Posts Tagged 'Burkina Faso'


I watched in astonishment and horror the news about the Malaysian flight that went down in the Ukraine. A local conflict brought into many Dutch families’ homes in ways they could never have imagined. It never occurred to me that overflying conflicted places could be dangerous. I will be flying tonight over some turbulent areas too, Mali, Libya.

I try to imagine the reasoning that led to the launch of the missile, if that is indeed what happened. Was it an error? Was it a bet, an overdose of testosterone? We will probably never know.

I have made my way to Ouagadougou after a slightly less restless night but I continue to cough in a way that, I am sure, my fellow travelers tonight will not like. I reserved a day room in a small guesthouse recommended by a friend. It is very cute, very African in the way foreigners would characterize African – wrought iron furniture, nice textiles, tiles, wooden statues and art. It also means there is a mosquito net which one finds rarely in African hotels. I was told by the management of the hotel I stayed in on my way in, and the same chain also in Bobo, that guests don’t like mosquito nets because they say it unhygienic. I find that rather surprising given that my bed has a blanket that I doubt gets washed between customers. The pillows and mattress, once you look under the covers, are rather gross and the shower curtain had not been washed in weeks, if ever, slippery with mold.

I was picked up at the airport by a taxi sent by the guesthouse. It was an old Mercedes that, after some buffing, would have done nicely in an antique car parade in the US. The driver too, he was also antique, wiping the windows with a dirty old rag so I could see the city.

It has been raining heavily which means the temperature is below 30 and people are happy. Unlike in Holland where, if you are not a living from the land, rain is seen as a disturber of plans; here it is a source of joy and life.


The weather is a little cooler than yesterday; there is a breeze, but other than that, in the middle of the day, everyone seems to be waiting. Everything has slowed down. We are in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. Those who fast are waiting for the sun to set. I am waiting to leave for home and the hotel staff is waiting for people to ask them something. The general feeling of lethargy is all around; so well described in Naipaul’s Bend in the River, though there is slightly more action in Bobo.

After a meeting in the office to tie up loose ends and review our work, past and future, I said my goodbyes and returned to my hotel to take a nap. It didn’t do me any good. i went for a short walk to pull some more money out of the wall. On the way back I walked past the two supermarkets. I felt like buying an ice-cream to give my throat some relief but the supermarkets still close several hours in the middle of the day – I would have to wait. I remember that supermarkets used to be closed when we lived in Dakar, decades ago – everything stopped during the middle of the day. Nothing has changed.

Then and now men lie on their traditional African chair planks, one plank inserted in another at a 120 degree angle – sometimes they scratch their crotches – it is the one pervasive image I have of African men that stands in sharp contrast to the women – always busy taking care of stuff or earning money. I watch the young men across from the hotel. Some sit in the same position for hours, never moving. They chat with other men and I wonder how they earn a living. Sometimes, when I cannot sleep at night I look out on the street, and there they are, still in the same position. It may be 1 o’clock in the morning. It is one of the big questions I have – why don’t the women put them to work?

The lethargy also creates a sense of ‘never mind,’ or que sera sera,’ a fatalism that whatever comes will come. Of course all this pertains only to the men I see in the street. Office men, functionaries, professional staff work hard, or at least they say they do. It has been a long time since I actually made 9-5 days in an African office and things have changed. With internet there’s always work.

I returned to the hotel, not wanting to wait for the supermarket to open. I am not even sure they have ice cream. Their dairy and vegetables cases are mostly empty, reminding me of Soviet stores in the early 70s –and I probably should not trust ice cream in a climate as hot as this one – I am sick enough as it is.

The lethargy has spread to me. My respiratory troubles make me not want to spend any energy on anything – it’s too much of an effort. But I don’t want to sleep either; afraid I have another sleepless night. And so I just wait, watch the hours go by. It is probably exactly what my body needs right now.

Dragging along

My body has made it very clear that this travelling should stop. People have been asking me how do you do it, and in this trip the answer is revealed, not well. Yesterday I dragged myself through the day, sputtering and coughing with very low energy. I was relieved when the day ended and went to bed early in the hope of a good night sleep. But the night brought little relief as my body kept reminding me that I am not well and shouldn’t be here, but rather in lobster cove, being attended to by my best friend.

I keep drinking enormous quantities of hot water, lime and honey but it feels less effective now, aside from hydrating me in this warm place where temperatures remain in the upper 30s.

The explosion in Ouaga has been explained in different ways but I was glad to learn it was not the beginning of the revolution. Some said it was an error, others it was revenge.

The workshop concluded with a reformulation of the projects that the remaining people will focus on. I will support the group and my colleague from afar and he is, at least according to the budget, on his own for the next workshops. Although I cannot come to his aid in person, I hope I can help get some support for him as doing this on his own would be more than a small challenge.

Peace and bees

We completed the second day of our three day workshop yesterday and some things are starting to come into focus – which is exactly the idea as this workshop is about focusing. I was able to hold on to my voice although I am starting to sound like a frog. I continue to drink liters of water, warm water with honey and lime. It seems to work, maybe even better than the medicine I don’t recognize.

We talked a lot about the elements that make or break a good work climate, which, not surprisingly, inserted a lot of energy in the group. It’s a near universal conversation that could be held, more or less about the same topics. The tendency, here and elsewhere, is to look for solutions in rules and procedures, better understanding of them and enforcement. They are technical solutions to adaptive problems and, I am sure, none of them will produce what they are really seeking – others to change their behavior so that we can all be happy.

I am reading, in the empty moments, Kegan and Lahey’s formidable book about Immunity to Change. It appeals to me as a psychologist and a facilitator of change processes. It helps me see more keenly where we engage in wishful thinking and where change may really be possible.

In the evening our small MSH team was invited at the house of a long time friend and mentee from Guinee who has lived and worked here for 8 years. He built a house on a house lot that was given to him as part of some important celebration here in Burkina Faso, five years ago which turned out to be a great investment. It seems that people who invested in land and houses did better than those who put their money in banks. He certainly has done well.

The talk about land and houses led to my query about the country in West Africa (or even Africa for that matter) where each of them would prefer to live if they’d have a choice. Considerations of quality of life, political context and environment entered into the calculations. To my surprise none of them said Burkina Faso and I understood that all believe that sooner or later this place will explode in a presidential crisis and as a result of poor management of government-opposition conflicts. When I asked whether this would be an internal affair I was told by all that no conflicts in Africa are internal affairs only. And here I thought that Burkina Faso was this peaceful, sleepy place.

As if to underline this condition I received from our International SOS Security Advisories an automated message this morning that explosions in Ouagadougou destroyed some 30 houses yesterday. The Laarle area of the capital is cordoned off for further investigation by police and security forces. I checked on the international and then local news but there is no mention of this; international is all about the same as it has been the last few days: Gaza, Ukraine and Germany winning the world cup. The local news has a talk show about values. A search on the internet on ‘explosion’ and Ouagadougou’ turns up that there is an explosion in the number of internet cafes in Ouagadougou while the connections remain poor. Indeed, I can’t find anything else as further queries tell me the pages cannot load.

In the meantime the virus attacking my larynx seems to have given up and has morphed into a regular common cold, hopefully losing steam in the next 24 hours. It must have been the honey. I am grateful to the local bees who have come to my aid and put the aggressive virus in its place.

Slow start

My colleague provided me with some medicine to stave off the laryngitis. I followed his directions without questioning – which, when I read the instructions later, I probably should not have done. He gave me some anti-inflammatory and antibiotic tablets, suggesting a dose higher than suggested. I took one without the other, not wanting to contribute to the creation of super bugs here in Burkina. Although I didn’t feel in top form during the day, I was good enough to manage my malaise and keep my voice. I also drank about 3 liters of water.

Now, in the evening, having discovered I already took the maximum daily dose, I am fading fast. The cough and throat ache are worsening. I will make it a 12 hour night.

We had a slow start for the first day of our 2nd leadership development workshop. Two people showed up at nine, and slowly, over the next one and a half hour the remaining 7 showed up. I used to get really upset about such things and wanted people to be more disciplined. But all this wanting and pushing didn’t make a difference and now I simply accept it rather than judge it as a lack of interest. Who am I to know what the reasons are for people’s behavior? It’s better this way. From time to time I would ask whether we could start and then waited for my cues.

As a result we sort of slid sideways into the workshop; more of a conversation than anything else, during which I learned some interesting things – so it wasn’t lost time, as I used to think. Time spent speaking with others about things that matter is never really lost.

I had expected that we would have more than enough time to complete today’s program, and even continue sessions from the second day. After all, the program is timed for the entire morning and part of the afternoon during which at least 7 teams are supposed to present the results of their scanning activities over the last 2 months.

We never had 7 teams. We started with four, then one dropped out and it was clear that another team had been inactive. Still, in spite of having only two teams present, we weren’t able to complete all sessions scheduled for today. In some ways it is easier to work with a very large group because you move on even if not everyone is there. When there are only 9 people in the room, in 3 teams of 3, you can’t do that.

Nevertheless, I think we are off to a good start. We continue to move back and forth between two languages, with the Liberians being good troopers and mostly participating in French; occasionally we switch to English and then the Francophones are good troopers. We have the handouts and facilitator guide in two languages handy and so the bilingualism of this program is working out OK. Sometimes I don’t even know which language I am speaking.

We spent quite a bit of time talking about positional versus relational approaches to leadership and gender, which in French is sexospecificite; a mouthful that trips me up each time. We agreed finally to just say gender and use the English only, after having agreed that we don’t just mean women.


Last night I was invited for a traditional Senegalese meal by my colleague who, since I left in April, has brought his newborn, toddler and wife up to join him. They are all from Senegal and we feasted on Tjeeboudien, a combination of rice, fish and vegetables, eating from a common platter. One eats from the section of the platter directly in front and then staying within that section. It is the role of the host or hostess to constantly shove the choicest pieces to the sections of the guests. And all along we watched, on a tiny screen, the final match of the world cup.

I woke up with all the signs of a laryngitis in the making. Here I have come 6000 miles and now I am losing my voice? I sent an urgent text to my co-facilitator who is also a doctor, to get me some miracle medicine hoping to stop the progress. For once I didn’t bring my salt packets to start gargling as soon as I got up.

The shower was cold and the shower curtain slimy with mold. At breakfast the rancid butter from yesterday was still laid out as if I hadn’t said anything about it and the freshly squeezed orange juice was immediately invaded by a large shiny fly.

One could take all this as signals that this is not going to be a good day; but then when I watch what is happening in Gaza, I tell myself to get real. I am sure they take rancid butter, cold showers, slimy curtains and flies in the OJ anytime there if these rockets could just stop.

This little outing into thinking that somehow the universe conspires against me on certain days is, I have to remind myself, a relic from a time when the human mind (mine and others) were primitive and not ‘self-authoring, establishing a sense of the world that is made by myself, not authored by some magical force. It reminds me of situations where I was working with people who weren’t able to do this self-authoring and thus totally in the grip of something that would not do them any good, without knowing it. This brings me back to Gaza. What are they thinking?


I am back in Burkina, after a not too strenuous trip, even with my tendinitis brace. In Paris I saw my name on a TV screen which I hoped, and indeed was, a slight movement forward, from the main cabin to Premium Economy, which is like a mini business class – a smaller version of the fancy B-class seat, an amenities pouch of a slightly inferior quality and content than the B-class one, and a little cone with French regional ‘friandises,’ all high sugar content, which I munched down immediately after having deliberately stayed away from sugar the entire week.

Given that I have a very expensive ticket, over 3000 dollars, the upgrade felt more like an entitlement than a nice geste from Air France.

In Ouaga I was helped with my carry-on by a nice American gentleman whom, with many others from the US military, had come to Ouaga for some training or other, presumably to stop the advances of insurgents in the region. It is quiet military preparedness action, it seems, that doesn’t get any media coverage as there is nothing acute and newsworthy going on here at the moment.

At the hotel, a different one from the not so good experience at Palm Beach last time, was pretty much the same, room and general ambiance wise; except the staff was nicer and more attentive. They had prepared a room with a mosquito net which is not standard issue here in this country where malaria is endemic after we had made a special request.

Unfortunately I could not have a mosquito net AND internet connection which seemed like an unfair choice. In the end, the need to be connected to the world and talk with Axel prevailed and I declined the moustiquaire; instead I cranked up the airco which is about as good as if not better than a mosquito net.

It is Ramadan in the Moslem world. I am always surprised that in places like this that are mixed Moslem/Christian, food places are closed during the day, including the little cafeteria at the airport where I had planned to get a coffee and a croissant, given that I had no dinner last night nor breakfast as I left the hotel too early. Even the little pain au chocolat served on the plane to Bobo last time were withheld. I gather it is a business decision but it feels unfair to us non-fasters. So I keep nibbling on the cookies and chocolates brought with me from the AF lounge in Paris, not a great diet after my week of eating well.

I called the driver who had served me so well last time and he picked me up in a car driven by what looked like a younger relative who was just learning to drive. The young man made demi-tour on the otherwise empty road in front of the hotel and just barely missed hitting the only other car on the road. The back of the car, since I had last seen it, was all dented and the boot didn’t lock anymore. I suppose these were the results of the new driver experience. I was dismayed to find out that the young driver was taking me to the airport (only 10 minutes away and in a city still mostly asleep) as my driver said, “je vais me reposer un peu ici.”

My young driver must have gotten a talking to by his dad or uncle because he drove to the airport at a snail’s pace. This made me feel even more uncomfortable. But he was trying hard and super concentrated. The back of his T-shirt said something else worrisome; some quote from Ezekiel that hinted at being happier once reunited with those who had already passed into the afterlife.

Bobo on Sunday morning was as dead as one could expect on a Ramadan weekend but the hotel restaurant was open and serving breakfast. There was even a mango and an orange to make up for the horrible diet of the last 24 hours.

Three young boys were the only other guests in the restaurant. The smallest, about Faro’s age, was clad in only a T-shirt, bottoms bare; he kept fumbling his privates and then headed for the small case were the bread and croissants were stored. I was glad he couldn’t figure out how to open it, as there was no one supervising the kid; it didn’t seem like his older brothers (not that much older) noticed that there was something not quite right about the situation as the little man’s hands moved back and forth between his privates and the breakfast fare (on his own table).

May 2018
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