Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New pictures!

Check out Kath's album for pictures of our January 'post distribution monitoring' mission in school canteens. We'll add the captions tomorrow. By some miracle I am able to upload two of them on here.

We were surprised by these children's very different (and beautiful) complexion in the school of Tin Idjar (in Oudalan, the northernmost province of Burkina); they are kel-Tamashek.

Sporting our cool new WFP gear, Kath's christmas present to us :) (mine has yet to arrive, even after they corrected the country name..)

Monday, February 9, 2009

And then, we went to a concert

We had seen the poster taped on the doors of the store, the bakery, and the restaurant. Black and white printed on an A4 sheet of paper, it announced Bonsa in concert in Dori for the first time, this Saturday night at ‘Séno Ambiance’, the maquis to be for dancing in Dori. The poster said nine o’clock, we left the house about half an hour later, wondering whether it would have started already or if concert times also fall in the category of relaxed African schedules.

As it turns out, this was actually not a case of relaxed African schedule- no, this was very, very relaxed, as we had to wait three hours before the DJ, apologizing for ‘ce tout petit retard’, introduced Bonsa onto the floor. But considering our relaxed African spirit, this was no problem. We drank Malta Guinness (non-alcoholic malt beer, much too sweet) and watched the dance floor fill up to the sound of coupé decalé- before joining it ourselves, of course!

It is past midnight already when the music stops and people take their seats. We wait. The loudspeakers play the familiar Windows-computer-starting-up jingle. Followed by the USB-stick-has-been-plugged-in sound. Finally the DJ (whose baby is one of the few in the crowd tonight by the way- ‘his mother wanted to come to the concert too, so we had to take him with us’- the adorable boy spent the whole time sleeping despite the loud music) enthusiastically introduces Bonsa to the lukewarm crowd. Bonsa runs up to the dance floor like a boxer entering the ring, and, after introducing himself, casually lets us know that the concert will be in playback.

Indeed, after singing a few lines a capella (to prove that he can actually sing?), he announces his first song, which starts playing on the loudspeakers. He clutches onto his mike and passionately mouths along the song. He is wearing a brown ‘boubou’ (traditional African dress), completely clashing with the gangsta style, flat-rimmed, red cap on his head, and he accompanies his fake singing with energetic Usher-meets-Westlife dance moves. The entire scene is incredible. Even more so when, as he introduces his second song, the same song he just ‘performed’ starts again. A few seconds into it they realize the mistake and switch to the next one. Frederic, the Burkinabe friend with us that evening, is not surprised- apparently, the majority of concerts in Burkina are done in playback. I don’t know about the other concerts, but, in all honesty, this was simply ridiculous!

After the third song, for some reason, Bonsa takes a break. To keep the crowd entertained, the DJ invites some guy sporting a Nokia t-shirt onto the dance floor for the ‘danse de la bouteille’, i.e. to dance while balancing an empty beer bottle on his head. To the crowd’s delight he moves his hips (very suggestively, as is most coupé decalé dancing) to the music, bottle steadily standing on his head, for a good ten minutes. Though it verges on the circus act when the DJ keeps telling him to get down and back up again and back down, it’s quite impressive. Clearly, the guy has been practicing (and if he’s anything like Thierno, that probably means hours of mirrors!), and for good reason as people, including Frederic, seem to love it. In fact they seem to like it a lot more than Bonsa, who barely receives a few claps as he takes the stage again. Two songs later, it’s enough laughing for one night. Kath and I get on our motorbike and ride home under the bright bright moon.

ps- apologies for the text/pictures imbalance, but the internet is too slow to upload any pictures on the blog these days

**edit many months later: Bonsa actually performed at the Festival Mundial in Tilburg (The Netherlands)this summer, and I went to see him, waving a Burkinabe flag of course. He was apparently voted best Burkinabe artist in 2008! Though that made me curious considering his Dori performance, I mainly went to regain some missed Burkinabe feel after being back in Europe for a few months.

Accompanied by a band playing traditional instruments, himself on a string one I think, Bonsa's performance was much better than the playback one in Dori. The traditional music also seemed more suited than his pop/r'n'b attempt, although when he saw there were a few Burkina(be) enthusiasts in the crowd he led his band to playing some coupe decale-ish songs with the traditional instruments, and that worked quite well- it actually ended up in two Burkinabes jumping on the small stage to dance!

‘Rosier than a communist propaganda poster’

This is how my good friend Alex describes my blog. It is true, I love it here and this is, as cliché as it sounds, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and so this is how I present it. But, of course, there are also less ‘rosy’ sides worth mentioning. Amongst others, I think I should include a few lines on health and safety. This especially goes out to next year’s GEPers (applications are open by the way) and other future adventurers (like my brothers, who I already imagine on exciting travels in a few years, and already worry about, sister goose that I am).

I’ve been talking about great foods, motorbikes, traveling- you should know that we really are careful about a number of things, and though I don’t advise unnecessarily paranoid stress, I do recommend taking health and safety seriously. For example:

-Food safety: we don’t eat unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables (salad, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples) in small restaurants or from street food vendors. At home we do, after washing them with soap. We might eat meat from street vendors but it must be well cooked and still hot/just off the fire. And we only drink bottled water (or from branded bags- unbranded ones are just tap water) or water that has been boiled.

-Traveling: we don’t travel between cities after dark (by bus or motorbike- and it’s forbidden by WFP car too). I would never have gotten on the motorbike if Kath wasn’t so careful and didn’t have years of experience. Other things to consider are the large zones without telephone network and the possibility of robber ambushes.

-Health: there are pros and cons to preventive anti-malaria medicine, but with or without it’s still important to be protected against mosquitoes (mosquito net, long sleeves and closed shoes in the evening, anti-mosquito spray) and to check for malaria as soon as there are signs (as proven by Kath’s recent malaria- unpleasant, to say the least). We have a great book, ‘Where there is no doctor’, for advice on health matters, from nutrition to fever to tropical diseases to antibiotics. It’s a very useful reference even where there are doctors and can be downloaded for free at The Hesperian Foundation.

These are just a few examples. Some risks are unavoidable, but it’s about minimizing those that are and being conscious of those that aren’t. I’m not writing this to scare anyone (in fact I do generally feel safe, in part precisely because we are prepared), but just to emphasise that it’s important to think about these things too.