So, two weeks in and I’m two weeks older and wiser (ha!). And in the manner of every clickbait article you’ve ever read, here are eight things about living in Burkina Faso that I didn’t know last week.
1. Be prepared to relearn every basic life skill.
As soon as you arrive it’s important to identify someone with whom you will have no barriers. This is the person you can ask questions like: “can you explain exactly how I’m meant to use that loo”; “what is this bucket for”; and “did he just say what I think he did?”. This person will inevitably spend at least the first week laughing at you, but not nearly as much as the people you are living with. Once they’ve taught you how to wash your clothes properly, and laughed at your failure to herd goats out of the yard, you really will wonder what you’ve be learning your whole life.
2. Your ideas about health and safety will be… challenged.
Sometimes you’ll come across innovation and genius: who knew you could fit so many chickens on a moped? At other times it’s just best not to comment. You’re storing caustic soda in a pot that says “table salt”? How could that possibly go wrong? Crack on.
3. More expensive isn’t always better.
Or rather, generosity can be misguided. There are several major pieces of charity-funded infrastructure at AML. The IT suite sat unused for 6 years because nobody had the skills to use or maintain the computers. The solar-powered water pump? Takes a week to fill the tank. The World Bank-funded printing press, however? Those two ancient slabs of German machinery have produced books and newspapers to help 25,000 people become literate. Because they were tried and tested, and came with training on how to use and fix them. Lesson: sometimes development works, sometimes it really doesn’t, and it’s all about the long game.
4. Everything thinks you’re a meal.
The first time someone told me to put DEET on my bum when I go to the loo, I laughed. Let’s just say I’m not laughing any more.
5. You’re probably not as strong as you think.
I’ll admit I had a fairly high opinion of my life skills. Turns out it only took one shitty day of missing home and not understanding what people are saying, while negotiating food poisoning and a pit latrine, to make me think again. But. The moment you admit you can’t control life, and just decide to suck it up and do your best, is a moment that gives you true strength.
6. Rain means rain.
Hannah: Why doesn’t anyone do any work in the rain?
Dramane: You could work in this rain?
Hannah (noting that Biblical deluge is currently turning roads into rapids): Fair point.
7. People here are amazing
Yep, cliché alert. But in this case I think it’s justified. You will hear me complaining almost constantly about how long things take here, about how simple problems never seem to get fixed, about how resources seem to go towards the wrong projects. But underneath it all is the resilience of people who manage to achieve wonderful things in a dismal system. I’m in awe of anyone who can study for a degree in a class of 3000. Or who can graduate high school at 19 when they started primary school at 10. Or the people who negotiate corruption, apathy, and horrendous bureaucracy to improve life for the people in their communities. These are the people I’ll be working with, and I can tell you I have a lot to learn.
8. You may think you have a tan…
But you’re probably just really dusty. Ah well, bucket shower time…