Friday, April 20, 2018

Burkina Faso is a Small Land-Locked Country in West Africa

Last year when discussing with Neverthirst the possibility of doing a project in Burkina Faso, I was met with blank stares. This surprised me because one of those staring was a TCK and another was a widely traveled Australian and the others have also traveled frequently and also watch a lot of news programs, which I was sure had featured Burkina Faso in recent months because American news programs occasionally go international for events involving terrorism. 

As for me, I don’t remember when I first found out about Burkina Faso. I don’t remember when I learned that Ouagadougou was its capital city, but I’ve always enjoyed the rhythm of the name. I probably first heard about it from my grandparents who went on a mission trip there back in the 1970’s when it was still called Upper Volta. My grandfather helped build some stuff, and my grandmother taught adult literacy, which she did for years in the U.S. as well. They had two little wooden elephants in their house, which they may have brought back from Burkina or their subsequent trip to visit their good friends in Uganda and Kenya. At any rate, I probably learned exactly where to find it on the map when I memorized all the countries in the world so that I could always win at our geography board game “Where in the World.” Winning is very important to me, but that tactic backfired, as no one ever agreed to play with me after that (winning is also important to the rest of my family).  At any rate, I wanted to go there because I knew it would make my grandmother so happy (it did) and because I’d never been there before. Humbly I admit to you, dear reader, aka Mom, that I often pitch new project ideas based on getting a chance to see a place I’ve never been to but want to visit. I know you thought it was always only For the Children.  Unfortunately, I’m not actually that Good.

The traveling matriarch surrounded by some of her family.
The other photos I have of her are sans makeup and she would write me
out of her will and/or curse me from the grave if I posted one of those.

 So we had the following conversation with Neverthirst:

Me: “We should look into doing some bore holes in Burkina Faso. I have a contact there, and it is in the Sahel Region, like Chad. There is a need for water there.” (Insert statistics I no longer have on a powerpoint in front of my face because I'm writing this from the airport while a little girl I've never met before in my life sits right next to me staring at my face.)

Someone from Neverthirst (paraphrased) “What’s Burkina Faso?”

Me: “What?”

Neverthirst man: “Is it a country?”

Me: “Are you serious right now?”

Another Neverthirst guy: “I’ve really never heard of it.”

Me: “Small, landlocked country in west Africa. Francophone. Capital is Ouagadougou. Used to be called Upper Volta. It’s been all over the news. They just had a coup. They just had a couple of terrorist attacks. There was an American missionary killed.”

Zero recognition from my esteemed colleagues, whom I love and respect (I really do). At this point, I’d mostly used up all my facts about Burkina Faso as well. Also, I didn’t want to harp on the recent violence because that is only a point in its favor for me, as I’m always more interested in a place if it’s likely that I could be in mortal danger at some point in my trip.

To make a long story short…wait, that is uncharacteristic, I usually make short stories long…anyway, embarrassed by their knowledge gap, they agreed to the project to make me stop talking about it. So—a win for me! And now, any time any of them hear mention of Burkina Faso, I get an email about where they heard about it (a game show, the news, the school age child of one of their friends) and whenever I mention it, I make sure to point out that it is a small, land-locked country in west Africa (hence the title of this post).

So I finally made it there. I got my visa at the Burkinabé (the adjective for describing people or things from Burkina Faso) Embassy in Chad. I knew where it was because it is on the way to one of my friend’s houses. I popped in there, shocking all the employees who were sitting around watching TV, as they don’t get many visa applications. They quickly gave me a visa, and so that was easy. Then I booked a flight for a country just one country over to the west that involved me flying through 2 non-contiguous countries (N’djamena to Abuja to Lomé) on the way there and overnighting in Addis (the opposite side of the continent) on the way back.

The photo I took for my grandmother.

The building I told my grandmother was the one that my grandfather built.
I mean, it could be...

A super cool old friend from 10+ years ago
who made the trip to see me because she's the Best.

Old old friends, conveniently with the same name,
so as our mental faculties start to go, we won't struggle to remember who we are.

She took me terrorism touristing so I could see where the attack was.

We ate at this restaurant where many people were killed, including family of the restaurant owner.
He's reopened, added lots of security measures, showing a pretty impressive resilience.
Yes, that's my thumb. I don't like taking photos in places like that, but I do it quickly anyway
so that I can show you and sometimes my thumb gets in the photo too.

Tim, one of the guys we did the project with in Burkina, standing by his fancy rig.

Mark, the other guy we worked with there, standing by the open well
where the people used to get their water before the new bore hole. 

Joanna, a partner of above two guys, who came with us on the trip to the field, as she works with the local church leaders.
When you live internationally, you find you have connections everywhere. Joanna and I have a mutual friend
who told me about Joanna's amazing chocolate cake. So I mentioned that I'd heard about it,
and the next day she brought us some. What can we learn from this experience?
Talk about cake a lot and sometimes people will make it for you.

Another old friend who came by to see me. It's nice to have friends
that want to hang out with me when I'm in their countries.

This is not relevant, but look what happened to my Ginger Pepsi Max
that I left in the car for an hour in the heat of the day--it exploded.
That's the power of the Chadian sun.

Any challengers? Think you can beat me at this game?
(Note to Neverthirst guys: you won't.)

Also note to Neverthirst guys: this picture

Monday, March 26, 2018

One Year Older, One More Country

If I went back and tried to count the birthdays I’ve spent about to travel, traveling, or in a country I don’t live in, it would be a lot because A) I’m old and B) I like traveling. Though since I’ve moved to Chad, all my birthday travels have been work-related, which is a bit less fun, but still an adventure.

This year I was in Malawi. A new country for me is always fun. I keep a list of everywhere I’ve been organized by continent and length of stay. I like to add to that list, so I counted it as a birthday present.

Of course traveling by plane in Africa is often as complicated as trying to fly between two random cities in the U.S. Let’s be honest: airline scheduling is intentionally inconvenient for everyone regardless of the continent, but it is particularly expensive and not all airports you get stuck in sell good candy.

 Most of my Africa trips have me going through Addis airport and often I have to stay the night. The good thing is that Ethiopian Airlines has a policy that gives you a free hotel if you are in the airport over 8 hours. The bad thing is that the hotel could possibly worse for sleeping and comfort than spending 8 hours in the airport. Once I had a hotel where a drunk guy screamed outside my door all night. I did not sleep. Another time my hotel was right near a pack of dogs having an all night concert of barking. My biggest issue with these hotels is that there is never enough drinking water for when you come off an airplane all dehydrated. I bring a water bottle, but there aren’t any water fountains in the airport, and there isn’t a place to buy water before you’re at the hotel. I also try to convince the hotel to give me extra water. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t.  My other frequent flyer friends and I are keeping track of good hotels we get sent to in Addis and the bad ones. The best one I’ve been in is Destiny Hotel, but they don’t let you request the one you want, sadly. On my next trip, when I’m flying to a country on the opposite side of Africa, I still have an overnight layover to get me home to Chad, and the likelihood of me getting a terrible hotel is quite high. But if they have consistent electricity, they are already better than my house right now, so I’ll probably survive. The best news is that the Addis Airport now sells Haribo gummies and various types of chocolate. So I know that I will have sustenance.

Anyway, all that unsolicited extra info about Ethiopian Airline hotels aside, Malawi was a pretty fun trip. I got to hang out with people from all over Africa who are doing biosand filter projects in their respective countries. I ate blood. I petted a puppy. I tried some new junk food. I met my bro in law’s African doppelganger. Sat through a tribal dance that made me extremely uncomfortable. And finally opened all the birthday presents my family sent with me from the States after Christmas.

Then on the flight back, while in the immigration line in Addis, on my way to my transit hotel (it was the worst), I was pulled out of line to translate for a lost lonely French woman who was meeting a tour group. They heard me talking to a guy from Burundi in French, and they appointed me the designated translator. And then I was really worried for this sweet little old lady who seemed a bit naïve about her little African adventure. I missed my hotel shuttle (maybe my originally assigned hotel would have been better) to make sure that she found her guy. We ran all over the airport looking for him. I really hope the rest of her group includes some French speakers because outside of francophone Africa, French is not much help. Fortunately, the Ethiopian Airlines lady knew I was helping the French woman so she put me on the next shuttle she saw heading to any hotel, when she noticed me standing around 30 minutes later. But that is the excitement of traveling—you never know who you’re going to meet or what language you will be speaking.  Or what kind of Haribo gummies they will sell in their duty free shops.

Robinson and I walked at least one way to the meetings every day
from the hotel--5+ miles. This isn't Robinson in the photo with me though.

My sister picks the perfect wrapping paper for me.

My birthday cake!

The goat's blood that Robinson was super-excited to cook for us.

This is what it looks like cooked.

It tastes a bit like liver.

My favorite drink! Coconut pineapple soda. Yes.

They look the same!

The photo of Joe sleeping by my empty chair that my staff
sends me whenever I'm gone to remind me that he misses me.

Cows ruin traffic everywhere.

I will do anything to get out of meetings, including riding in the back of a truck
in the middle of the day. Was very sunburnt, but it was worth it.

Malawian puppy. So tiny and cute.

Stopping to talk to some school kids.

She shared her cheetos with me. That is true hospitality.

The beautiful Derlinie cooking up some meat in a traditional barbecue.

We had no rope to stack chairs on the car, so we got creative with bits of cloth.
Some of the guys were offering belts, but we didn't end up needing them.

The dance, which started to make fun of the colonists (valid)
but it involves dancers wearing masks, and I'm not gonna lie--
people in masks kind of freak me out. Like those creeps that dress up like Mickey Mouse.
What is really under there?

I was the one white foreigner sitting and watching the dance
and they kept running up and dancing in my face.
It was very stressful maintaining an awkward smile while keeping myself
from running away screaming. Those are survival skills you develop living overseas.
A skill that comes in handy when you're eating blood or bugs too.

My wonderful friends made me a gummy bear cake the next week for my birthday.
My parents and friends also all gave me gummies. It's so easy to buy me presents!
And they were all surprised at how fast I ate them. I guess they don't know me as well as they pretend,,,

Reunited with Joe. We are happy together.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Genuine African Tourism

Giraffe and Tree
Most of my African tourism has been accidental or on the way to somewhere else. But I finally did a real African tourist activity—I went on safari to Zakouma National Park. But in typical Amanda-fashion, it was a snap decision, based on little to no scheduling information without any input from outside sources. I was also super lazy about finding out anything about the trip. I let Annie run around and do everything because she is a grown up for real often and I mostly just pretend for the sake of societal expectations for women of my age.

In spite of my laissez-faire attitude towards the trip planning part of the program, I made it on the flight! Of course, as it was a friend of mine who was flying the plane, I would have had to be really negligent not to make it. I have the potential to be that negligent, but being raised by Peter Stillman, champion of prompt airport arrival times and Being Organized, has engendered in me a certain respect for airport punctuality that most definitely would not have occurred naturally. In the interest of full disclosure, I was a bit late for Naomi’s pick up from the office, as Joe decided it would be hilarious to make me chase him around the yard instead of getting in the car like a nice dog so I could drop him off at the office where he would spend the next few days. Not wanting him to be eaten by a lion he tried to make friends with, I thought it best to leave him in the big city.

To get to Zakouma National Park from N’djamena you have several options.

Option A) You commit to a very long day of driving, hoping for no break downs, flat tires or impassable road conditions.

Option B) You commit to driving for two days, with a stopover in Bitkine or Mongo probably. You still hope for no  break downs or flat tires, but you have some leeway to deal with those problems. Impassable road conditions are probably going to stop you anyway.

There is a giraffe in the middle of
this photo I took from the plane--
zoom in to see!
Option C) You hire a very expensive private plane to take you. This is kind of what I did. In fact, I jumped on a MAF flight with a MAF pilot and his family, celebrating their last trip to Zakouma before they move on to greener pastures. Literally. They are leaving Chad so pretty much anywhere they go will be greener than here. We were also joined by a South African pilot for a couple of days who was in charge of flying the plane back a bit early to pick up another client from a different town and fly them all over before coming back to pick us up. There was also another South African family who joined us, bringing all their Kruger National Park experience with them. And then there were Annie and Amanda, the tag-a-long ladies, unencumbered by children or husbands. We were also first-time safari ladies. (Note for the Indo people: I shouldn’t count Taman Safari, right? That doesn’t count because it was not real. Though we did have giraffes licking the windows and zebras blocking the road.)

Selfie with giraffes coming out the top of my head
We stayed in the slightly cheaper camp, which was actually quite nice. Annie and I shared a room with an enthusiastically loud fan that would have drowned out the loudest bar musician in the world. I wished I could have taken it home with me, though I sometimes worry about those kind of fans shaking themselves loose from the ceiling and falling on me in the middle of the night, maiming me forever.

Meals were included in the accommodation because there is no where else to buy food there. I know that French cuisine gets lots of accolades, but I’m not a huge fan. There is not enough spice in it and way too many creams and sauces with varying bland tastes and slimy textures. Annie nobly ate all her food, setting a good example for the children, but I was on vacation sort of and I felt free to refuse to eat salads dripping with mayonnaise-based sauces and covered in sardines, aka cat food. I also don’t like hard boiled eggs because they look like an eyeball and smell like a fart. I did say this in front of the children, which probably wasn’t very nice of me, but the youngest child learned how to say a new word (eyeball, not fart—he’ll get that one later as he has an older brother), and it’s always good to expand the vocabulary of young children.  At any rate, they didn’t bring me along because I would be a good influence on the children. That’s why they invited Annie. She is to blame for me. So indirectly it is her fault that I got some children in trouble for throwing rocks into the crocodile pond. No crocodiles were injured in the game. I just wanted to see how the green water would sploosh.

Fellow salad-hating TCK and a baby giraffe carcass
Enough about the accommodations and setting examples for children—we went to see the animals! And we weren’t disappointed. The best time to go to Zakouma is during the dry season. In the rainy season all the bushes and trees and elephant grass are good hiding places and the animals can find more remote sources of water to stay away from the few intrepid tourists that make it all the way out there to see them. February is in the middle of dry season, and usually not supposed to be hot. Hot season came early this year, though, and I’m ok with it.

We piled into an open vehicle and drove around the park several times a day looking for animals. We saw plenty of giraffes, lions, and even several elephants every day. We also saw ostriches, crocodiles, buffalo, baboons, civet cats, genets, mongoose, warthogs, and hyenas. And more, but I can’t remember the names of all the birds because there were a lot of them and they aren’t as exciting to photograph as lions.

This is what our open car looked like.
Lions could have jumped in if they were hungry.
We had snacks. 
It was fun driving around and looking at animals. Everyone was supposed to be really quiet so we didn’t scare them away in spite of the fact that the car was bouncing around. I think it could have been a parental rule so that children had to whisper-yell for their parents to give them snacks.

Annie was a bit perturbed by the nearness of various packs of lions eating their prey. Once when we drove past a lion on her side of the car, she dove into my lap, thinking I could protect her, I guess. I did. She is still alive today. I may have also traumatized her a bit taking her for a walk near our camp to the crocodile pond. We got a bit too close and one jumped out at us. There was screaming. We found an alternative route back to the camp. It turns out, crocodiles can climb rocks, though I’d assured Annie they could not minutes prior to the attack. After that experience she refused to come on the walking tour, though we had a guide with a gun.

Wildlife even in the bathrooms!
I can't get away from bats.

I really enjoyed walking around in the early morning. We never saw as many animals early in the morning as we did in the late afternoon and evening drives, but we did get to walk up to some lions eating a dead baby giraffe. We passed by some on their way to the kill and they weren’t happy to see us. They growled a bit and I noticed that the guide’s hand clutched his gun a bit, but sadly, there were no exciting attacks on the walk either.

In conclusion, you should go visit Zakouma National Park. It’s even better than Kruger National Park, according to the South Africans, because there are no rules! (OK, so they didn’t say that it was better, but they did say that there were more rules at Kruger, including staying on the road at all times and signing up a year in advance for a walking tour.)


 And now please enjoy a selection of terrible photos I took because mostly I let everyone else with fancy cameras take nice photos. Anyway, why do you need nice photos of lions eating baby giraffes? That's why we have the internet!

Buffalos. Apparently one of the Big 5, but kind of boring.

Intrepid Walking Tour Group.

Walking Tour Guide with Gun

We interrupted the lions eating this giraffe carcass
during our walking tour. They left us to photograph
and then came back after we left.
We saw them again later when we were in the car a couple hours later.
It takes a long time to eat a baby giraffe apparently.
Interestingly, they were fine sticking around with their food
when we were in the car, but they left quickly when we were on foot.

Close up.


Deer thing. We saw lots of the fancy deer/antelope.
I'm less excited by these various types of exotic cattle.

Giraffes are cool though.

Elephants are always cool

Lion. Ferocious. Violent. Yes.

Back seat selfie

TCKs become friends easily

Eating some South African sausage together. Good stuff.

Two giraffes. We saw a lot of them. They're cool
so your instinct is always to take photos.

Biawak/monitor lizard. Less cool because I've seen these a lot in Indo
and I've eaten them too. They taste gross. But slimy French salad is worse.

Lion under bush. She hates tourists.

Pregnant and cranky and not craving weird stork bird things.

The broken road where I confidently told Annie that crocodiles can't
climb rocks. Did I know this for sure? No. But I really convinced myself that it was true.
Then a crocodile jumped out at us from under the broken bit of road.
Annie doesn't trust me anymore with my Animal Facts.

She's smiling here because we haven't yet been attacked by crocodiles.

I made her take a million photos of me standing in elephant footprints,
which is what I'm doing here, to show the size. 

Here I'm sitting in a footprint

Here is my selfie in an elephant footprint.
You can't tell that I'm in a footprint though,
and that's why I made Annie take all the other photos.
Elephants are big. Sorry my photos are terrible.
Google "Zakouma National Park" and enjoy some photos taken by real photographers.