One village was called pissa, which means granite. Funny enough, while we were there I noticed some outcroppings of rocks and wondered what type they were. You guessed it, granite. These people are so clever at naming things :) So we are driving along and driving along, there are open fields everywhere. The landscape is a combination of yellows, oranges, and reds with a little green thrown in every once and a while. As we went, we would occasionally pass someone riding a pedal bike or pushing a cart full of who knows what. It became very obvious very quickly that my previous conception of remote was somewhat inaccurate. When you are out in the bush and there are no telephone lines, or electrical wires in sight you realize how different life can be than the experience you are used to. There were no paved roads once we left Koubri.

The first stop we made was in front of a tree where two young men were sitting. Much to my surprise we had arrived at the first village. You could hardly tell though… Each village has a counselor and the first thing to do when you arrive in the village to do some fieldwork is talk to the counselor. In this case, one of the two boys we found went and got the one of the village counselors for us. At first we thought he was the chief as he was looking pretty old, but we later found out he was actually the chief’s son. Oye, the chief must be old! The counselor accompanied us and brought us around to each of the wells and pumps in the village. This particular village had many water sources. And, they do in fact look like the kind you see on TV and in photographs. They are metal with some sort of handle. The people collect the water in these multi-colored jugs. They are so inventive as well as far as transporting the water back home with them. I saw people tying the water jugs onto there bikes like saddle bags and others with a push cart that could hold many jugs. We visited many wells. Drew and I laughed, and I was about stunned when I first saw the wells. I don’t think it would meet OSHA safety standards. Basically, they are giant holes in the ground. The well structure itself usually comes up to about waist high, but some were considerably shorter. One in particular which was right by a school, was especially troubling. I couldn’t help but imagine these little kids, livestock and other things falling into the well. Another thing that I witnessed was malfunctioning of equipment. Part of the problem with installing pumps and digging wells is that do not last for a long time. They can break or the well can dry up if it wasn’t dug deep enough. Depending on when you dig the well the water table level will be different. During the rainy season it rises because of the water infiltrating the soil. However, in the dry season without any rain, the water table falls again rendering the well useless. The pumps are a different story. Pumps use suction action to draw the water up. The problem is if the casing cracks or holes develop the suction no longer works. Instead of having someone come fix these wells, they just sit used. Each pump and well costs several thousand dollars to construct. This is why water development is so darn hard!

The day continued as much of the same. We went from village to village surveying pumps. I learned about four different types of pumps, ABI, India, Wheel, and Saudi Arabian (The government of Saudia Arabia gifted Burkina Faso with constructing many pumps in the 1980s-ish.)

It was always interesting to see who was at the wells. Often times it was children collecting water. Women were next and I did see a few men getting water, but not many. At each village we went to someone would guide us from place to place. When we were done in that village they would go with us until we got to the next and found someone else to help us. It was very cool.

Very few people in the villages have motos. If anything they have pedal bikes and not nice 18 speed schwin bicycles, but falling apart one speed, no breaks kind of bikes. I was just thinking how many bikes we have in our garage that we never use… Regardless as our little entourage passed through each area we attracted some attention. I had no idea, but Drew estimated our coming through would probably the most exciting thing to happen to these villages for months! What a thought.

So of course as you can imagine it was awesome seeing all the kids. I would describe them as heart wrenching. Some people say they are cute, but to me cute is not an appropriate word. The little girls are not wearing polka-dot dresses with white ribbons, that is cute. These boys are wearing shirts with so many holes it hardly constitutes a shirt. And the girls have on dresses that fall off their shoulders or just a piece of fabric wrapped in a special way. What was inspiring, however, was their curiosity. More than anything, they were simply curious to see white people. Imagine living you life never having seen a person who was green, you have heard of them, maybe even seen them driving past in a fancy vehicle. And then, all of the sudden two show up riding motos poking around in your wells and pumps. Well, what would you think! It was pretty funny because as we are standing around writing down the information Drew says "Want to see something funny?" and of course I am always up for a laugh... so all of the sudden he runs towards the kids surrounding us waving his arms around and making funny noises. I wish you could have seen it! It was awesome. The kids all scattered and were genuinely freaked out at first and then once they realized the joke, they all started laughing and laughing. It was amazing, indeed!

I brought my camera with me hoping to get some great pictures and help Drew document some of his work. At first I was a little intimidated and felt awkward, but by the end I had gotten over that. I didn’t want to take pictures to send to national geographic and I know people have seen the picture of poor children in Africa. So, why was I taking pictures? Why, because it was awe-inspiring. Not the poverty, like I said that was heart-wrenching, but the smiles these kids had; the lack of cares and true innocence. In the villages, they don’t have televisions and bloody video games. Of course they have their own terrors I am sure, but it is not the same. I wanted to capture that feeling. I also wanted to see and record first hand what water collection is like in the village.

There were two pumps we visited that were one school grounds. At these pumps it was virtual mayhem when we arrived. I felt like a celebrity, but pretty unworthy really. How was I any different than these kids? I had done nothing special that I should be born in the United States into a wonderfully loving family. It is times like these that I am so comforted to have faith in the living God. I can’t begin to answer questions like the ones I posed. It seems unfathomable and on the surface so unfair that poverty like this exists. But this is where faith comes into the picture. This is when I realize that God is the ultimate designer of the universe and although I don’t understand, there is a reason and a purpose which in the end will work out to his glory. I can’t explain it, but all day long I could not stop praising the Lord in my thoughts. Just for the people I saw, the way they lived. I realized there is a whole other way of living which is different from my own. Most of these people will never visit a large city. They may never own a new piece of clothing, ride in an airplane, or order a meal from a restaurant with air conditioning. But their life has a purpose and they are as important in God’s eyes as I am. What a thought, what a sobering way to drive home the point, that salvation through Jesus Christ is not about how much money we make, or what we can accomplish. It is about surrender and accepting the gift of God’s love.

In the United States, we turn our taps and don’t think twice about the water quality more over we never consider the water running out. Those are two real concerns to people here. Imagine having to carry every drop of water you use from a community well to your home. Also, imagine it is hot. Hotter than temperatures you think your body was ever intended to withstand. Imagine you work each day hand sowing fields of millet. I can tell you shade is rare. The water in the water bottle I brought was hot, not just warm like it gets after carrying it around Disneyworld for the day. Hot like I was looking for oatmeal to cook in it… That being said, I now realize the challenge of wanting to get people to treat their water. It is hot. You want to drink some water. You have already carried it home after having worked to get it out of the pump or worked even harder to pull it up out of a well 40m deep, the last thing want to do is spend more time treating it! This is something I don’t think I would have ever understood if I hadn’t come here and seen these things myself.

Lucky for us it was market day in pissa. This is where we had lunch which consisted of rice and coca-cola. I am not even surprised that Coke has made its way to Africa bush… The market was fun to walk through. I bought some Samsou which is fried bean batter. It looks like funnel cake and tastes like, well, fried dough… who can complain about that. We also bought a slice a watermelon, which was good but a bit warm… like everything else. The whole meal costs about 75 cents.

When we finally finished for the day we had surveyed 25 pumps and wells. On the way back to Koubri we passed a man on a bicycle and I heard what sounded like children wailing. Turns out it was a goat tied to the bicycle. You think I’m kidding, I’m not. That is how they transport them. Just tie their legs together and hang them on your bike… Anybody hungry yet?

At Koubri, before heading back to Ouaga we stopped at a mechanic because Drew’s moto was acting up. They fixed up his ride and we headed back to the city. I got to drive the moto back until we reached the city limits where the traffic was getting a little too heavy for my comfort level. It was first time I had driven a moto and it was pretty fun. I would also like to note, Mom and Dad, that I was wearing a helmet and I applied sunblock several times throughout the day and wore a hat. I am happy to report that I successfully avoided getting sunburned.

That night, after returning to my house I quickly showered and went to the rec center for what was supposed to be a Halloween Party. The shower floor was so dirty when I was done. The day in the village was SO dusty. My camera bag aged like 10 years in one day. My shoes are toast, and I could not imagine what it must feel like to be that gritty all the time. Drew met up with me at rec center for the party and it was funny because aside from one other lady and the employees we were the only ones there. But hey, whatever, they had free popcorn and shrimp chips for snacks so I was not complaining. I was fairly tired by this point so I was happy to go home early. I would also like to mention that they said on the invitations that costumes were encouraged, so myself, being the always willing participant that I am dressed up. I wore a pinkish shirt and pants and cleverly thought I would be the human incarnation of the dust that is everywhere! I thought it was quite clever, and maintain that it was. However, I was only person dressed up. My only saving grace was that my costume was really just regular clothes, so it really just looked like I didn’t know how to dress…

Thus ends my adventure to bush. There are pictures that go along with post. I hope you enjoy them. I am very happy I have my fancy camera, but also wish I had a smaller one that I could with more discretely. (ah, hem… Christmas present, maybe…)