Burkina Faso


            If you have not looked at an atlas since 1984, you may never have seen the location of Burkina Faso. A colony for sixty years, the French called it Haute (Upper) Volta, named after the three major rivers – the Red, Black, and White Volta – that run through it. The country’s independence came in 1960.

            After several previous coups, Captain Thomas Sankara (stilled referred to as “Thom Sank” by many) led his own in 1982, to become the country’s leader. It was he who, in 1984, changed the name of the country to Burkina Faso. In doing so, he used words from the most populous two of the sixty ethnic groups that inhabit the country: “Burkina” is the Moré word for “pure” or “incorruptible” and “Faso” is the Dioula (pronounced JYOO-lah) word for “homeland.” Put together, the intention is for the name to mean “Land of the Incorruptible” or “Country of Honest Men.” Moré is the language spoken by the people known as Mossi, whereas Dioula is a language spoken by several groups.

            The other groups included in the country’s population comprise those that also transcend international borders and can be found in some of the neighboring countries as well. In addition to the Mossi, other tribes include the Bobo, Lobi, Gourounsi, Hausa, Fulani, Bella, and Tuareg.

            The people of the country are referred to as Burkinabè, which is both singular and plural. Many businesses use only one of the two words in their name, and signs proliferate advertising Burkina This or Faso That. Perhaps the business owners use the name that is more indicative of their own language group, but I am not sure of that.

            Current-day Burkina Faso has 11.6 million people inhabiting an area half the size of France. Roughly 65% of the population continues their traditional religious beliefs based on ancestor and spirit worship, leaving about 25% of the people to practice Islam and approximately 10% for Christianity. The Muslims and Christian presences are very strong, however, based on what I have observed in the proliferation of mosques, praying in public, and widespread Christmas decorations.

            Burkina is known among its African neighbors for being run efficiently, which is a pleasant change of pace for the visitor.

           After a little more than four hours on the bus from Sikasso, Mali, I arrived in Burkina’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso (jyoo-LAH-soh), commonly referred to as “Bobo,” after 8:15 PM on Sunday night. My first overwhelming need was to find a bed so that I could be horizontal for a while after the four-plus hours on the bus. As I saw it, I had two choices: try to find the Peace Corps house, as there probably was one in town, or head to a hotel recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. After that bus ride, I was feeling like a cranky old man, not interested in making nice with a bunch of new people – in short, unfit for human consumption – so I opted for the hotel. If there’s a Peace Corps house, I’ll find it tomorrow.

           The closest hotel to the bus station seemed all right at first, but once I checked into the room it was apparent that I was going to be spending the night in a cootie factory. So be it. I would be there for fewer than twelve hours and was not inclined to re-launch my search.

           Fortunately, Burkina Faso uses the same money as Mali, so I didn’t arrive penniless, which can be a problem in many other cases like this. This is as good a time as any to digress and explain a little bit about the money. It is referred to in print as FCFA. The first “F” stands for “franc,” like the old money of France. I haven’t been able to get a straight answer about the meaning of “CFA.” A French woman at the travel agency in Bamako told me it means “Comptoir de France en Afrique.” A Burkinabè told me he thought it means “Convergance Français d’Afrique.” In any event, it appears to have something to do with France and Africa, which makes sense, in that this is formerly French territory. In my limited experience, the Africans usually refer to the money as francs, whereas foreigners generally call it by its initials, with a French pronunciation of them, CFA being “say-eff-ah,” or slurred as “sayfah” in most common speech. Rather than the name of a country, the bills indicate that they are issued by the "Banque Centrale des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest," the Central Bank of the States of West Africa.

           Looking for the definitive answer, I entered a branch of Bank of Africa (that’s the name of the bank, not a translation from the French) and inquired. An employee there told me that CFA stands for Communauté Financière de l’Afrique, and I am going to let it stand at that.

           The other countries that use the FCFA are Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. Another continued link to France is that the French government not only guarantees the CFA, but keeps the exchange rate at 655.95 CFA to the euro. By contrast, the value against the dollar fluctuates. Last December, the first time I used the CFA, I received 620 for one dollar. Because of the current lower value of the dollar, the best current exchange rate I could find has been 495. This makes things more expensive, but they are still not extremely expensive.

           Come Monday morning, I packed everything and left it in the room, intent to find new lodgings, be they a Peace Corps house or different hotel. When I headed out to get something to eat, I asked a few taximen if they knew where the Peace Corps house was. All they could do was scrunch up their faces to me. A helpful chap accompanied me further down the road to another cluster of men. One of them introduced himself in English as Ousmane and said he could help me in any way I needed. My initial inclination was that Ousmane was a good guy.

           I ordered breakfast and was sitting at a table in front of the sidewalk café when Ousmane drove up and said he would take me where I needed to go. I told him that I had just ordered breakfast and invited him to join me, but he declined. The waiter had told me that the meal cost 700 FCFA (just under $1.50). I then heard Ousmane ask the waiter a question, to which the reply was “700,” so it seemed that Ousmane was offering to pay for my breakfast, which I didn’t want him to do. Learning to be a gracious recipient is one thing, but accepting such an offer from somebody in the developing world like that struck me as unseemly.

           I finished eating and climbed into Ousmane’s truck. He didn’t know where the Peace Corps house was, but he suggested stopping at a few places to find out. First we stopped at the office of the high commissioner, and then the police station. Nobody at either of these places knew where it was, but we ran into a cousin of Ousmane at the latter office, and he told Ousmane the neighborhood where we should go.

           We drove to a section on the outskirts of town, to the house that Ousmane thought was the Peace Corps house, but it was not the right place. A guardian there pointed out another house, around the corner, and we walked to that one. As we approached, I had my doubts, as there were many rocks at the base of the front wall, arranged to spell, “JESUS IS LOVE.” It turned out to be the home of an American, all right, but she is a Baptist missionary.

           We inquired at a nearby hotel and an employee there gave us our next lead. The guard in front of the house said it was a Peace Corps house, but there was no signage indicating it as such. I told him I was a PCV from Mauritania and asked if I could stay there. He said that the person who lived there was on vacation in the USA, which made it seem to me that it was the residence of one volunteer, rather than the transit house I thought it was. Never mind. I was happy that I had not tried looking for it in the dark the previous night!

           As we rode around, Ousmane told me that he had lived in Brooklyn for two years, and that he still had a brother living there. I told him that I, too, had a brother in Brooklyn, but I had never lived there myself. As we drove and Ousmane pointed things out to me, I was looking at a map and indicating from it where the various sights were. That reminded Ousmane that when he was in the USA, the most difficult task for him was learning how to read a map. True enough – they are very difficult to find in Africa, and if they exist, they are usually designed and printed by non-Africans.

           I told Ousmane that I was dissatisfied with my hotel and wanted to find another one. He recommended one to me, drove me there so I could see the room, and then transported me to the old hotel, where I checked out. He dropped me off at the new hotel.

           The Lonely Planet guide refers to Bobo as “the most pleasant town in Burkina Faso,” which contributed to my interest in seeing it. That being said, it would be a mistake to expect anything on the order of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Ann Arbor, Charleston, or Kennebunkport. I finally got to walk around in it for a while in the daylight. There are lots of tall mature trees to give shade, which enhances the appeal of the town. It’s pleasant enough, but I don’t think I would rate it as a “must see.”

           I was happy to wander around on Monday, stopping at the Internet café run by the post office, have a late lunch, and get beckoned into numerous crafts shops “just to look” (as they say) at the same things from one shop to another: batik and other died fabric, wood carvings such as animals and masks, metal animals, jewelry, musical instruments, chairs and stools.

           Most such invitations play up the fact that the items on sale are "pas cher," not expensive, as if expense were the determining factor in making such a purchase. I can't believe that the workers here actually sell some of the heavy wooden carved objects that are displayed. I wouldn't want to be burdened by having to lug around something like that, or have it shipped home. Usually, there is nothing that I want to buy, so most of the time I am polite and either decline a visit or take a look around, saying “Très jolie,” and then leave.

           I thought I might look around and pick up some beads, though, which almost led to a faux pas. In one store, I asked how much a particular string of beads cost. The overstaffed shop, with three people working inside and two outside, for a space no larger than a small kitchen, told me that they were 9,000 FCFA. They expect the customer to counter immediately with another price. I wasn’t interested in buying – just curious about the price.

           But the heftiest and meanest-looking of the shopkeeper trio insisted that I name a price. I thought, All right. I’ll just give him something ridiculously low and then I will be able to walk out of here. I offered 3,000. He laughed. He lowered the price to 8,500 but I was not interested in bargaining because I didn’t want the beads in the first place. He insisted that I give another price. I told him I thought it would be best to drop the whole thing. I then shook the hands of all three of them, and began to leave. Just as I was walking through the doorway, he told me that he was accepting my price of 3,000 FCFA.

           One thing I do know about this whole process is that when a vendor accepts a customer’s price, the customer is honor-bound to make the purchase. I didn’t want to create a scene or an international incident, so I reached for the money. In the process, the merchant told me that the only reason he was accepting my offer is that business has been slow. I told him that if it would be better for him to wait for another customer to sell these at a higher price, he could drop the deal, but he didn’t.

           Then I went off to Ousmane’s shop to say hello to him, but he was not there. When I got back to my hotel, I found a message from him, as he had been there, too.

           On Tuesday morning, I took another walk around town, this time to Kidibwé, the oldest part of the city. The buildings were of mud construction, though not in very good repair, and the streets were dirty. After walking a few blocks, I was approached by men with ticket books. The entry fee for foreigners who want to see this old quarter is 1,000 FCFA. Had it been charming or clean, I’d have stuck around and gladly paid the two bucks. But I don’t think that deterioration is charming. I had seen nicer villages in Mali, so I hightailed it out of there.

           I went back to the main part of town and stopped to greet Ousmane. He had some friends, Daouda and Serge, visiting at his shop. I learned that he has just been back from Brooklyn for one year. He showed me the photocopier and computer in his shop, proudly telling me that he had found them in the garbage in New York. Sure enough, there was a maintenance company sticker on the copier, complete with Brooklyn telephone number.

           Daouda is an African form of “David.” I always have a little fun with men named Daouda, explaining that since my last name is Davidson, I am their son. This usually gets a good chuckle, especially since most of them are younger than I, and we have a good laugh about the scientific achievement of the son being older than the father.

           Conversation got into the things that Americans throw away, as well as an irony that Ousmane says doesn’t understand: how there are so many Africans who don’t have the proper papers to work in New York, and would like to work, compared to those lazy Americans, particularly the African Americans who are allowed to work, but do not want to, and take money from the government to support themselves, and when they do get money, they use it to buy fancy basketball shoes and drugs. “We don’t have that here!” he said.

           This got into uncomfortable territory for me, as he expressed his prejudice against an entire group of people in blanket statements such as the ones he made. I recognize that one of the ways to fight racism and all forms of bigotry is to object to what the prejudiced person is saying. I felt unable to do that, weighing the situation at hand, not only in the fact that I was a foreigner in this man's country, but that he was also in the company of two friends, and that if I openly criticized him about what he had said, it could cause him to lose face. Now, as I write this, I recognize that I could have placed a strong objection to his statements, regardless of the consequences, and just walk away from him, instead of sitting there, agonized, not knowing how to deal with it.

           Ousmane invited me for a ride that afternoon, and we planned for him to pick me up at my hotel at 4:30, which would give me enough time to check e-mail for the day. I also thought that we could talk about his statements then, since we would probably be alone.

           Perhaps it was the earlier situation with Ousmane that helped me in handling one that came up during my e-mail session. I received a mass e-mail from an acquaintance in the USA who was passing along something that has apparently been circulating on the Internet for some time.

           The e-mail in question, titled “Islamic Belief,” is about a man named Rick Mathes, identified as "a well-known leader in prison ministries," who had been invited to speak at a forum in which representatives from various religions were represented. According to the e-mail, Rick gets up and asks the Muslim imam if it is true that all imams have told their congregants that it is a blessing to kill an "infidel," a non-believer of Islam, and a sure way of getting to heaven. The story goes that the imam says yes, that is true.

           I couldn't believe what I was reading! This is absolute rubbish, as killing people is not part of Koranic teaching. I did a little Internet search to find out about Rick Mathes, with the intention obtaining his e-mail address so I could verify the story. What I found was a web site, www.breakthechain.org, which is dedicated to informing people about misinformation sent around in chain e-mails. The Rick Mathes e-mail was listed there, and it was, indeed, full of misinformation.

           I sent an e-mail about it to the person who had originally sent it to me. At least, I felt, I was able to face this one situation, emboldened, perhaps, by the fact that the person I was dealing with on the Internet was somebody (1) I knew, (2) of the same culture as mine, and (3) who spoke the same language.

           At 4:25, I was arriving in front of the hotel to meet Ousmane, just as he was walking to the reception desk. I told him that I could see that he had been in the USA long enough to know that he should be on time for an appointment – at least one with an American! His friend Serge was with him.

           We drove more than thirty kilometres on the road to Bamako, eventually stopping at a bar/restaurant for beverages. We paused at one of the police stops, partly so Ousmane could greet an officer friend working there, and partly, I think, to show off his American in tow. After our drinks, when we were leaving the restaurant, several women approached the car to offer bananas for sale. Ousmane bought some, saying, “My daughter likes bananas.”

           I asked him how old his daughter was, and he told me she is five. I asked if she was with him in Brooklyn, and he told me that his daughter and wife stayed in Bobo during those two years. He could see I had a bit of a problem digesting that, and we both agreed that doing that was very “normale” for Africans but out of the ordinary for Americans. I asked him if it was worth it financially for him to do that and he said yes, that it was. I didn’t want to pry to get details, so I just left it at that.

           Ousmane told me about a friend of his who last year bought a 1999 Lincoln for $14,000 in the USA. With freight charges, taxes, and duty, the total cost to get it to Burkina Faso was $20,000. He sold it here for $31,000. The vehicle in which we were driving was a small 1993 Renault pickup truck with a covered back. He told me that he had bought it for $1,000 – certainly a reasonable price, and it is still in excellent condition.

           On the way back to Bobo, I could see that Ousmane was turning off the road that led to town. Hmmm, I wonder where we are going. But I didn't ask. Let him surprise me, I thought. As he stopped the car, he said, "I am taking you to meet my family." Not, "Would you like to meet my family?" Not, "Do you have time now?" I was fine with that. We didn't stay long, and then he dropped me off at my hotel, stopping first at the bus station so I could buy my ticket for the trip to Ouagadougou. There was one company with a 10:00 trip in an air-conditioned bus. I thought I would spring for the extra $3 so that I could end my bus-riding and take the five-hour trip with a bit of a flourish and some comfort. There was still a 10:00 departure but, alas, the bus was not air-conditioned. Oh, well. It was a good idea anyway.

           Ousmane dropped me off and told me he could come by to see me in the morning at 8:00. I invited him to have breakfast with me. He showed up a little after 8:00 and declined breakfast, but did have some coffee. He also brought me a gift. When I took the black plastic bag from him, the first thing I noticed was its weight and size - very heavy and very big! I opened it to see a metal sculpture of a man on a donkey. He hit a grand slam with that one: heavy, big, ugly, and useless! Of course, I accepted it graciously, and I really do recognize that it is "the thought that counts." But what am I going to do with this thing?!?!?!

           I didn't have much in the way of gifts to offer Ousmane in return, but I gave him my colorful Baylands FrontRunners baseball cap. We got a picture of us together, he wearing the cap and I holding the sculpture.

           As we completed our time together, Ousmane offered to drive me to the bus station. En route, I noticed that we were not headed in the direction of the bus station. Okay, then, we were off to another surprise. This time, though, I asked him where we were going. Ousmane wanted to show me another of his several businesses, and we went to a place that housed a workshop and lots of audio speakers and spare parts. One of his enterprises is providing dance music at parties. On our way out, he pointed to a huge speaker, telling me that it was another of his finds in the garbage of New York City. "If you are in New York, you can get so many things free!" he said excitedly.

           We exchanged addresses and I also asked him about his brother in Brooklyn, telling him I would find out if his brother lived near mine. At that point, he told me that it was not really his brother there, but a close friend. Later on, he referred to another brother, and emphasized that relationship by explaining, "même mère, même père," indicating that they had the same mother and father, a distinction I have heard frequently in many African countries, as opposed to half-brothers, stepbrothers, cousins, and very close friends that people refer to as “brothers.”

           We got to the bus station at 9:30, as the ticket-seller had instructed me to do when I bought the ticket the day before. I asked Ousmane if that was so that we could leave promptly at noon for the scheduled 10:00 departure. No, he said, the bus would leave on time.

           As we stood in the parking lot, he asked to see my ticket. The ticket-seller had written "19" on it, which I took to indicate that I was the nineteenth person to buy a ticket. Ousmane said, "So you are in seat 19." You mean there are assigned seats? I asked. Horrors! I looked inside the bus and saw that on one side, there were three very narrow seats across on one side of the aisle. If I am in anything but the aisle seat, I knew that I would be very uncomfortable. I didn't want to make a scene, but I also didn't want to sit scrunched between two other people for five hours.

           I asked Ousmane, When the guy sold me the ticket, why didn't he ask me if I wanted an aisle or window seat? Ousmane shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “Hey, in these parts you take what you get. You're on the bus, aren't you????”

           A bus company employee showed me to my seat. The Bus Goddess was with me this time, as seat #19 was on an aisle. It was only as wide as my body, with not a millimetre to spare. Most of the trip, I had to sit with my arms, from elbow to shoulders, flat against my sides, as there was little room to move. At least I did have the luxury of being able to put my feet out into the aisle from time to time. Thankfully, all the passengers' belongings were stowed underneath.

           The windows on the bus were able to slide open, but people kept shutting them. At one point, I looked at my travel alarm clock; which also has a built-in thermometer: 94 degrees! And everyone was shutting the windows! I was curious to know why they were doing this, so I asked the men sitting next to me. They said it was because of the dust. True enough, the roads were very dusty. My nose was running constantly, and by the time we got to Ouagadougou, my handkerchief was brown. Gross!

           Ouagadougou (WOGGA-doo-goo), is most commonly referred to by the first two syllables, “Ouaga.” The "dougou" suffix is much like "-town," "-ville" or "City" in American municipalities, and appears in many place names around Burkina Faso. The capital’s cultural claim to fame is that it hosts, during odd numbered years, the Festival Pan-Africain du Cinema, known as Fespaco (it is held in Tunis in even-numbered years).

           My first stop in town was at the American Embassy, situated on Avenue John F. Kennedy, where I was to register with the local warden so that my whereabouts were known. Before the guard put my luggage through the X-ray machine, he told me that I should remove any medications that may be in there. “Toothpaste, too,” he advised. Since the Peace Corps is not on the Lonely Planet guide map, I asked the guard at the embassy where it was, how to get there, and how much the taxi should cost. Before I went to the Peace Corps, I was off to the Rec Center, located around the corner.

           The Rec Center and embassy are part of a complex that also includes the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library and the American Cultural Center. I had heard of the Rec Center before I came here – a little slice of Americana in this foreign outpost. RPCVs who have been to Nouakchott have raved about it, with its snack bar, swimming pool, and library. Those entering the Rec Center fall under one of three categories, and sign in accordingly: member, guest, or Peace Corps Volunteer. It was nice to see us welcomed, which is in stark contrast to the situation in Nouakchott, where there is no facility anything like this, and where the current ambassador, shortly after assuming his post, banned PCVs from using the swimming pool and other facilities at the embassy.

           Avocados are plentiful in Burkina Faso, and I have been eating avocado salads almost every day. I ordered one at the Rec Center, and then made my way to the Peace Corps bureau.

           The Peace Corps house is called a hostel here, and after I arrived, I learned that while it is all right for PCVs from other countries to spend time there, we are not permitted to spend the night. I visited with some people, including friends of Mauritania Volunteers, raided the library, and then headed back to town to get a hotel room.

           The hotel was comfortable enough, and I had an air-conditioned room, though I imagine I could have made do with a fan, considering that it is not too hot at night nowadays. When I was unpacking, I saw that my bottle of medications had slipped out of the bag that I had removed at the guard’s request, to avoid being X-rayed. That meant it had been X-rayed at the embassy after all, and I wondered if there would be any danger in taking the medications. Then, in the middle of the night, I realized that my camera and film had also been through the X-ray, so I lost some sleep over the fact that I may also have lost my photos.

           My first stop the next morning was a photo lab. I didn’t want to wait until I got back to Nouakchott to see if all my pictures were lost. If worse came to worse, I could always prevail upon Carl to make some copies of photos that he took in Mali, so it would only be the Burkina photos that I would be without. When I picked up the developed photos, I saw that none of them had been damaged.

           My next task was to go back to the Peace Corps bureau to see the Country Director briefly. The Director in Mali had told me that if she had any information about my telephone, she would be able to contact me through the local director. So far, there was no news. I checked in with the Medical Officer and told her that my medications had been X-rayed. She didn’t think that there would be a problem taking them, but she also offered to replace them for me. It was nice to have the hassle-free medical service!

           Crocodiles are revered here, and there are many rivers and lakes where they proliferate. In fact, near Ouaga, there are sacred lakes where visitors may buy a live sacrificial chicken from kids who are there expressly for the purpose of selling them to be fed to waiting hungry crocodiles. I did not make this a must-see sight on my itinerary. Who’s going to call PETA to inform them of this one?

           I recently heard a proverb, said to be African: “You can throw a log into the river, but it will never become a crocodile.” I like the sentiment behind that, the recognition that each of us has our own natural inclinations that are never going to change. I immediately thought of the balancing act that I am performing as a Peace Corps Volunteer – both being myself so that I can accurately portray what an American is like (the log) and finding ways to integrate into the society where I am living (the river).

           With that in mind, the crocodile has taken on some new symbolic significance for me. I thought, I’ll see if I can find a small replica of a crocodile as a souvenir. Based on my Mali success in trading things in the marketplace, I thought that I would try to get my crocodile by seeing if any shopkeeper was willing to trade the heavy bronze sculpture that Ousmane gave me for a lighter and smaller wooden or metal crocodile.

           I set out to a long row of handicraft stands near my hotel, brass sculpture in a black plastic bag. The first stall owner I spoke to expressed interest in the bronze, but I made the mistake of not looking first to see if he had anything I wanted; he didn’t. That followed the laborious greeting, entering, examining, and then explaining that each stall in turn, about twenty altogether, did not have anything that I wanted.

           The last stall had two wooden crocodiles that I liked. The owner readily saw that the brass sculpture was more valuable than the wooden crocodile, and he agreed to the trade. The little croc is carved just crudely enough to be charming. I’m calling him Ousmane.

           A photographer has to be careful in Burkina Faso. There is a long list of items that are not allowed to be photographed, including: airports, bridges, bus, train, and taxi stations, gas stations, government buildings, grain warehouses, industrial installations, police stations, poor people, post offices, radio and television stations, and reservoirs.

           Ouaga is a pleasant city in which to walk around. Whereas Bamako seems to be an oversized village, Ouaga has the feel of a large city and is graced with lots of well-landscaped areas, buildings with distinctive architecture, and wide paved roads. Not all the roads are paved, though, and one doesn’t have to go far off the principal arteries to find the same reddish dirt that causes the dust to fly. There are lots of motos in town, a chief form of transport, as well as buses.

           One of the qualities of people on the street here, which is similar to other large African cities I have visited, are the men and boys who walk around selling their wares, not easily giving up after a simple “No, merci” reply, even after I calmly repeat myself several times. I have been addressed as “chef,” “patron,” “capitain,” “général,” “ton-ton,” “grand,” and “blanc.” I guess that when they call me “vieux,” meaning “old,” they mean it to be a compliment. In all instances, I am calm and polite in refusing whatever it is I don’t want.

           For the salesmen of telephone cards, they stop when I tell them I don’t have a phone. For the cigarette-sellers, they stop when I tell them I don’t smoke. Other than that, a simple “No, merci” is evidently seen as the beginning, rather than the end, of negotiations. The only success I had in deflecting the salesmen was to point out that I had already said “no” three, four, or five times, and then I asked them how many more times they needed me to say it.

           On Saturday morning, I thought I wanted to go to the Musée National. The Lonely Planet map had it listed in a central location, but there was also a notation in the book that it would soon be moving to a new building. On Friday, I went to the place indicated on the map, to find out that it, indeed, was no longer at the place listed. In order to find the museum’s new location, I began by asking at my hotel’s front desk, to see if an employee knew where it  was now located. Nobody did. I then went to a bigger hotel, where there was a map that had buttons to indicate where certain sights were. Push the button and the path to the destination lights up. I could see that it was in walking distance, so I headed over on foot.

           While I was on my way to the museum, I checked in with a few people to be sure that I was on the right track. It had appeared to be a fairly short walk from the hotel, but I didn’t come upon it. Never have I seen the location of a building to be as debatable as this National Museum: “It’s next to the hospital,”It’s behind the presidential palace,” “It’s very far away,” “It’s very close, just around that corner.” There were also scores of people who had no idea where it was.

           By contrast, there are two stadia in town – the Stade Municipal and the Stade du 4 Août – that are signposted every few blocks, with arrows pointing in their direction. People obviously place higher value in getting to the stadium than to the museum. I decided that it would be better to take a taxi and be at the museum than spend time looking for it. Several taximen who stopped, though, had no idea where it was, either. While I was waiting, a guy drove up on his motorcycle and asked me if I needed any help. I told him I wanted to go to the museum; I had been told it was nearby. He said no, it was far away, but he would take me there. I asked him how much, and he said, “No! Get on!” meaning that he was not going to charge me. I shrugged and got on the back of his moto.

           Yes, indeed, it was far. I didn’t like the way he was driving, though, and I didn’t feel safe on the back of his motorcycle. I asked him to stop, and I got off. I tried to get another taxi. The fourth driver knew where the museum was located, and agreed to take me. As we drove, he pointed out the newly-constructed wall on the perimeter of the museum grounds. I could see by the length of the wall that the grounds were immense. That must be some museum! When he dropped me off at the front gate, I looked into the grounds and saw two fairly small completed buildings, two more small ones under construction, and a vast area on which a decent-sized American university would be able to fit its campus. There were a few trees in there, but the entire area was mostly rubble and debris.

           I made my way to one of the buildings that looked completed. As I arrived, I asked if it was the Musée National. “Yes,” one of the employees told me.

           That was a relief.

           And then he added, “We will open on the twenty-third of December at 16:00 hours.”

           So much for spending much of the day at the museum! At least I got some good exercise out of the morning, though.

            After finding that the museum was not a possibility for spending a massive amount of time, I went to the American Rec Center, but it was probably just too early on a Saturday for there to be many people recreating.

            I thought that I may as well pick up a few bottles of wine to bring back with me, since it is widely available in Burkina and not in Mauritania. I also finished a roll of film, so I had that developed, too. I usually wait until after a trip to have film developed, because photos are much heavier to carry than film canisters. But this way, I could have all reprints made in Ouaga and get them ready to mail out to friends.

            On Sunday morning, I prepared to go to the airport. I had some trepidation about the schedule of flights, but they were the only ones available: the first flight from Ouagadougou to Bamako, the second from Bamako to Dakar, and the third from Dakar to Nouakchott – four countries in a little more than seven hours!

            Unbelievably enough, all went off without a hitch, and I was back in Nouakchott shortly after 9:00 PM.