personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

iOuaga: an iPod photo essay

1. Curious kid
The quality of the images isn't all that good. Maybe one photo out of ten is worth printing. But new new iPod has a great advantage over my clunky Canon: it's discreet. I've always felt awkward taking photos of public areas when I travel. People stare at me, I feel as though I'm intruding on their lives by capturing a moment of their reality. In Ouagadougou last week, as I took out my iPod on a street corner to show a young boy, a passing man told me that I should give the child a candy for taking his photo. Or money, neither of which I had. But I took his photo anyway (photo 1), and he was truly amazed at seeing his image on this tiny gadget.

2. A warm welcome

3. Lunch...finally
I spent a week in Ouaga, my second trip to the dusty West African city. Before going, there was no shortage of people asking me, "Where is Ouaga - what? Ouagawho?" or "I didn't even know that Burkina Faso was a country." Number 161 out of 169 on the latest Human Development Index.

4. Can I have a drink?
It is a tiny landlocked country, the "pays des hommes intègres" - the land of people with integrity. I was there for a three-day meeting with human rights educators from that country, Senegal, and Cameroon who were planning their own two-week human rights training program.

To say that the Burkinabès are among the kindest and most welcoming I have met in my travels would not be an exaggeration. Just look at the welcome "certificate" I discovered resting on my bed upon my arrival (photo 2). How often has that ever happened to you? And in colour to boot!

I arrived Saturday night with my colleague Natalie, and we were welcomed by several of the Burkina participants at what is the poorest excuse of an airport I have ever been through. After a compulsory welcome beer (or two) until one in the morning, I slept soundly and awoke the next morning to greet the rest of the meeting participants with strong handshakes, loving hugs and endless How are yous? and How's the family? right back to How are you? again.
5. Spot the napper

6. Decisions, decisions
7. Lucien's hospitality
You would think that lunch would take about an hour, but then again...maybe not. It took two restaurants to get all the food we'd ordered, and about four hours. The chicken and guinea fowl were worth the wait. Presentation of the food was not a strong point, seeing how the restaurant had no plates and the food arrived in black plastic bags (photo 3). There was a water pump close to our seats, although I don't think it had been used in a while (photo 4).

Life back at the hotel moved along at two different paces. Outside, the heat (by no means oppressive, but still hovering over 30 degrees) was a good excuse to take the occasional nap (photo 5). Meanwhile, inside the meeting room, we were busy selecting participants who would be attending the upcoming human rights training program (photo 6).
8. Adama and his wife
The Ouaga participants attending the meeting were eager to welcome us into their homes. Lucien, a man who helped form a network of human rights educators in Burkina, invited all of us to his home Tuesday night. As we sat down on chairs set around tables on his porch, he and his family dragged coolers filled with soft drinks and beer and cracked them open to quench our thirst. After a feast of local delights, Lucien never ceased to amaze me with his magical coolers: no matter how many times he dipped his hands into one, a cold beer always came up. A pleasant evening, and it prompted me to say to Natalie, "You know, I've consumed more beer than water during this trip."
9. Quenching the students' thirst
Lucien was not the only one to open his home to us. Adama invited us as well to his home, and his meek and always smiling wife, back slung on her back, proudly showed us the juices she sells to students at a neighbouring school. The fridges she stores the juices in dominate their living room, but Adama and his five daughters seem not to mind (photos 8 and 9).
10. Duck!
With the meeting over, and after meetings with prospective donors, we did have a little time to go about town. The country's first overpass was a must-see (photo 10), as was Chrysogone's new office of the Mouvement burkinabè des droits de l’homme et des peuples (photo 11). Chrysogone is a force to be reckoned with. A man of tremendous tenacity and tireless energy, he leads a movement of 10000 members who fight to protect human rights in the country. Despite a heavy schedule, he always found time to be with us. Whether we needed to buy last-minute gifts at the arts centre (photo 12), or visiting the grave a friend and human rights defender who lived a life of courage and died far too soon. You are missed by all of us, Salifou (photo 13).


11. Chrysogone shows us his new digs
12. A gift for my boys
As for the rest of the trip (photos 14-18), Ouaga is filled with the sights and sounds that instantly brought me back to the time I lived in Africa many years ago. The dusty roads reminded me of northern Ghana, students walking to school, children who aren't as lucky busy themselves with chores like fetching water. Sometimes things are messy, like any electrical wiring in any building. People are innovative in their creativity, making art out of scrap metal (the "dentist's chair" from spark plugs was particularly inspiring). And no matter how hard life is, people still somehow manage with what they've got, and can always get around.
13. Fallen hero
14. What 93 million other children don't get to do

15. I think the blue wire is disconnected
16. A harsh existence

17. Open wide

18. Getting by



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