Monday, 13 April 2015


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

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.


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