Monday, November 11, 2013

Week 7: A Birthday, Building Work, and Bobo

The start of November was all about the sun (or lack thereof…) here in Burkina. We were lucky enough to be right in the path of a very rare hybrid solar eclipse which hit on 3rd November. In the days preceding the eclipse, Ouaga was bustling with eclipse posters, sales of eclipse visors and superstitious eclipse talk. The eclipse was even the main topic of discussion in the Djigui production room. Some African myths attribute the event to the moon eating the sun, and many people we spoke to said they would be too scared to even leave their houses as the eclipse passed. As it turned out, doom and darkness did not descend on Ouaga, just a slight dimming of the sun between 12pm and 1pm. The only location which saw a total eclipse was south of the Ivory Coast in the Atlantic Ocean, but we still got to witness a strange and beautiful crescent sun through our solar visors.

The solar eclipse as seen through the solar visors

If that were not spectacle enough for one weekend, Rassmane, a national volunteer with the Paralympic Research team, invited all of the ICS volunteers to his village outside Ouaga to celebrate the return of his father from his pilgrimage to Mecca. The entire village of Tanghin-Dassouri (and a few others, by the looks of it!) gathered around to cook, eat, pray, sing and dance to welcome the tired traveller home. The scale of the homecoming demonstrated what a prestigious and celebrated event a pilgrimage to Mecca is.

The return of Rassmane's father

We’ve had a successful week at Djigui with lots of progress made. On Monday morning we sat down for the mid-term report meeting which brought to light any planned activities which have not yet been completed, and allowed feedback on those that have. From this we were able to gauge a better idea of tasks to focus on, and started the afternoon with a new lease of life and greater sense of motivation to tick more things off the list! It was decided that Rowan should continue on the child sponsorships, website and brand guideline; Lewis to continue with growing Djigui social media and begin creating a Djigui recipe book; and Ailsa and Laura to complete the corporate partnerships documents and research.

After a good day in the office, the productivity continued into the evening with more tokan experimentation. As it was Laura’s birthday, Rowan cooked a coconut curry (using both soya milk and tokan), and, after everyone at Djigui sampled the curry the next day it was a agreed that would definitely be included in the recipe book. We also celebrated by surprising Laura with numerous cakes from Cappuccinos!

Joyeux Anniversaire Laura!

Building work has progressed a great deal since we arrived at Djigui. The structural work is finished and the sterilisation building looks close to completion. Everyone here at Djigui is looking forward to the pasteurising machines being installed so that the soya milk will last longer. This will greatly improve our sales potential and open up possible avenues for exporting our products.

The almost-finished sterilisation room
On Friday the four of us, along with a couple of other volunteers, boarded the coach which would take us 5 hours west of Ouagadougou, for a weekend away in Burkina’s economic capital of Bobo Dioulasso. After a long journey we arrived and were met by our pre-arranged guide, Abraham. We were first taken to the grand mosque, before visiting the old city which is home to a range of ethnic groups living in close quarters. The old city was built in the 11th century and it was fascinating to wander around the maze of streets and alleyways. A river teeming with huge catfish (but they can't be eaten - they're sacred!) runs right through the centre of the city, banked in some places by mounds of plastic rubbish and debris, reminding us that we're not still in the 11th century after all. There were other unusual modern additions to the city; the names of European football teams painted boldly on to the walls of some of the houses. Abraham told us that this simply showed which football team the family in that house supports. So, while there are no street signs, we definitely know who the Barcelona fans are!

Irrelevant yoga poses on the roof of Bobo's grand mosque

It was great to learn about the history of Bobo and compare the difference in culture and lifestyle to Ouaga. The Bobo landscape is greener than Ouaga and the lifestyle seems to be more relaxed. We had the chance to hear new dialects – Djula and Bobo - and it was strange to be called ‘Toobabu’ by the children, when we've become so accustomed to answer to the shouts of ‘Nasara!’

The next day we were up at 6.30am and drove 2 hours out of town to the hippo lake. It was so peaceful floating in the middle of the lake in the early morning silence, and watching the hippos bobbing in and out of the water all around us was truly incredible sight which we won't be forgetting in a hurry.

L to r: Krishma (Kabeela,) Kat (HSB,) Lewis, Rowan, Laura and Ailsa

We then spent a magical few hours walking through the nearby Forêt Classée du Kou forest where we learned about the wildlife and plants of Burkina Faso, and pretended to be in an adventure film as we traversed the elevated rope bridges - complete with missing wooden planks!

Pretending to be Indiana Jones

Another highlight of the weekend was our visit to the mountain top village of Koro, where we learnt about the different peoples that live on the mountain, and the Animist traditions that they practice. We collectively played Pied Piper to the host of children who merrily followed us right to the top of the mountain. Burkina's topography is exceptionally flat, so it was a real pleasure to take in the stunning sunset views and see for miles and miles around us.

Awkward family photo on the mountain top

In the evenings we had the chance to listen to a live band playing traditional Burkina instruments at a bar in the centre of Bobo.

Lovely live music
Finally, on Sunday morning we visited the Grand Marché, which was surprisingly bigger than Ouaga's Grand Marché and with a significantly more relaxed atmosphere. But as usual, we were followed around by a number of the stallholders intent on selling us their wares, and it was a bustling and exhausting experience. By the time we boarded our bus home, we were very glad of the chance to sit down!

After a wonderful trip to Bobo I think we've all fallen a little bit more in love with Burkina Faso than we were already.

Now, back to the office..!

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