Well, whadya expect?

West Africa

Gettin’ Coastal in Senegal

Dakar & N’Gor Island, Senegal

July 17, 2010

loading up the sun protection...essential toubab goods

So after our patience and will testing departure from Burkina Faso (see previous entry for all the gory details), frustrations and rage quelled a bit as we flew (luxury!) across the plains and back to the cool coastal breezes of Dakar. And after our time away, the city felt so cosmopolitan. K was happy to see Matt (her awesome, also PCV (of 4 years!), boyfriend) and we were both ready to indulge in some big city food and hang out with friends before we’d be jetting off to jolly ol’ England, a land of privilege neither of us were sure we could handle yet. In this time we also took a wonderful city getaway trip to N’Gor Island. On a recommendation from another Peace Corps worker who likes to take an island day-trip every now and then, we hopped aboard the fishing boat for the 5-minute journey across the waters. It’s literally right across the way from Dakar. Even Matt was shocked… “why have we not been here before?!” Suddenly we were in island mode…it was glorious. We stayed at the N’Gor Surf Camp, where a really rad Danish surfer dude, Jesper, runs the place. I highly recommend it! http://www.gosurf.dk/ Cute place, nice accommodations, good vibes, perfect location and ample opportunity to paddle out to the consistently breakin waves.

great place to chill as long as the sun stays out

While K and Matt did a day at the surf school, I also decided I wasn’t gonna get another chance to surf in West Africa so I ignored the haven’t-surfed-in-6-months jitters and grabbed a longboard to head out.We had to paddle from a tiny beach inlet where the water was foamy with a hint of oily sheen…mmm…pollution. From there it was a little ways over, across, and out to the breaking outside waves. The day was crumbly and scattered at best but small wasn’t always the descriptor! Out of shape I huffed my way out and the first set that came through was a beast (6 or 7ft?…when your not a hardcore surfer that looks monstrous!) and mostly heart-race inducing because I knew I probably wouldn’t make it over. I didn’t. I nearly pushed over but the ocean laughed at my vain efforts and threw me back from whence I came like a flimsy little bath toy.

ahh yeah, it was just like that ha

After my washing machine tumble I was a bit shaken, but hell, I’m not going to wimp out so soon…I can’t! I won’t! Jesper called out to me… “woah…man, you got the big one right on top of your head…unlucky…I am sorry”. He was so sweet and it was good to hear someone else say…that twas a bit gnarly. Haha. I told him I’d watch from a distance on the shoulder like the confidence-shattered “surfer” that I was….i wasn’t about to take-off over shallow waters and sharp reef below now. I stayed off to the side (where the wave is smallest and coming to an end), cheered on the other 3 dudes out there and made a few attempts…I think I got 1. I ended up having more of a paddle-around/wipeout session but it’s always about being out there, and that I enjoyed. It’s amazing…no matter what…ya always feel great after a surf session…something about those ocean rhythms.

aww, K and Matt, they is so cute

one last walk in the city before heading off

Back at da camp we had communal dinners, chatted, laughed, drank, smoked, swatted mosquitoes and got way too much entertainment value out of a flickering candle in the dark. Ah, a surfers’ life in Africa. After 2 nights there we headed back o the mainland and now looking back at our trip I can hardly believe all that has happened in 3 months… I couldn’t stop laughing at our little misfortunes and  grinning about our highs. And then there’s the fact that neither K nor I wanted to leave the other in Africa, never to be seen again…a true test of friendship! Finding a good travel partner ain’t easy, but the experience of the people, places, FOOD and crazy events that whipped through our lives in this whirlwind trip was one of the best times I’ve ever had. And let me once more say a massive THANK YOU to K/KT/Kate/Katie/Kay, who made this trip possible. And to all the PCV’s who work mind-blowingly hard, tell some crazy (and funny!) stories, and do some of the most incredible things.

this was actually in Dakar, the most Western point of Africa

Let’s Get Rosy for West Africa:

I’ll miss the camaraderie

I’ll miss the ongoing carnival of street food

I’ll miss the extreme highs and lows (well, not really the lows…but seems ya can’t have one without the other)

I’ll miss the organized chaos.

I’ll miss the get-it-done, inventive, resourceful spirit

I’ll miss the people (who don’t annoy the hell out of you yelling “white lady! Toubab!” etc, every 10 seconds).

I’ll miss the colors

And…I’ll miss the ice cream in a bag.

……………………..Yep. I know I’ll be back.


Burkina Exiting Strategy Tragedy

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

July 14, 2010

Apparently I’ve (also) got fickle visa policies, arrogant border guards and unfortunate circumstances in Ouagadougou.

this what a $200 exit fee looks ike!

It’s 4am at the Ouagadougou Airport and we’re racing between buildings, ATM machines, bureaucracy, and total-shit-chaos. I also have a djembe and I’m not afraid to use it. Or…maybe I’ll just empty the contents of my wallet, throw my passport and start crying/hyperventilating. My visa’s expired?! I have to pay what to get another one?! You’re not letting me get on my fight to leave your country?!

Ok…I’ve got some splainin’ to do. Let’s start here: It was a rough exit from Burkina Faso.

When we originally entered Burkina, it was on a 2 week visa that set us back about $20. If we wanted to stay longer than 2 weeks we could extended the visa to 30 days for free, we’d just have to go to the police station in Ouagadougou. Well, we thought we’d be in Burkina for a week…10 days max, before we’d do onto Mali. But with the Al Qaida threat we scratched Mali. We didn’t get the extender, went off to explore Western Burkina, I got sick, we got delayed and by the time we got back to Ouaga the visa had technically already expired. KT assured me it’d be no worries when time came to leave in 2 days. It’s West Africa…no one will probably even notice and if they did, we could just work our way through it…pay them off. It works that way in most parts here. But of course Burkina had to be the upstanding moralistic country (at least for border control) that it is (the one time we wanted a little leeway!). No bribing was to be had. Point 1.

Point 2: Literally days before our flight, the visa fee and policy between the United States and Burkina had been changed from $20 to $190. (I later checked the U.S. Embassy sight and found this to be true….at the time we thought we were being lied to) So when they wouldn’t let us out until we paid for this NEW visa at 800% the price we’d been charged before we both did a double-take of disbelief and enraging frustration quickly ensued. We thought we were being taken for a ride, and even if we weren’t, they could have easily waved us through. It didn’t help that the guy we dealt with was one of the biggest ass-holes I’ve ever met. And I usually give people the benefit of the doubt. “No, monsieur, no, no…not possible. Please. Please?” K pleaded. But all he did was roll his eyes, toss our passports back at us and suggested we go “find” some money, or…stay in Burkina, it is a nice place. We both held back the instinct to toss our fists towards his face.  The African people are awesome but it turns out that authority; power and bureaucratic thought, has the ability to create cross-cultural douche-bags.

The Emotional Process




Thankfully there were a few people at the airport who were surprisingly sympathetic and tried to help us, telling us there was in fact a nearby ATM (of course, neither of us had this kind of money in our wallets to pay him), and eventually holding the plane for us at this ungodly hour. Yes, please recall this is all taking place between 3:30 and 4:30am. Fun! Some of our Zaka drummer friends had even come to bid us farewell and tried their best to comfort…though between cursing and sprinting from one agent to the next, still stunned I was pulling $400 out of my account, I couldn’t appreciate but a tiny bit of their concern.

In the end we did pay the “exit fee”, i.e. a new 6 month visa to Burkina Faso, we barely made the (held) flight and we did kinda cry into each others’ arms once inside the place…”I thought this was going to be the easy travel day!” Wretched.

I wouldn’t feel so bad if I felt that our money would go towards helping such a poor nation, but it will probably swirl on the wings of flighty bureaucracy and into the paycheck of unnamed, evil border-control-visa dude. He could have let us through….really. The circumstances were a bit ridiculous…KT offered all her Ghanaian money (haha), I nearly exploded, but that’s Murphy’s Law for ya. So kiddies, just make sure your visas are in order before you go in or out of anywhere. Alternatively, ya better be a real smooth talker (and have your ATM card ready). Dammit Burkina…and I thought we were friends…sigh…but I do still love ya.

I’ve Got Friends in Ouagadougou

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

July 12, 2010

learnin to drum!

Seydou getting the djembe ready for me to take home!

When we made it back to Ouaga it felt comforting, familiar. Not only had we made good friends with Ria, a British woman who spends much of her time working with village women in Burkina, but also the drummers guys and friendly waiter from Zaka, an outdoor venue/restaurant with great music and awesome people! Pap Noel, an eccentric expat, also tended to spend a lot of time there making little trinkets and who-knows-what…this made Zaka that much better. The man is a fantastically quirky mystery (be my friend too?). When went to Zaka to check out the food that had temptingly wafted under our noses the time we’d been before and all of the guys there were so sad that we were leaving, they insisted they give us a going away concert! I was also tempted by the offering of a drum lesson from one of the performers, Seydou. And after seeing his drum skills, his wild ability, live-on-stage, I was happy to take him up on that offer. Yes…I was finally gonna get to play African drums in Africa!

testing out some of the crafts...it's a giant letter opener!

carving canes...they were so cool!

KT and I had spent most of that next day shopping round Ouaga. They had an especially cool artist market where the artists all have a space to make (and sell) goods that go mostly to the shops around town. Was cool to meet and buy from the artists and creators directly and to get a glimpse into their processes. After a bit more shopping we both grabbed a quick street-sandwich (bread and a whole lotta butter!) some drinks and Zaka and prepared for our drum lesson! Seydou was great…K and I were rockin it out with his call for rhythms, fills and sweet beats. We got pretty into it…perhaps myself, a little more…cause by the end of the lesson I was sold. I wanted to be a stereotype, college-aged westerner, carting home an African drum. Who can say, full-size djembe on a plane??! Seydou had even carved and put together the djembe drum himself (or at least put it together…who really knows) which seemed like an extra cool feature for a souvenir I’d actually put to use….rad! Soo…I now have a djembe.

walkin Ouaga at dusk


That night we returned to Zaka for our concert…I felt bad that there were only a couple of other people there but the guys all seemed to be having fun and loved it when we finally got up there and danced. I’m always thankful I don’t have to watch myself. The music was rocking (man can these guys DRUM…incredible) and although tired, we had a great time. We got back around midnight, packed the stuff strewn around the room into our respective bags (+ drum) and set the alarm for 3am. It was sad to leave our friends…everyone in Burkina had been so genuine and kind…it was definitely one of our favorite places. It’s funny how the poorer people are, the more open and giving they are.

rockin out

Bobo-Dioulasso: Round 2: Music, Millet beer, Acrobatics and Antibiotics (that worked!)

Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

July 12, 2010


-Antibiotics heal me!

-Crazy acrobats and awesome music

-K eats a caterpillar sandwich and likes it

-Carpe Diem Café (K gets free coffee cause she has a carpe diem tattoo and finds out that apparently “carpe diem” translates as “pleasures of the table”…wow…ur tattoo just got a whole lot awesomer)

-Hippo bag

With a fresh bill of health I was ready to take on Bobo-Dioulasso like a proper tourist. The city turned out to have a lot to offer. The sun was always beating down on the scene and the dusty roads kicked up a haze, but the cultural sights and sounds were many….ahhh yeaah!

Grand Mosque

It was all about music in Bobo. One day we wandered out and about to check up on the city and headed onward to the Museum of Music, which turned out to be surprisingly cool and informative, thanks to our guide. Getting a first hand glimpse of all these old instruments and learning their traditional roles, mostly in ceremonies of war and celebration really makes you stop and think about the power of music. We also got to watch a cool video on the worldwide spread and appeal of the djembe drum which I’m sure you are all familiar with through hippie fests and protests. In African history, the djembe is a blip…one instrument, one drum among many that are featured more prominently: balaphones, marimbas, horns, harps, shakers, and drums a plenty of different sounds, features and roles. Music nowadays has shifted to a primarily entertainment, hobby, art form (though of course ceremonially it’s still active… say in weddings, graduations, sporting events). And I must say it’s one of the things I most enjoy in life! And that’s where we’re headed next in Bobo…musical entertainment yar!

a glimpse of the show...i need to get a tripod...well you get the spirit of it!

K and I thought we’d have a night out at a club called Les Bambous that sounded promising in the Lonely Planet guide (sometimes I hate LP but it is great if ya treat it as it should be treated…as a reference). It turned out to be a very cool spot indeed! Definitely a lot of locals which always speaks well for a place, and the whole ambiance was great: outdoors with little tables and booths, lights strung up, awesome music…and wait for it…acrobats! These performers that started almost right after we arrived were Cirque du Soleil material…and they’re probably just locals too…amazing. K and I watched with our jaws dropped “oh-my-woah!…wait??! whaaaaat??! Did you just—oh my GAWWWD!”  Antibiotics and acrobats…makin’ me feel alive! Aaaand, a bit jealous that I could come nowhere near their flexible feats and talents. The bands that played and the music that accompanied the acrobat guys was also great…we were very infused with the wonderful, dancing spirit of Africa that night. I now completely understand why travelers long to return to Africa, and why expats dot the land.

cause we're havin a good time...havin' a good time! notice bandana (covering scary white girl braids)

After that cultural extravaganza, the next day I was motivated to go find a few music shops/stands and seek out some tunes to take home. This is one of my favorites things while traveling and why half of my pack always ends up stuffed with CDs. And in Africa, because people are always trying to sell ya something on the street, it was great to finally take first the interest and get into a banter (as much as one can with a language barrier) about the different artist, sounds and eventually price, of the items at hand. I cannot tell you how excited this guy was; he was runnin’ all over the place getting CDs for me to listened to “you like this one??” then he would send someone running to another store to find a similar artist I’d like. And when his cd player went on the fritz (I always try to have a listen before I buy) we just walked over to his friend’s stand and set ourselves up there! In the end KT was wondering where the hell I’d gotten to after 2 hours…but I listened to a bunch of music and bargained to a good price for what I wanted….the seller and i were both laughing by the end of it. I really don’t know much about West African music, so was pretty stoked about gettin these new tunes home for a listen.

rooftops of the old town quarters

And then… finally… the heat that day decided it could no longer endure the building pressure of high temperature and the rain broke through with a vengeance for relief. And man did that relief come down in buckets! It was unbelievable. Like a 3-4 hour “cloud burst”…I’m talking serious quarter-sized pelting rain, teaming it down! We couldn’t even bring ourselves to walk across the street…it was a ‘step into it for 30 seconds, you just took a 15 minute shower’ kinda downpour….for hours. It did cease eventually, the street rivers went down a bit, and in the middle of it we did have a kind man retrieve us with a beach umbrella to escort us to the restaurant next door. Haha.

wandering the one of the four quarters of the old town

mmmm...this is where they make the millet beer!

impromptu performance i wonder?

On our last day in Bobo we took a trip to the old part of town with a recommended guide. K started the tour off with a caterpillar sandwich…apparently very tasty…and crunchy! and then moved on into the town. We learned about the Grand Mosque and wandered the winding, high-walled quarters (four specific quarters to be exact) of the old town, able to get a glimpse of traditional lifestyles in Bobo-Dioulasso. Oh, if only I could remember more about the details…I need to start taking notes. Images are in my brain, but facts are not. One highlight that of course stood out was the millet beer, called “dolo”…they make it right there in this massive, sectioned, earth pot…so cool. The people then drink it out of gourds…pretty big gourds actually. We were sad we didn’t get to try any but damn, these people must have a good time!

the river...looking very sacred

another view of the Mosque

Our guide was informative but parts of the tour felt a bit contrived…k and I joked “ok…here come the tourists! Children dance! Ok, now start the impromptu drum session!” haha. But after each section of the town (our favorite spot perhaps being the sacred fish pond that looked more like the polluted waste dump and pig bath) we were led into a tourist shop that held general Africa knick-knacks to be found all over, but well, that’s the way of it eh. One man had some really cool and unique iron sculptures, which he had clearly created himself, so I did pick something up there. I’m also going to say it: Hippo Bag. Let’s just say K got a little too involved of the bargaining aspect of the trade and acquired a stunning burlap purse. Interested? You know who to contact!

hello little caterpillar...i am going to eat you! caterpillar fry

Bobo turned out to be a diverse place and I’m glad we had time to give it a second chance.