Burkina Trip 2020 - Blog - Paul Nas; the Balafon is my Passion!
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Burkinatrip 2020

Burkina Trip 2020

Dutch French

Like every year for 8 years, I made my Burkina Faso 2020 trip again this year! I myself wanted to gain new knowledge of the pentatonic balafon on the spot again. At least ten days of intensive lessons and practice on top of that; a tough but wonderful experience every year in the cultural capital of West Africa: Bobo Dioulassso! This year, 5 enthusiasts had signed up to go along. Besides Anja (who wants to go every year), and Hans (now for the third time in a row), there was a lot of enthusiasm from the Uithoorn – Negunya teaching group to come along and make it a joint adventure with the group. In the end, Yvonne, her daughter Winnie and Bas went along. Bas wanted N’Goni lessons and that is not a problem because that is easy to organise. Winnie wanted to have it both ways and she opted for 50/50 balafon and N’Goni lessons.

Safety situation
Burkinatrip 2020

Burkina Faso has been increasingly targeted by terrorist attacks and criminal robberies in recent years. We were really worried about this in the run-up to our trip. Foreign affairs’ travel advice had tightened in recent years. Whereas previously the whole country was coloured ‘yellow’ in the travel advice legend (on a scale of green-yellow-orange-red in increasing insecurity), previously the north-western fringe and parts of the east had been coloured orange. However, in the weeks before our departure, there were again some attacks in the North and East of the country. All of Burkina was now ‘orange’ (only necessary travel) and the border areas ‘red’ (no travel). Our destination; via the capital Ouagadougou and then by bus to Bobo Dioulasso, had remained ‘yellow’ for a long time, but now ‘orange’ anyway. Can you go then? We already had our tickets, which prompted some research of our own before making a decision. Calls and emails to friends in Bobo and Koudougou, a phone call by Yvonne to the Embassy of Burkina Faso in Brussels. She speaks perfect French and so was able to absorb all the information well. Fortunately, reassurances came anyway from all our sources. At the embassy, they were very enthusiastic about our trip and requested us to call and report back afterwards. The unsafe situation did not actually apply to Bobo and Ouaga or the bus route between them; we decided to go anyway. However, the planned excursion to a village was cancelled, also because the festivities there had been cancelled.

Safety situation

The four from the Amsterdam/Amstelveen area decided to travel to Brussels the night before our flight otherwise, with some misfortune, they might miss the plane. So they attached another tourist trip to Brussels. Anja and myself joined them on Saturday morning and we were able to fly! At least when Yvonne managed to quickly retrieve her forgotten bag (with all her papers) from the train…..

On the plane, there was little sign of waning flight demand. The number of white people is normally not so high on these flights anyway. After a quiet journey, we landed in Ouagadougou and had a taxi take us to Pension Sarah. Here we stayed for a night before catching a bus to Bobo early the next morning. Although the air in Ouagadougou is heavily polluted by smouldering (rubbish) fires, windblown dust and bad combustion engines, it was still lovely to be back in the evening air of a tropical destination. On Sunday, I took the bus to Bobo and arrived in the afternoon at my permanent residence in Bobo: Hotel/Resto/Maquis: Zion.

Going to Bobo and ZION
Burkinatrip 2020 Naar Bobo

That western tourism in Burkina Faso had declined (even further than in previous years) was also noticeable at the hotel. After earlier Odile had left for France with her new husband, now Adama – her buddy at the hotel – had also taken on other work.

Management of the hotel was now in the hands of the owner’s brother. All meals would be prepared for us as required (and used), but the walk-in restaurant function had been removed. Furthermore, it seemed that people, students now lived in the hotel. In the course of our stay, we found out that they had had to make room for our party. In one small room measuring no more than 2.5 x 2 metres, 4 students slept! We also saw the occasional pile of clothes that was also in there AND they were cooking in that room! While in the hotel courtyard there was enough space to cook outside the room as well. A bed for two had also been improvised in the pantry next to the kitchen. Its occupants were disturbed for every bottle of beer or cola we ordered…..

Burkinatrip 2020
At the tabel
N’Goni workshop
N'Goni workshop

Since Bas (100%) and Winnie (50%) also wanted N’Goni lessons, we made a distinction with before noon (with Winnie) and after noon (without). For the N’Goni lessons, we started looking around the neighbourhood for a suitable location. Another hotel in the area, seemed like something, with a nice green garden. However, it was a bit of a walk. Moussa Traoré turned out to be a fine teacher!

There is also a study centre nearby, where I also used to go to copy and print draft teaching materials. There we were also welcome in a nice spot in front of the centre, in the shade. However, we heard that the English teacher had suddenly left and they were now without a teacher for Sunday classes. This prompted us to sign up for that task once. The first Sunday we had no lesson ourselves, and so could offer some sort of conversation class. At first, Yvonne and myself would alternate doing that, but once there, it seemed suddenly better to split the group (about 20 students) and do conversation in English in small groups. This struck a chord with the students and left them asking for more lessons. Unfortunately – given our own programme – we had no time left for that.

Balafon workshop
Making notes

As grown in recent years, Youssouf and I did the balafon lessons together. Youssouf presents the song, plays it while I analyse and write down what the patterns should be. Then, step by step, I start teaching the pattern myself while instructing the others. Youssouf checks for accuracy and plays along the still missing bars of a pattern to get a whole picture and feel for the pattern. In this way, we can also soon practise in ‘loops’ and are thus soon making music together. We learnt 6 balafon pieces from Youssouf this year. Each with melody, song and at least two patterns. One of our songs ‘Bobo Sin’ is a tribute to the gentleness and kindness of Bobo Dioulasso. Try the rhythm here!

Burkinatrip 2020
Hotel ZION

In the first few days, we were introduced to the staff who would look after us during our stay. Drissa the owner’s brother was in charge and made the decisions. His wife Fatoumata barely spoke French, she did laundry for us, was busy with her baby. She would occasionally go to her village and be away for a few days. Our cook Felicité, was an exuberant yet slightly insecure woman towards us.  She kept asking, ‘Tu est Fatigé?’ She had made a list of things she could make for us. When we had heard it, it was clear: ‘Start with the first one!’ Later, peanut sauce became a frequent element in our meals; delicious!

Ibrahim was there especially for us to provide anything we wanted from the bar in between meals. He turned out to be a Malian boy who had already been to Libya to try to cross over to Europe. Disillusioned and traumatised from everything he had been through en route and during his repatriation, he was able to earn some money again in ZION. That way, he could perhaps face his family in Bamako again. Both Felicité and Ibrahim were single and were open to getting in touch with an – unmarried – Western man/woman for a possible relationship. However with us no response.

Trips in Bobo
La Guinguette

Our trip did not consist purely of taking classes. We had trips planned. However, our weekend to the village of Daara near Nouna had been cancelled. A funerail was planned, a memorial celebration for a person who died earlier that year. The planned party had been cancelled and there was also a curfew in that province, on the border with Mali. We were therefore forced to stay more near Bobo. If we had had to go further away, it would have been by bus. Now we were entirely dependent on mopeds and taxis in Bobo. … Or walking! Exploring the neighbourhood in the evening, we stumbled upon a wedding party where we could join in. Criss-crossing, honking, lights flashing mopeds that expressly raised a lot of sand welcomed the bride.

Taking the taxi was always a delight; sometimes there didn’t seem to be a working instrument left on the dashboard! Furthermore, gas bottles in the back, broken windows, loud music, a diversion to avoid police control, sagging through the suspension and all sorts of tricks to make the car drive anyway. But then again, that could be done for 220 CFA per person from our Hotel to the city centre (30 cents).

A visit to Moumouni’s yard is a regular occurrence and thus also part of this Burkina Faso 2020 trip. With taxis to it, with balafons. We played for and sang with the children (+25) and, as ever, were served a lavish meal, the remains of which were quickly made up in the yard. Moumouni’s daughter Aicha, was the only one allowed to eat with us.

Daytrip Bobo
La Musee de Musique

A day trip to Bobo’s music museum, Youssouf’s workshop, a visit to Hakiri’s yard and a courtesy visit to Haruna Dembele (pretty much Youssouf’s neighbour) ended up taking place without me. I was sick day with gastrointestinal problems. Haruna was not there.

In the evening, we also went out occasionally. For instance, we attended a concert with Senoufo balafons. The Senoufo dance in a very special way with quick rolls of the feet. We were applauded enthoiusiaist when we tried to master that too. We also attended a CD promotion at the Institut Francais, by the band ‘Taleard’. In it, the balafon was played by Moussa Traore, our N’Goni teacher. We all bought their new CD there, of course!

Following an attack elsewhere in the country, three days of national mourning had been declared at one point. The programme of the Cultural Festival that was running at the time was nicely messed up because of it. Nevertheless, we were still able to join a performance at the ‘Bambous’.

Finally, we also paid a visit to ‘Farafina Love’ the terrace near ZION, which we visit every year. This year there was a group unknown to us, with a ‘djeli’, who did tell very long stories during the songs. He had an aura of a world star (he thought to himself). Moreover, this year there were two ‘farewell concerts’ by ourselves: one at Anja’s departure, and one on our (almost) last evening.

Burkinatrip 2020 Dafra

One afternoon we visited Dafra, with its sacred fish. First a taxi/moped ride over narrow grassy and rocky path. Then parking with a local guide. And a marabout who took us walking to a cavern that always holds water and is home to the sacred fish, which you can make an offering to. We had agreed to sacrifice together for peace in Burkina Faso and West Africa and had brought three chickens to sacrifice. After a long walk, descending over the rocks to the cavern, we arrived at Dafra. Shoes off and no pictures. Arriving at the water, we could already see feathers of skinned chickens sacrificed earlier everywhere. But apart from chickens, goats, sheep and even cattle were carried down the narrow rocky path (and lifted back!) to be sacrificed to the fish. Only the intestines of the animals are eventually thrown into the water; the catfish-like fish can easily consume that meat.

In one corner, we saw the sacrificial stone and barefoot through this slaughterhouse environment, we went to it. The marabout called our names in a story and we were allowed to make our wish with one of the chickens hanging upside down in our hands. Above the sacrificial stone, a monitor lizard, which lived there, and which I had also seen a previous time, was briefly visible. After a jugular vein was severed, the writhing chicken was thrown to the ground and we saw a spectacle that easily turns your stomach. After the sacrifice, an African songbird with beautiful colours started singing above the sacrificial site. For us, this was confirmation that our wish was an appropriate one that would surely come true.

The chickens were cleaned and we were each given the entrails to feed to the fish. These fought for it! The biggest ones were at least half a metre long and there was a lot of floundering as another piece of liver or kidney entered the water. Afterwards, we were allowed to wash our hands in the water there. We were not allowed to shower before the next morning as that would not help the wish come true…. (And we felt so dirty!) The rest of the chicken was eaten by Drissa’s family (the manager of the Hotel).

Burkinareis 2020
Afscheid en naar huis

In the run-up to the house after this Burkina Faso 2020 trip, final shopping was done. Moumouni was very keen to take us to his ’boutique’ earlier to show us what else he had to offer (besides the market stall in Bobo’s main market). Also, many colleagues/friends have a shop in the same little street, which we were cordially invited to visit.

Upon entering the little street, a saleswoman talked to me to come in for a moment. I excused myself with my planned visit to Moumouni but said out of courtesy that I would stop by on my way back. But after an hour of watching, being taken along, pinhgling or fanning and waiting, I was actually too tired to go in on my return. But okay, a quick look inside then.

But what did I see right there hanging from the ceiling? One of those wind ballaphones that hangs from the tree in ZION and which I have run into so many times! I had never seen them on sale before and had thought of making one myself at home from discarded balaphone sticks.

Anja heard my enthusiasm and wanted one too. I myself already had some presents in mind and three seemed a nice number. Tja also works posturing for the rest of our group. But there was only one hanging there…..  No problem they said right away, we’ll have more made for you! And so one of the last days 6 or seven more wind ballaphones were delivered for us to take home.

At the bus on the way to Ouaga, Moumouni and Youssouf came to say goodbye to us. Youssouf had another small memento for the mother-with-daughter of his special experience with two generations of balafon students from one family.

Mother and Daughter
Paul Nas
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