Monday, October 27, 2008

A quick word...

…before I leave for a 12-day mission! With Valian (Food Aid Monitor of the Dori office) and Cisse (driver) we will visit about 25 health centers in the Soum province. It takes that long because the distance between two centers can sometimes reach 100 km, which takes particularly long on the roller coaster roads. We'll be sleeping in Djibo every night, which is apparently a little like Dori, so not too much 'in the middle of nowhere'.

I'm quite excited but also a little sad to leave Kathrin, especially with a pile of dirty dishes :(. Not to say that she won't be doing absolutely fine :)

For those imagining me getting lost in the desert- our jeep has a massive antenna, as you may have seen on pictures- this is so that Ouaga can track us at any time, and we will be keeping in touch with them through the radio (which can even reach the WFP office in Dakar). The antenna is flexible so we don’t have to worry about hitting branches. And there is mobile network in Djibo.

Finally- a quick mention of the great weekend that we just spent with Quentin, who came to visit from Ouaga: motorbikes + the Sahel = perfection.

'Mission report'

Wednesday, October 22nd 2008 (day 1 of 2)

Participants: Amadou Valian, Rie Mahira, Kathrin Hubner, Alix Pahaut, Moumouni Dialo

1. Sampelga

-1 building in concrete with 2 classrooms and a small office turned into the warehouse, 1 building in mud brick with straw roof with 2 classrooms, latrines (i.e. toilets) in concrete, roofless mud brick kitchen
-291 students (123 girls, 168 boys), all benefiting from school meals
-received for the first trimester: 2850 kg cereal, 700 kg beans, 359 l oil
-the warehouse where the food is stocked is not very clean, especially because of spiders and bats; recommended to clean better
-the food stocked is piled directly on the floor rather than on wooden pallets and the piles lean on the walls- they should put them on wooden pallets and off the walls so the goods can ‘breathe’, as well as to make them less accessible to insects
-‘if the kids come to school in the morning and see there will be no meal, they leave at lunch break and don’t come back in the afternoon’

2. Waboti 2

-1 building in concrete with 3 classrooms and a warehouse room, latrines (i.e. toilets) in concrete, mud brick kitchen
-105 students awaited, but only 6o have attended so far (the official start date for school was October 1st)
-received for the first trimester: 1050 kg cereal, 250 kg beans, 124 l oil
-the school hasn’t started giving out meals, they are waiting for the rest of the students; we ask them to start giving out meals anyway
-warehouse is well maintained, although they don’t have real wooden pallets to put the goods on they made some with bricks; there are WFP posters on the wall explaining how to measure the rations for each meal

3. Aligaga 1

-4 mud brick walls and a straw roof in construction, 1 little mud brick hut as warehouse
-82 students (55 boys, 27 girls) are signed up
-received 1200 kg cereal, 300 kg beans, 152 l oil
-classes have not started yet because the classroom is not built yet; this school is only one year old, and last year the classroom was made out of thatch straw walls and roof, which were was eaten by the goats during summer; the villagers promise us that they will finish the classroom this week and that classes can start next week
-the goods, even though stocked in a tiny little hut, are on wooden pallets and not piled against the wall

General comments:

-All schools reported having a functional parent’s association, as well as a ‘monitoring committee’ for the goods

-Five out of six schools reported serious problems in collecting financial contributions from the parents. The goods are of course free (provided by WFP), and since this year school attendance and materials are also completely free (provided by the government). However parents are asked to make a 1000 francs (1.52 Euros) contribution per child per year to pay the cooks, buy the pots to make the meals, etc. (basically to run the kitchen).

-Parents can be very reluctant to pay this. One teacher tells us, ‘of course they are poor, and some don’t understand what their money is used for, but it’s also a question of priority- they are reluctant to sell a chicken in order to pay for a whole year, but when it’s their child’s baptism, which is an important social event, they’ll sell an entire cow!’

Back to work after some Ouaga fun

After a slow start to the work-week, with some data entry and report review, we have started a new short mission! It’s really nice to be going into the field so much, both for the work as well as the fun. This time it is a two-day mission, Wednesday and Friday, where we again come back to Dori every evening as it’s not too far (about 60 km out). We are a little group traveling in just one WFP jeep: us two, Rie (WFP Japanese volunteer), Valian (WFP Food Aid Monitor), our driver Cisse, and a guy who works for the government (monitors schools for the ‘Departement Provincial de l’Education de Base et l’Alphabetisation’, DPEBA), whose complicated name I unfortunately never completely grasped.

The goal of the mission is a simple follow-up of school feeding activities, i.e. we visit schools to check up on how everything is going, report on it, and eventually give some advice, make some corrections, or, if everything is good, congratulate them on their good work. We covered six schools on Wednesday, in the villages of Sampelga, Waboti 1& 2, Aligaga 1 & 2, and Mira. To get to each of them we drove, to the sound of African music on bumpy dirt tracks through other little villages, the Sahel bush, and fields of sorgho (a cereal) standing tall, their fluffy tops hanging relaxed under the sun, so bright, and the sky, so blue.

I’ll write a very simplified ‘mission report’ in the next post so you can have a general idea of how it was. What was particularly good is that we visited schools that had both similar and different issues, it gave a good impression of local realities. What was particularly cute were the children who crossed their arms as a sign of respect/obedience and told Kath and I ‘bonjour madame’, with a little head bow.

In one village, the villagers surrounded us in a matter of minutes as we talked with the ‘directeur d’ecole’, looking at us curiously and listening to our discussion. When we got up to go visit the warehouse, a few meters away, the circle of elderly men, little boys and girls, and women dissolved and they followed us altogether- it was very funny and a little bit impressive to be followed by this crowd. They all stood there watching us, close by, as we ‘visited’ the ‘warehouse’ (a tiny mud brick hut), so I decided to take a picture of them all. They were enthusiastic, and started raising their hands. I then had the fantastic idea of showing this crowd the picture on the screen of the digital camera- not so fantastic as I was completely drowned in squealing kids and eager adults, which was still fun but a lot more impressive, and completely disturbed those still discussing in the warehouse.

I also want to mention our great weekend in Ouaga- we went dancing late into the night, still rose (relatively) early to go see sacred crocodiles 25 km out of Ouaga- on motorbikes- cooled off with a dip in the American Rec(reation) Center pool, and chilled in our ‘Ouaga home’, all with Seth, Quentin and Tierno, the three guys we shared a house with in our first week.

It was my first time on a motorbike- fun!! I wasn’t driving of course, but sitting behind Kath, who has been driving her own for eight years and was fantastic, her superb driving made me feel almost comfortable :p That part of the crocodile trip was actually much more exciting than the crocodiles themselves; though they are still impressive beasts, it was not a very natural nor nature-friendly atmosphere as our guides poked the crocodiles and wagged live, squealing chickens (!) in front of them in an effort to entertain us (yes, one of the poor chickens ended up eaten).

And still after all of this fun it was nice to come back to quiet, simple Dori. Maybe partly because there is more fun ahead- next weekend Quentin is coming to visit, and soon after Seth too.

Friday, October 17, 2008

New pictures

We upload pictures regularly so keep an eye on Kathrin's album ('Pictures' link on the side)- today a whole bunch of pictures from our first days of mission and other exciting events (like me washing my clothes by hand for the first time and our super cucumber sprouts).

We're off to Ouaga this weekend for some partying and necessary shopping (flour, oats, peanut butter, sponge, tupperware, etc.), will be writing some more once we are back from the big city!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Women of Burkina

Wealthy women wear heels, perfume, and jewellery, and carry a handbag. But they are all elegant, even those in a simple ‘pagne’ (those African dresses or skirts). They hold their heads high, they sway their hips when they walk.

They approach us less than men (I don’t know if it would be different were we men), they seem more shy, but also more proud.

Their children are wrapped onto their backs. From the front, we see two little feet poking on each side. On the back, the baby is sleeping, or looking around, relaxed, close to its mother.

They balance pots and packages on their head, hips still swaying.

In the country and villages, they often wear a loose t-shirt above their skirt. It’s white with their association’s logo, or it’s a Shakira t-shirt, or it says ‘Ich war’s nicht’ (It wasn’t me), or it’s a Barcelona or Arsenal football shirt.

In the Sahel, many have scars on their faces- marks of social rank the guide says. Men have them too. Somehow they seem to enhance their beauty, to add dignity.

Elderly women have knotted hands, missing teeth, but their smiles are still bright, and they bow their heads or put their hands together greeting us, maybe they laugh.

The dresses they wear are beautiful, long, colourful, sometimes wide and loose tunics, sometimes tighter mermaid-like skirts. The collars are often wide, revealing the shoulders. The cloths are embroidered, the fancier ones shiny.

The women of Burkina are splendid.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First field mission!

After a relaxed weekend (reading; planting some tomato, cucumber and guava seeds in the garden- we can already see the first sprouts), we went into the field for the first time! It’s not really our own mission, as we were following the consultants that are evaluating the WFP programme in Burkina Faso (as we are halfway through the said programme 2006-2010, which includes supporting basic education, health, and rural development, as I explained in an earlier post). So we mainly observed everything and took many pictures, but it was still very exciting, interesting, and a great promise for our future missions (the first few of which are already all planned out for the coming months).

The drive in itself was an adventure. We were in a convoy of eight big white jeeps, the red dust trailing behind each car, our super driver Cissé brilliantly manoeuvring on the very bumpy road, a tape of African reggae playing, the gorgeous Sahel landscape passing by (savannah-like, greener by water spots), dotted with herds of cows (African cows with long horns and a kind of bump on their back) and goats, travellers and herders waving at us (even clapping once). The bumps in the road didn’t make our hearts jump as much as a roller coaster, but the entire experience was much more thrilling.

Our destination was an ‘alphabetisation center’ near the village of Gorom-Gorom (40 km North of Dori, about one and a half hour drive). After having had a big general meeting in Dori discussing issues/problems/solutions, the consultants evaluating the programme needed to go into the field to actually see how the programme is implemented. At the alphabetisation center they hold sessions to teach adults how to read and write, as well as some promotion of nutrition, health, hygiene, etc. To encourage the adults to come to these sessions (which are only held during the non-harvesting season), the centers distribute food at each session to the participants. We all sat and stood in a circle, and the consultants asked those responsible for the center as well as villagers who attend the sessions how things were going, if there were any problems, if the food was delivered on time, whether the food did motivate them to go to the sessions, if they had any suggestions, etc. It was very interesting, and I look forward to being able to ask the questions and talk with everyone myself on our future missions (myself = translated by someone else, as people from the villages don’t always speak French but one of the local languages).

We filmed and took pictures- the children were very enthusiastic, each little boy wanting a picture with just himself, even pushing the others away for this (that made me feel a bit bad). At the end we also took pictures of the women altogether, who were happy to see it afterwards on the digital screens (those things are great here, but what would be fun would be a Polaroid camera to give them some pictures immediately).

The way back was quite an adventure too. We had been escorted by a jeep with policemen (‘gendarmerie’, which, by their impressive uniforms and big guns, look more like the army). Unfortunately, they had a rented jeep which couldn’t really stand the road. They kept having to stop, until they simply couldn’t go on anymore. So we had to bail our own security out by pulling them with one of our jeeps!

Unlike other missions where we will be going further away, this one stays close enough to Dori for us to come back home every evening. After a tasty ‘riz gras’ at ‘our’ bar/restaurant ‘Cafetaria Le Bonus’ (a tiny place where you can eat at the bar or on the one table, with walls and a roof of braided straw, and always playing loud reggae, the guys working there singing and dancing along), we went to bed early to be well rested for our second day into the field.

Two moments

Kath and I are walking down the street and she says something to which I answer ‘I knooow!’. An elderly woman passes by us just that moment and, smiling at us, imitates me, ‘ya nooo!’. Hilarious and endearing.


A man is walking down the street, carrying something on his head. It looks like a dead animal (to eat), maybe a lamb. We pass him and I make a face at Kathrin, who exclaims, ‘a cow’s head!’ I turn around and look back at the man walking away. Indeed, a cow’s head is looking at me, upside down, on top of his head. Nice.

African rain

The weather changes very fast, first clouds appear, there is a cool breeze (making our whole terrace smell of the basil plant in the garden). The wind picks up, sand flies. Then drops start falling, a few, light but cold. Raindrops on the floor disappear within seconds because the floor is so hot. Then the wind rages, full of sand, dead insects, and two black plastic bags. Our window flies open. Kathrin had just cleaned the room and it is now covered in thin dust and scraps of white paint the wind blew off our walls. The rain starts pouring. The electricity switches off.

The rain is pouring and pouring. I can smell the red earth’s cries of thanks, the grateful plants’ prayers and hopefully this is good for the farmers too.

The wind has calmed down. The electricity is back on. The rain is still falling, and the sky thunders.

We danced a little rain dance, we filmed the rain, we even felt cold. The ground where we want to plant some seeds is perfectly moist now. Plants are greener, the air is lighter, it smells as delicious as ever. We know soon there will be no more rain, for months, so we are enjoying it.

Everything is calmer now, but the rain is still steady. Though the electricity is back, it is weak- the fan spins slowly, the light is faint, the fridge struggles.

For the whole evening the air remains lighter and fresher. People on the street greet us, ‘bonsoir, ca va, et la pluie? Oui, il fait bon!’ Everyone is happy it rained.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Did you know?

Janno style- did you know...

-to make bolognese sauce you use red wine?? I had to come all the way to Burkina to finally know why mine never tastes right! (When we were in Ouaga our American housemate Seth made bolognese sauce)

-the famous garlic chicken of Dori: half a chicken with very generous amounts of garlic, grilled but with some parts looking suspiciously undercooked (left those aside) on a plate. No rice or couscous or vegetables... No cutlery... Just chicken.

-we have not been ill yet. Despite everyone telling us it's only a matter of time, we are determined to make it healthy and strong for the whole six months.

-we managed to find two different types of fruits (bananas and watermelon) and two different types of vegetables (aubergines and wild aubergines) yesterday!! We added peanut butter to our rice and aubergines for some extra flavour- yummy.

-there was a scorpion in the bedroom today! After first losing it, we caught it in a cup (and took a picture, see the pictures link) and not knowing what to do, gave it to our landlord. Apparently this is pretty common (scorpions, not our landlord receiving them), aah..

-apart from food and beasts, we actually work here you know. What? Did I say work? Yes! We had a training all day yesterday- the WFP is decentralising the database for the monthly data on the PRRO Nutrition (Protracted Relief and Rehabilitation Operation :p) operation going on here (i.e. distributing food to malnourished children and malnourished pregant/breast-feeding women, plus some community courses on nutrition), so the monthly data on what's going on will be entered in the field directly, rather than in Ouaga. Entering data is not the most inspiring job, but it's necessary and since we can see how it fits in the whole operation, it feels nice and concrete. And very very soon there will be more exciting work.

-Kathrin and I named my video camera 'Steve'. We're not lonely or going crazy (really), it's just fun to call it something when we record our 'diaries' and other exciting events.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Here we are, finally, in Dori!

The trip, in a big white UN-WFP jeep, accompanied by our boss Ali and the driver Cisse, just took three hours and went by fast. We were pleased to discover the Burkinabe landscape- red earth sprinkled with quite lush green trees and bushes at first, followed by more dried out and less bushy plants and trees, until, close to Dori, more sandy dunes. The whole is quite flat, with a few hills sometimes. We passed through a number of small and larger village, including Zinaire, the native village of the president, and ‘tourist spots’ like Bani (with nice mosques). The villages all seemed very poor, with little houses in mud bricks. Between them we crossed many people on bicycles, motorbikes, buses (with people sitting or motorbikes piled on top of them, see the pictures!), or simply walking. [We also passed two lakes (not sure if they are natural or artificial), one of which had a proper bridge, the other one was in construction, so we had to pass right next to the water, which was slightly overflowing onto the road (sometimes it overflows a lot and you can’t pass).]

So in comparison to these villages, Dori is a little city (it is also the capital of the Seno province- Burkina is divided in 13 provinces). To most people reading this however, it is probably best described as a big village. There is one street with tarmac, crossing the city and continuing further north. Otherwise the streets are of sand and dirt, unfortunately often littered with plastic bags, and diversely populated with goats, cows, donkeys, and pigs, as well as a few motorbikes and even fewer cars. The majority of houses are built with mud bricks too, though a good number are in concrete.

The people are either friendly either continue going about their daily business without paying too much attention to us (which is refreshing after the persistent Ouaga vendors). The children are often amused to see us, laughing and screaming ‘les blanches, les blanches!’, sometimes followed by ‘y’a pas bonbons? cadeaux?’ or ‘photo?’. Often they also come to us, and, some giggling, some solemn, present us their little hands to shake.

It seems it will be easier to connect with the local people here than in Ouaga. Yesterday for example, on our way back from a short walk that led us to the edge of the village (curious and amused villagers asked us where we were going, because over there it was the ‘brousse’, i.e. the jungle/desert/nothing), enjoying a fresh slice of watermelon, we were invited to have tea by some guys sitting on the side of the street. I’m still unsure whether it was an actual invitation or just a polite greeting, but we accepted, sat with them for a while, and were treated to our first Burkinabe tea. It took a long while to prepare (it was poured in and out of the teapot and little glass over twenty times), and was both extremely bitter and, thanks to a massive dose of sugar, extremely sweet.

And the most exciting news, for us, is probably that we already found a house, and just moved into it! Three bedrooms, a large living and dining room, with a nice terrace and large garden (mainly because it is part of a larger property, including group of houses and rooms owned by ‘Dr. Li’)- with one air conditioning in a bedroom, a washing machine (!!) and a little kitchen, we are really happy! The fridge does not seem to work (yet) though. But it is really very nice to finally start settling in properly. We got the first supplies already (rice, couscous, water, juice, milk, bread..), but unfortunately have not found many fruits (i.e. only watermelon) or vegetables yet. There is only one small over-the-counter supermarket with basics, and we briefly searched the market already, so suspense on where else we can find those needed vitamins!

A final couple of details on Dori- there is just one main restaurant (which is itself very simple), otherwise a bunch of small ‘maquis’, sort of street-side restaurant/bar; it is really very hot, though cooler in the evenings, when we were able to sit outside our hotel room for some fresh air; there are almost no visible mosquitoes, and practically no bites either!; but there are a bunch of general insects. We uploaded some pictures (see link on the side) so you can have a more visual impression of everything- thanks to, yes, faster internet at the office!!

Now we just need to start working…

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Kathrin managed to upload some pictures of the training days in Rome, and is trying to add a few from Ouaga, you can see them on

We're leaving to Dori this afternoon (in a big white UN-WFP jeep), all packed up and curious to see the Burkinabe country landscapes, and Dori of course. We'll be staying in a cheap hotel for the first few nights, still looking for a good place.

Next message from the Sahel!