Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Onions from Holland

These last few weeks, onions have been a bit scarce here in Burkina Faso. Prices are up, and I even started seeing onions imported from Holland on the markets! How frustrating! We work with people growing onions during the winter, and when they sell at the end of the season the prices usually hit rock-bottom or you may even have trouble finding buyers. Everyone sells their onions at the same time. That's why we are working with conservation methods: if you can keep your onions in good shape for a few months you can get really good prices, and we won't need to import onions from the other end of the world.


Every thursday, at 18h45: time for miracles.

Prepare yourself to meet your God!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Did you know that...

In following a friend of mine (lotte, ik pik even je ideetje hier, auteursrechten binnenkort te betalen in belgisch bier, ok?) who always sends great mails in this style when she’s out travelling, I present to you, the latest burkina did-you-knows!

Did you know that:

- fall has come to Burkina too: the leaves (or, well, everything) turns brown and yellow, and the light is different
- the nights are getting chilly
- this make me want to come home and celebrate Christmas
- I am coming home for Christmas, yay!
- I have a colleague who has made it a challenge to convert me to the Christian religion
- He hasn’t gotten very far
- We do have interesting discussions on homosexuality, the pope, hypocrisy and corruption
- He has decided that the way into my religious soul is music
- He may be right that if there’s a way, that would be it
- Johan is in Ghana right now, visiting his little brother Marcus
- They seem to be having fun: they were hungover yesterday anyway
- I am tired of Burkina beer
- That the beer here is almost exclusively sold in half-litre bottles doesn’t help
- There’s no pizza in Ouahigouya!
- My parents are coming to visit me here
- I am curious to see how they react to Africa, 30 years after they left the continent
- I went out dancing all night on Saturday
- I love that people love to dance here, men and women
- I had a great time
- I am speaking completely Burkina-french
- This apparently sounds ridiculous to native French speakers, me not being burkinabe
- I don’t care about that
- I am struggling with moore, the local language
- I feel like I’m language-saturated (after learning Swedish)
- This is a pity, because often I don’t know what people around me are talking about
- This is one of the hardest parts of being here
- There are a lot of things that aren’t easy here
- but some things are so much easier
- I am hoping for more visits from friends
- You are all welcome
- People here all called burkinabe
- They are super-friendly
- I feel like I really have some good friends here
- This is nice
- And this is enough for now!

Monday, September 28, 2009

What can you transport on a motorcycle?

can you imagine what people can transport on the back of a motorcycle? I dare you! Answer: just about anything! from refridgerators to an entire cow which has been cut into pieces!

Friday, September 25, 2009


Living in Burkina Faso means tolerating a certain amount of unwanted houseguests... ants, cockroaches, crickets, lizards... they all live in with me, but don't think they pay rent!

This week I painfully discovered I have new houseguests, ones I hadn't met before. I woke up in the middle of the night being bitten hard by something in my bed..ouch! Then it bit me again, double-ouch! I knew this was no little mosquito-bite or ant-bite. I turned on the lights and saw... a scorpion in my bed!!! Panic!

When I arrived here last november I thought scorpions were deadly. Luckily I had found out that this is not true, that scorpion-bites hurt a lot, but won't kill you. And luckily, Johan was with me that night, so I could make him suck out the poison. Imagine I had been alone and thinking I would die! This not being the case I was just bitten and hurting. All in all the bites didn't bother me all too much, the next day they were just red marks. I think the scorpion (which Johan killed mercilessly) was still a baby, it was smaller than usual, so I guess I was lucky. Still, I have hung up my mosquito-net and tuck it in tight now. Houseguests, fine, but unwanted bed-guests, no thanks!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ouagadougou flooded!!!

Burkina Faso is known as one of the driest countries on earth. The rainy season, which lasts from about may/june to september/october, brings with it rains which often fall suddenly and heavily, but only come every two or three days. The rest of the year: not a drop! This is one of the reasons why I am working here: to increase the acces to water.

But this week, on tuesday september 1st, something quite the opposite happened: an extreme downpour plunged the whole capital Ouagadougou into the water. After a never-before seen downpour of 260 mm (whereas the total rainfall in one year would be about 600-700 mm) the entire capital was flooded. Water everywhere.

The city is not well equiped for this kind of weather, and thus about 150 000 people have lost their house and just about everything they own. Many poor people live in houses built with mud bricks, which melt like sugar in such extreme rain. And because of the speed with which the water rose many people did not have time to save their belongings. This is a hard blow to people who are already struggling for survival.

How come it's already friday, and still nothing has appeared about this on the news in Europe? Not important enough?

(picture: ocadesburkina.org)

check out this video on youtube

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Yesterday I had gone to work with the motorcycle I had borrowed for when Johan was here this weekend. At lunch I came home to find some grass and leaves stuck under the saddle of my bike, which had stayed at home. I thought it was the neighbours kids playing, and removed the grass. In the evening though, it was there again... and today I have found out that there is a couple of small red birds planning on building a family under the saddle of my bike! What to do? I don’t have the heart to chase them away! I think I’ll borrow the motorcycle for a couple of weeks... :-)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sleeping outside

People have been wondering about my daily life here. So I thought I’d share one of the biggest differences between my European and my African life with you. The past three months (april, may, june) have been tooooo hot for me to be able to sleep inside. My house is nice and cool during the day, but at night its an oven. Luckily, I have a roof terrace on my house, so for the past three months I have been going up there to sleep.

It took some time to get used to lying under a starry African sky, with the sounds of the neighbours turkeys (who appear to be night animals), my neighbours’ (who also sleep outside) snoring, their babys crying, the early roosters screams, and the mosques of Ouahigouya calling everyone to prayer at 4 in the morning. But at least it was cool and there was a breeze. And it feels good, to go to bed early and go up with the sun.

Digging for Gold

In some places not far from where I live someone found gold not so long ago. This has lead to a incredible inflow of hopefuls souls into these places, which were just nowheres in the dust before. The gold-fever has led to the creation of entire temporary villages, where houses are made of straw, but you can get everything you need, just as in a regular town: food, water, a spare tire for your bike, a radio, and even a haircut.

The circumstances in which gold is dug for are daunting and dangerous. Holes of up to 40-50 metres deep are dug straight down into the ground, with primitive manpowered tools. It can become incredibly hot in these holes and air to breath can be scarce, so makeshift airshafts are used to prevent suffocation. There are no ladders, people climb in and out by crevices in the walls of the holes. One person digs and sends up the loose gravel in bags to his companions outside. Sometimes a horizontal shaft is dug from this hole. These are very dangerous, and often collapse, as tools and material for preventing collapse are scarce.

The gravel hauled up can hold indications of gold or gold itself. It is brought to someone on the site who has a machine to grind to dust, and then it is washed to find the gold itself. You need to pay the person with the grinding machine, and you need to buy the water to wash it with, as there are no wells or other water sources nearby (thus this has led to the creation of a small industry of people fetching water and selling it). Thus the whole activity is seldom profitable and only very rarely does someone find his fortune. But those few who do keep the hopes of all the others alive. Imagine, find gold one afternoon and be able to buy your own motorcycle and your own house on the spot, and having the means of taking two wives at once!

Digging for gold is dangerous, and only estimates exist of how many people die in these holes. Some people say the only way to know is to count the pairs of slippers left at the sides of holes with no one to pick them up, or the number of bicycles gathering dust because the owner has disappeared....

Digging for gold is something which attracts young people, young men leaving their villages to try their luck in these dangerous sites. In some villages you will find only old people and children who are left. It undermines the social structure and the development of these villages, and it makes it difficult for our work as well. How to work with developing a village when the whole active population is absent?

A day in the life...

I thought I might describe a normal, regular day of life here in BF. In some aspects, it doesn’t differ so much from all of your lives. Then again, other aspects do :-)

5h50: alarm clock, my neighbours making noise, cocks crowing, and the sun warming up the land
6h00: I get up, water my plants, eat breakfast and get ready for work. I am especially pleased that I brought with me a little italian espresso-maker so I can get my necessary dose of caffein
6h50: I get on my bike and ride to work
7h05: I arrive, and spend some 15 minutes talking with my collegues who arrive one by one
7h20: work, sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, usually because of the virus-problems we have with our computers, grrr
12h30: I get on my bike and defy the blazing sun to ride either to a local restaurant or home to eat
13h30: siesta, I usually don’t sleep (I get in a bad mood when I wake up from sleeping in the day) so I read, watch a tv series on my computer, or just lounge about a bit
14h45: I take a quick shower, and ride back to work
15h00: work continues
17h30: end of the working day, chat with some collegues, ride home, or to town to pick up some groceries
evening: either spent at home alone, cooking, reading or watching a movie, or in town with friends (this activity usually involves drinking beer, which really tastes SO good after a hot day here!)
22h00: bedtime (except if the beers got too good ;-))

Monday, June 15, 2009

My job

I realise that I haven’t really described what I am doing here, in detail. In truth, it took a while to find out for myself. But I think after about half a year I have a clear idea.

My title is “chargé de mise en valeur”, which means responsible for the valorisation activities. The programme I am working in has activities in water availability (such as the provision of water wells), but also, once water is available, activities to capitalise this for the development of the area or village are possible. The most important examples of these activities are vegetable growing and rice production.

Vegetable and rice production are commercial agricultural activities, and not easy. First of all there are all the technical aspects: production techniques, the weather which we can’t control, and constraints on water and inputs availability. Giving villagers willing to produce vegetables or rice the knowledge how to do so is one of the main activities in this aspect. But once harvesting time comes around, another aspect appears: commercialisation. It is not enough to grow onions, to make a living you have to be able to sell them too! And this is an aspect with which we are struggling with right now.

It is a difficult subject, because the world of food production is becoming increasingly globalised and producers here have to compete with rice from taiwan and tomatoes from ghana. We are looking at ways to try and make these agricultural activities profitable and sustainable for these small farmers we are working with. Not an easy task, but interesting and challenging...

Thursday, June 4, 2009


In Burkina Faso, as in many parts of Africa, there are many colorful proverbs which are based on daily life situations, just as they are at home. However, as I come from a different cultural background, I don't always understand what they mean immediately. Here are two I tried to translate and share with you, and an attempt to explain them. I think they give a nice impression of the local way of thinking and speaking...

The mother is there, so is the child. Now all we need is the rain

There is knowledge, and there is strength. Wether the undertaking is a succes is now a matter of luck.

If they wash your back, you yourself should wash your stomach

Even if you receive help you should do your own best as well.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Finally, rain!!!

Since I got here in November I haven’t seen any rain. Well, ok, there was some kind of dropping activity two or three times, but nothing worth calling rain, really.
Coming from Belgium, a country using its extreme rainfall as a touristic attraction (t-shirts saying “in belgium it always rains”, yes, they exist!) I shouldn’t complain, right?
But I guess the grass is always greener.... because god I am waiting for rain right now! Sick and tired of sunsunsunsun, sun all day. I think now I understand more fully the meaning of a “dry season”.
Today, finally, we got our first decent rain. Still only about 10 minutes, but anyway, rain. And I am ready and waiting for more! Whoever would have thought?!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Different ways of looking at things

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a young woman here, about my age. We were listening to “zouk”, the local version of a slow romantic dance. I asked her if she liked zouk, and she said she did, but that right now she couldn’t enjoy it fully because she was not in love. She told me the love of her life had just left her. I said I was really sorry for her and that she must be sad. She looked at me and replied: “no, not really, because he gave me two beautiful baby girls, which is the best gift I could ever receive”... I thought about how my culture could make me look at the same situation: leaving a young mother alone with two kids... makes you think...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Women and water

March 8th is the worlds day for celebrating women. March 22nd is world water day. What do these two have to do with eachother? I joined a course on gender in drinking water provision, sanitation and hygiene at CREPA (Centre Regional d'Eau Potable et Assainissement) in Ouagadougou to find out more...

In Burkina Faso, as in much of the developing world, water is a womans business. Getting water from the well, storing it at home, cooking and cleaning, washing clothes and taking care of the children... many water-related tasks are performed by women. Yet, during the decision-making process, men usually dominate. And as is the case with many other development issues, we are learning that solutions that do not include all stakeholders into the decision-making process are not the most effective.

In the case of our organization (PGE), we work with putting in place committee to manage a source of water. For example, a village well should have a committee consisting of a president, a secretary, a treasurer, a maintenance person and a hygienist. Together this team should take care of the well, keep it running and clean. Now imagine that almost the whole committee consists of men, while the well is used for 90% by women... can that work? In our work we are trying to include women in these committees, but this is not an easy process. Also, numeric representation does not automatically guarantee participation. So, a course in gender, to get some ideas.

During two weeks, me and a group of wonderful, funny and smart people worked on this topic. We brainstormed, discussed and laughed. Almost all of the participants were Burkinabe, so my ideas on how to include gender aspects did not always stroke with the groups', but that's also an important issue to think of: solutions need to be locally adapted to fit. So the Burkinabe way it was! :-)

After an introduction to the concepts and issues in gender and water, a field trip was organized in order to allow us to collect data in a gender-sensitive fashion. For this field trip, CREPA had asked us (PGE) if they could come visit one of our intervention villages. So off to Zandkoom we all went! We infiltrated the village with our questions, testing different approaches and tools, turning issues around and trying to get a grip on the local reality. Afterwards, we worked with this material designed a project to deal with the villages water-related issues in a gender-sensitive way.

After these two weeks, I think I can recapitulate what we learned in a few rules-of-thumb... gender means:

- including all groups, taking care not to exclude the weaker ones: men, women, young, old, disabled, illiterate...
- sex is biological, gender is a social and cultural construct. thus, working with gender needs to be done in a way which is adapted to the local society and culture
- working with gender is essentially working with human behavior.... in other words, patience is highly recommended

Back at work, I hope I will be able to facilitate the discussion on how we can work with gender in our program and in the future.

picture: field work: looking at the sanitation and water situation in a village, with gender glasses on

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

L'eau de l'étranger

This weekend, someone was explaining me the right way of receiving visitors. When someone comes to see you, the very first thing to do is to give them something to drink. This is called “l’eau de l’étranger”, or the foreigners water. Only after having offered your visitor this is it allowed to inquier about the reason for their visit.
I found this quite illustrative of two important points: the nature of the climate here, which is sure to make you arrive thirsty. But also a simple but strong recognition of importance of water before all else.

Monday, February 23, 2009


In the beginning I was here I thought I heard my name being called by all who I passed by. I heard sarah, sarah... It was so strange. Once, when children called out to me, I asked them how they knew my name. They just giggled. Then I had an idea. I looked up the word for ‘white person’ in Moore, the local language... and sure enough, that solved this riddle. Nasara is the word for white person, and the cause of my confusion.

the weather

Everybody keeps asking me if it's really hot here. The answer: yes. But it's also really cold sometimes. The past month the temperature dropped to 12 degrees some nights, and that's cold if the daytime is around 28 degrees. We slept with blankets, and sweaters, and huddled up. Desert nights can really be cold!
Then, suddenly, it turned hot, really hot. Bedtime temperature: 33 degrees. These differances are tough on your body, especially if you're used to slowly warming up after winter and gradually adjusting to cold when summer's finished (also known as spring and fall). Here, the heat jumps on you.
After the scorching week which followed the cold month of January, this morning I woke up to a whirling wind. The Harmattan has arrived. It whirls and swirls, lifting the red desert dust to taint the sky pink. Now and then a mini-dust-tornado passes by, its funnel lifting the dust, and plastic bags, and bits of paper, and everything else in its way, high into the sky.
One day I came home from work, and the area around my house looked like, well, yes, a hurricane had passed through: all sorts of garbage, leaves, dirt, dust, plastic... everywhere. It doesn't surprise me that this wind carries the red desert dust all the way to Europe sometimes. Next time your bike/car has a light red layer of dust, try to image where it came from and how it got there!

The colour in the picture is not off...the red is all dust...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Africa's Che Guevara

One afternoon in Ouagadougou, the capital, we went to visit the grave of Tomas Sankara. Tomas Sankara was a charismatic revolutionary leader who seized power in a coup d´etat in 1983, with the help from the current president Blaise Compaore. He quickly started an impressive list of welfare reforms and anti-corruption campaigns; women were appointed into the ministry, and 3 million children were vaccinated against yellow fever, measles and meningitis in only 15 days. Having both Mossi and Fulani roots, he turned his mixed origins into a symbol of unity. He renamed the country from the colonial name Upper Volta (Haute-Volta) into Burkina Faso, combining elements from three major languages Moore, Dioula and Fulfulde. For all his welfare programs, he was still a dictator, albeit a relatively mild one by African standards. He maintained difficult relationships with Europe and America, as well as many of his African neighbors, in some cases leading to war. Refusing to curb the aggressive behavior of his party to opponents, and increasingly paranoid, he alienated many former friends. This eventually lead to his downfall in 1987, when he was killed in another coup
d´etat, this time his old friend and ally, Blaise Compoare ,seized power and have remained there ever since.

Tomas Sankara´s reforms, anti-corruption campaigns, and premature death has made him an idol all over the African continent, and thousands people visit his discreet grave every year. It is somewhat telling to note that when he died, after four years of absolute power, he left behind an old Renault and 560 dollars in the bank.

written by Johan

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A house and a boyfriend!

The 6th of December, I finally found a house. It was a long and tiresome journey in finding it, and then it was a long and tiresome journey to fill it too. Finding a bed, a mattress, a table, something to cook on/with, .... in a city where there are almost no stores (only a big open market place with small stalls) and almost no fixed prices (meaning having to haggle for every single thing you buy) is a challenge.
But I managed, and am slowly feeling at home here....especially since Johan arrived on the 28th of December! First we spent a week in Ouagadougou for holidays and some other arrangements, then I took him home with me :-)

Our house has two bedrooms, a large living room, a shower and a roof terrace (which may come in handy when the hot season comes and it may get too hot to sleep inside). It shares a cour (innergarden) with three other houses, but still has some private outdoor space. It is a nice house, but does present us with some challenges: there is no kitchen and the toilets are latrines (a hole in the ground) outside which we share with our neighbours. The toilets are just a matter of getting used to, but the lack of a kitchen is somewhat of a puzzle sometimes. We bought a gas cooker and two tables to resemble a kitchen counter, but there is no sink either, so washing dishes needs to be done in big plastic bowls. Why is there no kitchen? Because most people here cook outside, in the cour. They sit on a little stool and cook everything on the ground. Why is there no toilet? Because people here think its disgusting to have a toilet in your living room! Or how you can look at the same thing in completely different ways...

Take a look at some pictures of our house and our neighbours on the pictures page.

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