Connect the dots

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Festive Funeral

Tourists often are able to get a mask ceremony arranged at a camping site for a fee. But we had the good fortune of witnessing an authentic mass funeral mask celebration. It was part of a three week celebration and we were at the culmination of the festivities. Approximately three different villages gathered their mask dancers, who were exclusively men, to the village of Wedie. In fact, women were not allowed near the masks at all. If a group of women saw a mask approaching in the distance, they immediately ran and hid. And despite not being Dogon myself, I too was excluded from the festivities and banished to the rooftops with the other women and children. The only exception to the rule is the Sigui female who cries and chants for the masks.

Bush taxi is the quickest way there

A mask taunting Alex and Ismael

Warming up before the dance

Mask police
Front row seats for men only

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Turn and Mopti

With everyone recovered and well rested, we made our way back up the escarpment to the picturesque villages of Indalou and Begnimato, both nestled along the edge of the cliffs.

But soon it was my turn to give into the heat and I was nauseous and cranky as ever. No matter how much fluid I drank, it never seemed to be enough. And when there was no wind to cool the air down at night, sleep was lost. I was not a happy camper.

I finally decided in my delirium that I wanted this part of the trip to end and I needed some creature comforts to soothe my heat stricken self. We were off to Mopti for a pirogue ride in the Niger and a hotel complete with air conditioning and a pool! Hallelujah, my prayers answered.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Can't Take the Heat

The sweltering heat finally caught up with us. Early mornings were okay to hike, but as soon after 10:30am, it was unbearably hot and the only thing to do was sit under shade, have a cold drink, take a nap and wait until the late afternoon for relief.

After our beautiful hike from the plateau in Djiguibombo to Ende and Yabatalou, on the plain, Marc was struck with heat exhaustion and we took the following day to relax and get some massages from the local medicine man.

Hiking along the plateau towards the plain

Help navigating straw covered rocks from Ismael on the final descent to Ende

Soul ergo-ing a sleeping Alex down the escarpment

A massage before bedtime

Sleeping under the stars (and with sounds of donkeys, chickens and sheep) in Yabatalou

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dogon(it) it's hot!

I think no matter how many times you come to Dogon country, you cannot help but be humbled and amazed at the beauty of the landscape and the people that have lived here since the 14th century. The last time Marc and I were here, we started at Bandiagara and didn't make it to many villages since I was struck with traveller's stomach and instead nursed myself with soft drinks and Immodium at the hotel. This time, in better form, we started in the southern plain area, in the town of Bankass.

Souleyman, Yacouba and Alex on the cow-driven cart

Yacouba is Dogon guide extraordinaire. He is the link between the villages and the western world, helping projects like wells and schools come to fruition. He also loves his beer, as evidenced by his portly gut and can't walk a few meters without someone recognizing him and he having to run through the compulsory call and response greeting - he's the Don Corleone of the Dogon.

Ancient Dogon and Telum above and current village below

We came by cart and made our way up the Bandiagara escarpment to visit the old village carved into the cliffs. But the heat here is exhausting and you realize why there are no tourists this time of year! We needed an afternoon siesta for our morning efforts.

The next day we got our feet wet by visiting neighboring villages to Djiguibombo, Yacouba's village.

Traditional animist house - guinaa, granaries, and stone walls

Millet Lite

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Into the Sahel

Just in case you didn't think the central and southern parts of Burkina were hot enough, venture towards the scorching Sahel, where the bush meets the desert. It is worth it. The vegetation turns from lush mango trees to thorny bush and sand. And if you are searching for colorful markets, you'll find them at their best here.

Which tracks lead to the desert?

The explosion of color at Oursi's Sunday market:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Burkina Faso Fabrics 101

At every market, there are fabrics, fabrics, fabrics galore! Here are some of the more common ones.

The ubiquitous lost wax fabrics are filled with bright colors and patterns. Every man, woman and child is wearing something made with this cloth.

Bazin is dyed in solid colors with subtle damask-like patterns, contains wax, and is pounded for sheen. Usually made into clothing, we opted for two tablecloths instead.

Faso Dan Fani is the traditional fabric produced in Burkina Faso. It is a heavyweight cotton woven by hand, usually in more subtle, natural colors.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lost and Found Girls

When a young girl of about 8 or 9 quietly sat next to me at the children's library of the Centre Culturel Francais in Ouagadougou, I just continued to read and translate French stories to Alex. And when I asked her what she liked to read, she shook her head no. I interpreted her no as an inability to read, which is not so uncommon given Burkina Faso has a literacy rate of 28%, one of the lowest in the world. But as the library was closing, she wandered around a bit, still keeping an eye on us. As we made our exit, it was clear, she didn't want us to leave her. She mumbled a story about her father dying and that she was willing to go wherever we were going. On the street, we firmly told her that we could not take her back with us and that she had to go home. But she was persistent and continued to follow us. We turned to her and explained that it was not possible for her to come with us and thought that giving her some money to take a taxi home and eat dinner was enough for her to understand. You could see in her eyes that home, if it even existed, was the last place she wanted to go. We thought that maybe she didn't understand French well enough, so we asked a few locals to ask about her situation in Moore. She finally expressed that her father did in fact die, her mother lived in a village but she did not live with her and that her grandmother lived in a district in Ouagadougou. We ended up leaving her with them, hoping they would have a better handle on the grim situation this girl was in.

That same day, by constrast, we were witness to a new family being formed. A little Burkinabe girl of nearly 2 was getting acquainted with her new parents who had made the long trip from Spain to adopt her. They had only been with her for 2 days when we met them, and already, she seemed right at home with them.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gaoua detour

Typical Lobi home

The best part about not making plans is that you don't have to change them. On the way to Boromo, we passed a dirt road. Marc asked where the road went, and there we were off instead to Gaoua, a town towards the Cote D'Ivoire border. Its modest museum thoroughly explains the traditional lives of the Lobi and Gan who occupy the southwestern part of Burkina Faso. A visit to a wood carving or basket weaving village means that they put on display the various crafts made for tourists in hopes that you'll make a purchase. I finally gave in and bought a simple basket.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Banfora, How Sweet!

You are greeted with lush green fields of sugar cane when you enter the region of Banfora. And the stifling heat we endured was rewarded with a dip in the Karfiguela waterfalls. But we were not alone in thinking this was a perfect idea. We happened to be there during the holiday of Women's Day, every March 8th, so the entire town of Banfora and it's surrounding villages took a refreshing swim with us.

A quiet spot to cool down

Sunset pirogue with the hippos

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mosques and Market

We made our first long trip in the van to Burkina's 2nd largest city and it's economic capital, Bobo-Dioulasso. It's sleepy and cooler compared to Ouaga. We were relieved to get some rain! The following morning we visited their beautiful stick and mud mosque, the old part of town and the market.

On the roof for call to prayer

Chickens hitching a ride

Towers of calabash and mortars for millet

Snacking on zupe zupe

Here We (Ori)go!

Can't you see I'm relaxing?

I have to admit, I'm happy to not be haggling with taxi drivers or waiting hours for transport to leave. We have spoiled ourselves renting a van with ample room for the three of us and our junk. And on top of that, the van comes with a driver and an assistant.

Thanks to Marc's dentist, Lief, we were able to meet Filip, who owns and runs Origo, a company that arranges tours in East and West Africa. They have diverse itineraries that last for about 2 weeks for groups of 6-8, but are flexible in rearranging your trip according to your needs. In our case, we make up the schedule as we go. The guys make sure we get as much out of the day as possible without rushing through anything and safely getting us to where we need to be.

The person most spoiled in this endeavor is, of course, Alex. Soul, co-pilot to Marcel/mechanic/guide/ deal maker/all around sweet guy with the voice of a double bass, has taken on the role of sherpa and guardian to Alex. He doesn't have kids yet, so he has no idea what he's in for. The slightest whimper and he's there to pick her up. I think that's why the whining has peaked!

Les Cascades de Karfiguela, near Banfora

Les domes de Fabedougou, near Banfora