Monday, 13 April 2015

BURKINA FASO (WEST AFRICA)


We arrived in Ouagadougou (pronounced WAA-GA-DOO-GOO), the capital of Burkina Faso, on April 3rd. We are here to visit our (Alex’s and mine) foster child of the past 13 years, Adama.

But first a word about Burkina Faso…

Burkina Faso became a French protectorate in 1897 and they named it UPPER VOLTA. The country became independent in 1960 and the name was changed to Burkina Faso in 1984.

The country has had a series of coups in order to replace the various Presidents. Recently, President Blaise Compaore (in power from 1987-2014) tried to change the constitution of the country to allow him to run for yet another term. The people rose up and had massive demonstrations in protest (October 2014) and this was one of the only times that the world heard of this small landlocked country. There is now an interim government (transition government) and elections take place in October 2015. Compaore will not be permitted to run for election. Naturally some want him and some are opposed; such is the nature of politics.

On the day that we arrived, we got the news that a Romanian security person had been kidnapped in the north of the country. Neighbouring Mali and Niger are scary forces that are prone to abducting but Burkina Faso has never been the victim of a kidnapping.

There was another series of demonstrations all over the country on 8 April (the day we were scheduled to travel north to our boy’s village!) to protest the high cost of living and general corruption in the country). We cancelled the visit and re-booked. All is now calm again but imagine our concern since the Canadian, US and UK consulates have all issued travel warnings about that area of the country!

French is the national language of the country and some also speak English. Most also speak the native language, Mòoré. Locals are called Burkinabe’s. The population of the country is approximately 16 million. It is known as one of the poorest countries in the world.

You may have heard of Foster Parent Plan. A few years ago, they changed their name to Plan Canada. They have been in existence since 1937 and sponsor children in 70 countries. 51 of these are developing countries in Africa. The remaining are in Asia and the Americas. For approximately $1.00 a day, you can sponsor a child and change their life. Plan Burkina has sponsors for 41,000 children in Burkina Faso.

The goal of this organization is to give children, families and communities the tools they need to break the cycle of poverty by creating sustainable solutions for improving their lives. To learn more, have a look at www.plancanada.ca

Ouagadougou (affectionately short-formed here to Ouaga) has a population of 2 million. It is a huge city. Alex and I have visited neighbouring countries: Togo, Benin and Ghana and none come close to the modernity of this city. There are so many amazing buildings, primarily in the newer part of the city called Ouaga 2000 (pronounce WAAGA). The architecture is creative and wonderful to enjoy but there is very little landscaping as the land is very dry and there is dust and red sand everywhere which lessens the positive impact of the creative buildings. Ouaga 2000 is the centre of commerce where all the consulates are and where the more affluent live. Seeing these incredible homes emphasizes the tremendous disparity between the have’s and have not’s.

Unfortunately, there is often garbage strewn by the side of the road throughout the city. Since there are few tourists, the culture has not yet learned that they have to dispose of garbage (poubelle) appropriately. The government is starting to address this issue. To compound the issue, there are very few garbage cans to be found anywhere. Women are hired by the government  to pick up the garbage. 

Here's an embassy. 


and the President's Palace


and a monument that I think is to fallen soldiers but no-one seems able to verify this!


A house of someone afluent...many of these in Ouaga 2000 (new part of the city)



and Le Palais de Sports


and roadside scenes such as this are everywhere...


Lovely faces like this are everywhere


There are grow-ops in lots of places in the city where many locals are able to cultivate a small piece of land. They are to be seen nurturing the land and getting watering cans full of water and watering their small plot of land. 



and then there is this beautiful (man-made) lake in the middle of the city where the locals can fish and swim





Finally the magical day arrives and we are picked up by Plan to go to the remote village where our Foster Child lives, 125 km north of Ouaga. Fortunately I shopped in Mumbai (India) as supplies in Ouaga are expensive and very limited. We are armed with supplies for 300 children: rulers, erasers, pencils, pens, sharpeners and notebooks in the new suitcase I bought in Mumbai. In addition, I have all kinds of gifts for the family and for my young man in another bag. Off we go. It takes a couple of hours to get to Kaya, a large village 25 km away from his village. We decided that I could take oil, rice and soap to the family and that is an easy purchase. We also stop at a “librairie” and pick up a large French dictionary, a French text book and 5 French novels for Adama. These items are unaffordable for villagers.

We arrive at the village and as we round a corner, we are greeted by a long line of dozens upon dozens of children, all singing and clapping their hearts out, being led in song by their very enthusiastic teachers. It was a wonderful greeting that will stay with me forever. After that, they all ran back to their school to await our arrival there.




Next stop: Greet the family and the villagers briefly before going to the school… I cannot show pictures of Adama on a website (which this is) as part of Plan policy. Note the adobe huts, some round and turret like and some square. 

This lovely patch of trees out in the desert provides wonderful shade for our celebrations. 



At least three hundred are gathered around to welcome us, singing and dancing in great welcome. This is clearly a big day for the village, and worthy of great celebration. An older man steps up to greet me and thank us for coming. I know immediately that this has to be Adama’s father. It is. Then I meet his mum and then the big moment and I am hugging Adama himself who looks the same as he did when I saw his first picture at age 5, he is just a whole lot taller. It is a very powerful moment for me.

Adama is 18 now and has been at school 20 km away from his village (sort of like high school) for three years now. He is about to graduate from the Plan programme. His goal is to become a teacher and to return to his village to teach.

The village has approximately 100 families and they live in adobe huts. These are a sun-dried mix of clay, soil, straw and cow droppings, moistened to a perfect mortar and mixed by foot to create strong pottery-like structures that withstand rainstorms and extreme temperatures. Let me stress that there is NO odour.


Staples of the village are sorghum, millet, rice maize, nuts, potatoes and yams. Sauces of vegetable, fish or meat are served with these staples.

Many of the families in the village are Muslim and some are Christian. This is typical of most villages. Everyone lives together in perfect harmony. Four-fifths of the population of this country lives in remote villages.




We hurry now for the school as there is normally no school on Thursdays and the children have come to school just for us (we were originally scheduled to visit on Wednesday, the day before). There are 300 students in three different classrooms with three different teachers. We only meet two teachers but I am terribly impressed with these women. They are firm, capture the children’s attention and are clearly respected by the children. Only a few children speak French (most speak the Mossi native language: Mòoré) but I do a mini lesson in French in each classroom and then we (Leslie and Adama primarily) hand out all the goodies to each child. Candy also of course! There are several volunteers from Plan Burkina who translate for me. They do a terrific job all year round, writing letters to family sponsors, dictated by the children themselves, and delivering packages to families. We leave a map of the world in the school and an inflatable globe. We play ball with the children a bit and leave balls for the teachers with Canada and the maple leaf stamped on them. We teach all the students that they have to make a real effort to always pick up their garbage. We beg the teachers to get garbage cans for each classroom, instead of just having one for the whole school in the main yard. 




Now we return to the main part of the village and everyone clusters around. The formal ceremony begins. We are the guests of honour and have the two plastic chairs to prove it. There is a bench for some of the Plan team and everyone else sits on the ground.  We are offered a calabash of special water which Adama presents to us. It is made of water, sugar and perhaps millet. It is sweet. All utensils are communal but we do not worry. Somehow it all works. 

Here is Adama having a drink of the ceremonial water from the calabash. 



The villagers all enjoy a drink also




The main dances begin. They are spectacular, the costumes very colourful and imaginative. First the men and then the ladies. 




The ladies do a bump and grind of sorts. We laugh as they bump butts. We are invited to join in and we try to bump but miss a few times, to everyone’s delight! Lots of cheering takes place.



This is Adama's mum below dancing with me




Now it is time to dine. We do not eat in the family home as it is not large enough. There is a room set aside for everyone to use for hospitality when guests are present. In we go. The food arrives…more plates and utensils are sent for and the meal begins. Mutton (a very common tropical dish…in India, Africa and Barbados for example) and cabbage and rice. millet, beans and lots of other items. After we finish, we hand out the gifts to the family and teachers. Adama gets a watch (with 4 spare batteries), many Canada T shirts are handed out and many, many other items. Everyone present gets a Canada pin that Leslie attaches to all lapels as they become honourary Canadians.




At this time, I ask if Adama has any younger brothers and sisters. The answer is no. I know that this means I will lose touch with this young man when he graduates from Plan next month. I find that his sister has a seven year old daughter, Denise, who lives with Adama’s parents. I agree to sponsor her so that I can glean info about Adama’s progress in the future. I meet Denise but she is not particularly impressed with me. With luck that will change. She is only 7 after all.

Back to the village gathering where there are many speeches given. Adama's elder brother is on the far right in a striped shirt. He is a farmer in the village. 



Here are some of the village elders on the left:



All speeches are translated for us and then we are presented with gifts from the village. A very long cloth which Adama’s mum wraps around me (like a skirt), a special decorative shawl for the shoulder and a colourful scarf for the head. Yolande (Plan Burkina) does the same for Leslie. We model all for the villagers and we try to dance a bit. It is all hilarious and much laughter ensues. I run around handing out bracelets to all the children, many of which were made by our grandson, Justin. They are over the moon about the bracelets and suddenly there are hundreds of wrists more than children as they remove theirs and try to get another one!

Here are Leslie and I in our new garb...




It is now 4 pm and we must return to the big city by nightfall which is 6.30 pm in the tropics. This is the truly tough moment. I find it all too heartrending, realizing that I may never see Adama again. Many tears are shed and many hugs and handshakes to many of the village elders. The children all gather around the car on both sides to wave and say goodbye. And there is Adama on one side and his Dad on the other and I die a little as we drive away. Adama's dad is the tall man in the background to the left in the picture below.




It is hard to describe how much this all has meant and I am still having trouble with leaving it all behind. I seriously consider returning to this country in five years or so to visit Denise and hopefully Adama also. We are not permitted to connect with these children once they have left Plan. Denise is the hoped-for on-going connection.

Back to the city where we are staying outside the hubbub of the city in a place called Le Grand Calao, owned and managed by a French man, Maurice. We mingle with many locals who frequent the pool. Interestingly, most of the locals do not know how to swim; this makes sense in a landlocked country. We are here for 11 days so we get to know the staff very well and it is all good fun. We visit a restaurant one night “L’Eau de Vive” where the nuns (it is run by nuns) sing Ave Maria at 9.45 every evening. We meet a local man and his wife dining there. His little sister lives in Sudbury and I promise to phone her.

We leave on Tuesday evening and get home on Wednesday evening, (15 April) via Istanbul. It has indeed been the trip of a lifetime. But it is time to come home and see my Alex and the kids. Can’t wait.

This is my last installment of our travel adventures. Thanks so much for joining along in the journey. It’s been a heck of a ride. Thank you too to Leslie for joining me in the adventure.

Hope to see all of you soon.

Barbara

Thursday, 2 April 2015

INDIA: ON SAFARI & MORE

We are still in India, the country that gave chess and polo to the world. Polo was so big in days gone by that Maharajahs would tell the team captain: “Win the match and I will give you my daughter!”

We have now arrived in Sawai Madhopur, home to Ranthambore National Park. This was originally the hunting reserve for the Maharajah of Jaipur. In 1955, it was declared a game sanctuary. This reserve is best known for its tigers whose population is increasing ... a good sign. The park is 60 square kilometres in size. 

We leave at 6 am in our quest to spot a tiger. Many groups to whom we have been chatting say that they have not seen a tiger so we are not optimistic. We travel in open jeeps and off we go with a driver and a naturalist.

We see monkeys and suddenly, almost at the entrance gates, a tiger is spotted. These tigers are Royal Bengal tigers. This one is a tigress with her cub and she is on top of a clump of rocks at the top of a hill. How the naturalist spotted her is a total mystery as they are blended in with the rocks. We sit there for two hours watching their every move. We are spell bound…Quiet cries of “Her head’s up!” can be heard as many jeeps share binoculars and snap photos non-stop.





And now here she is in better view from another spot. You can see the cub on her right. 

This tigress had a male and female cub a year ago but a male tiger from another zone came over a few days ago and killed the male cub. It is rare that a tiger will leave their zone and their territories are carefully marked by them with their urine. This is all very sad but it is rare to spot a tigress and her cub so it is our lucky day. The naturalist and driver are also thrilled because their tips will be more substantial.

Later in the day, on the afternoon safari, we see Blue Bull antelopes and spotted deer, some gazelles and a number of lovely and colourful birds, including parakeets. They are all magnificent but alas no leopards (usually much later in the day) and no more tigers.


The next day, off we go to the railway station to take the train. We are told we will have two minutes to board so we are all at the ready to jump. Luggage has gone ahead with our bus, thank goodness. We get off in Bharatpur to see Fatehpur Sikri or “The City of Victory”. This is a deserted red sandstone city, built by the Great Mughal Emperor, Akbar (Akbar the Great) as his capital and palace in the late 16th century. It was the capital for 10 years.

As we travel through India, we find that Emperors, Kings and Maharajahs frequently changed the capital of the country. Blazing new trails, making their mark, leaving their legacy. Imagine the cost as new palaces and forts had to be built everywhere.

Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned soon after it was built when the local wells went dry but it remains the same today as it was 300 years ago. Palaces and mosques complete the “city”.


Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned soon after it was built when the local wells went dry but it remains the same today as it was 300 years ago. Palaces and mosques complete the “city”. Akbar was Muslim and one of his wives (Jodha) was Hindu. He allowed her to have her own vegetarian kitchen here.

In the world of Islam, man is not allowed to reproduce anything that Allah has created. Thus, there should be no pictures of animals or people or even flowers. Hence there is a lot of art with geometrical patterns. In this deserted city, we actually find marble carvings where heads of people have been removed so that the Islam rules will be adhered to. Later on, at an art gallery, we see plenty of Muslim art work with pictures of people and gardens. Artists seem to bend the rules.

We see here a REAL King size bed, Akbar the Great’s bed. Maybe this is where the term came from. Akbar only slept three hours a night, it is said and began each day at sunrise listening to complaints of his subjects. For his more worldly pleasures, he had a harem of over 5000 women. No woman (except for Jodha) entered the King’s bedroom twice, it is said.


Above is Akbar's King Size bed!!

If sentenced to death, you were trampled by an elephant. Akbar’s temper was so great, however, that he ordered that no sentence was to be carried out unless he had given the order three times.

And now away we go to Agra, the capital of the Mughals in 16th and 17th century and the next morning we are off to see the Taj Mahal. It is everything that has been said about it and more.

The Taj was built by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jehan, in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died at the age of 39 giving birth to her fourteenth child and he went into mourning for two years, turning away from the business of running an empire and becoming more involved with his other great love: Architecture. The exquisite intricate marble inlay work is truly magnificent.

We arrive at dawn and are the first group to arrive, half hour before the gates opened. It is wonderful to see the Taj before the crowds arrive and we are the first ones into the Mausoleum. There is an ethereal quality about the  look, unless you see it in doctored pictures. 




and now another view of the Taj...up close and personal...



The main entrance is below:



We now return to Delhi, visit Qutab Minar, a world heritage site . This is the first Mosque in India and also has Hindu pillars. There is a metal pillar that was erected in AD 370 and is a metallurgical marvel as it has never ever rusted. 

The next day, we say goodbye to the group of eight others that have been part of our group for two weeks now. Leslie and I are off to see more of India, now on our own. 

We fly to Cochin in South West India and tour the city. Cochin is in the state of Kerala, one of the smallest states in India. Cochin has a rich and colourful history. 47% of the population here is Hindu while 35% is Christian, making this the largest Christian area in India. St. Thomas came here in 1st Century in AD 52 from Syria to spread the word of Christianity. 

We see the graceful Chinese fishing nets. These cantilever over the harbour and operate by a system of levers and weights. The nets are raised often to check the catch and are operated by up to six fishermen. In the lowlands, at sea level, seafood, shrimp, crab and scampi abound.







This is one of the fishermen, who felt sure we would never guess that he was 75! The people are lovely.

Speaking of people, our guide in the North, Nitin, told us that God has an oven when he bakes us humans. Caucasians are underbaked, Africans are overbaked and Indians are just right. (Some might say that we are half-baked!)

We see many Banyan Trees here. These are of special significance because our school programme in Cambodia is named Banyan Learning Tree...but also, when the Portuguese first landed in Barbados in early 1600's, they saw all these Bearded Fig trees all over the island (same tree) ...Barbadoes is the name in Portuguese for Bearded Fig Tree; hence the name of the island where I was born and raised and where my father's family moved to in 1652.



The state of Kerala has always been popular because of the spice trade. They grow many spices in the mountains which are at 7500 feet. The highest tea plantation in the world is here. The Romans, the Greeks, The Jewish all came 2000 or more years ago, all for the spices. 


This picture is of a typical shop owner, wearing a Dhoti, just as Gandhi wore. 

The Arabs arrived in the 7th Century, the Chinese in the 13th Century. in 15th Centrury, the Portuguese invaded. In the 17th century: The Dutch. In the 19th Century, the British took over. Our guide points out that India never invaded anyone! Kerala was known as the Battleground of the Europeans, because of the spices. 

It is thought that the first Jewish settlers arrived in the days of King Solomon, 11th Century BC. The earliest concrete evidence of their presence is a copper inscription dated AD 388. They were a huge community and highly respected members of the Kerala community. The oldest functioning Jewish synagogue in the Commonwealth, Pardesi Synagogue, built in 1568, still has weekly services, although most Jewish people left in 1948 when Israel was created. 

We see the Synagogue and then see the Dutch palace, so named because the Royal Palace was destroyed earlier and was rebuilt by the Dutch. 

Our next adventure is in Alleppey, home to the Kerala backwaters. Here we board our houseboat for our overnight cruise.  


It's a rough life on the boat. The food is fabulous. Our chef is a delightful young man and I want to take him home! 

The foliage, the people and the scenery are all beautiful as we sail by. 

We enjoy sunset, enjoy a few hands of bidding at bridge and call it an early night. The next morning, we breakfast at the extraordinary Kumarakom Lake Resort (owners of the houseboat) and I pledge to return to Kerala and Cochin, next time with my Alex. 

Off to the airport we go to fly to Mumbai. we visit Mani Bhavan which was Gandhi's Bombay base from 1917-1934. It is now a museum and a memorial to the Mahatma, as he is known. The  artifacts and quotations are displayed and his life is told with a series of wonderful "dioramas" (mini statues of the powerful history)...Here is the room in which he resided...

Gandhi even wrote to Hitler in 1939 and pleaded with him to prevent the imminent war. His words were so carefully chosen. I now have Gandhi's autobiography and all his brilliant quotations. Gandhi wore his dhoti to visit the  King of England at one point and the King was not at all impressed. Gandhi replied: " I am wearing enough clothes for both of us." 

Mumbai is called the City of Dreams and is the Business Capital of Mumbai. I adore this city; this is my second visit. we see the dhobi ghats. Even if you are not interested in other people's dirty laundry, this is fascinating. The dhobi is a laundryman who collects your dirty linen which is then soaped, boiled, beaten and thrashed. The next day, after being dried, it is pressed, folded and neatly returned in bundles from whence it came. 

We see the Gateway of India, built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Lord Mountbatten led the last British troops through these gates in 1948. 


This is close to the Taj Hotel where the bombing took place in Mumbai in 2008. Terrorist activities took place at the Taj and also at the Trident and Oberoi hotels in Nariman Point. We are staying at that Trident where there is a memorial to those who lost their lives at that time. Leslie and I also have dinner at Leopold's cafe, which was also attacked at that time and there are bullet holes in the walls. 

We visit the Hanging Gardens, beautiful gardens built in 1881 to cover an enormous water reservoir. Next door to this is the Towers of Silence. Zoroastrians cannot cremate their dead as they worship fire. Since their bodies are impure, they cannot give their impure bodies to the pure fire, so the deceased bodies are placed in this area and vultures scavenge. I spoke to a Zoroastrian and found it most interesting. In this specific location, however, since vultures do not like the city and its noise, solar mirrors have been installed and these gradually, naturally and gently cremate the bodies. 

We also learn about the Tiffin Walla. This exists only in Mumbai. 200,000 hot lunches are picked up by 5000 men daily from each individual home and delivered from home to office every day. A walla is a man. Tiffin is the lunch box. it is a courier system that works by relay...they are passed from one to another, by bicycles, push cars and trains. And NO mistakes are ever made. One mistake in 16 million. There is no paper work; it is done by a coding system. It is a team project and all revenue gets distributed between the workers evenly. Cost is 700 Rupees per month for the service for each family (which is $14.00 Canadian). After the lunch has been consumed, the lunch box then gets picked up and taken back from whence it came!

We see the Victoria Station in all its glory. 


We also learn that the India constitution was written based largely on the Canadian constitution. Dr. Ambedkar finalized this for India and they say it is the longest constitution in the world with 395 articles. 

video
After touring, Leslie and I go off to Crawford Market to purchase all the supplies for the school in Burkina Faso in West Africa our next stop. Our expedition to the market is fantastic. We are told to head to Jaitin Enterprises in hopes of obtaining 300 erasers, 300 pencils, 300 pens, 300 sharpeners, 300 rulers and notebooks for all. We searched and searched and cannot find such a place. One man then tells us he can help us. He is a very real gem and after we wait quite a spell, we do manage to acquire all these treasures. It is a huge and very heavy pile.  I tell him I will need someone to get us a taxi and to take us out to the street. Meanwhile, you have never in  your life seen such a street. I am hoping you can view the above video. Try to click on this. This was an experiment so I don't know if it will work. 

Our man walks us to the end of one street, then grabs a man who places a turban type thing on his head. He places the two enormous bags on his head (55 kg worth!) and off we go some more as I have begged this man to take me to a suitcase store! Only in India could this be done. He does just that and proceeds to pack the suitcase with all the loot I have purchased. It is so perfect, I cannot tell you. He refuses the tip but I insist and now he gets us a cab and off we go. I have NEVER had such incredible service at such a bargain price!



That evening, we go to see The Second Most Exotic Marigold Hotel, across the street from our hotel. It is playing in English. What fun and what better place to see it but in India. If you have not seen # 1 movie, make a point of it. This one was good also. One good line that I loved was: " There's no present like the time". 

And now off to Burkina Faso in West Africa to see our foster child. All too exciting. 

Stay tuned!