I experienced my first visit to Burkina Faso last week as a first glimpse into the fascinating world of Sub-Saharan Africa.
As I came without any specific expectation on this trip but with lots of mental images of Africa, I was really curious to see if these images stood the test of reality.
Here’s a little summary of what I noticed relating to poverty, hygiene, social habits, openness and landscapes – please remember that I only spent a short week there, and have not seen much apart from its capital Ouagadougou and the southern part of the country during a 1-day outing. This is obviously not meant to be a guide to anything, just a selection of personal thoughts.
Poverty and hygiene
I was expecting poor hygiene and high levels of poverty. This actually and unfortunately proved quite accurate. I became sick after just one meal in a local restaurant in Ouagadougou (which according to the locals was on par with Western hygiene standards). African amoeba seem to like me a lot, whereas in 16 years of travel across the Asian continent, I have only been sick once!
People are very poor, live with very little, and many people, especially kids, are in rags. I haven’t noticed malnutrition though or stunting, so we are far from the images of Africa conjured up by Western media until recently.
Also I didn’t notice one single skyscraper in Ouaga, which in my view is actually a good thing, but tells a lot about the level of development in the country.
As expected, locals are super friendly and helpful, but it’s not overwhelming as it happened to me a couple of times in the Middle East.
Kids are sweet but their first act is to beg for a gift or for some money. A situation that I have very rarely encountered in Asia, and which is more commonly experienced in North Africa, or at least until recently.
I had this image of people always listening to music. In fact I heard very little spontaneous music in Ouagadougou, and none in the countryside. I’m not saying locals don’t like music, more that if they listen to it, it doesn’t spill over in the public domain, or only occasionally.
Quite different from the situation I encountered in the Caribbean where music is pouring out of almost every car, every cafe and every house at different times of day.
What I did find close to my mental images was all the women carrying their babies in the back, the taxi brousse (or recycled European buses serving as taxis along the country’s main roads), and the colorful local clothes.
I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw in Burkina, where admittedly I only visited two regions, not including the more desertic ones. I had no mental images of ‘la brousse’, a dry shrub land growing greener and greener as the wet season progresses, with some large and majestic trees which form a large part of the incredible African pharmacopoeia, such as the shea tree, the neem tree, the baobab, the cailcedrat, the mango tree and more.
I was also surprised by the lack of wild flowers, something that had also struck me last time I visited Morocco. It may have to do with the season I’m visiting (start of the wet season) or simply with the nature of local ecosystems.
If you visited Burkina or a neighboring country, what was it that struck you most?