26 May Burkinatrip 2020
Like every year, since 8 years, I made my Burkinatrip 2020 again this year! I wanted to gain new knowledge of the pentatonic balafon on the spot. At least ten days of intensive lessons and also practice; a spicy but delicious experience every year in the culture capital of West Africa: Bobo Dioulassso! This year 5 balafon-lovers had registered to participate. In addition to Anja (who wants to join every year), and Hans (now for the third time in a row), there was a lot of enthusiasm from the Uithoorn – Negunya class to go along and make it a joint adventure with the group. Finally Yvonne, her daughter Winnie and Bas went along. Bas wanted N’Goni lessons and that is no problem because it is easy to organize. Winnie wanted to have it both ways and opted for 50/50 balafon and N’Goni lessons.
Burkina Faso has increasingly been the target of terrorist attacks and criminal robberies in recent years. We were really concerned about that leading up to our trip. The travel advice from Foreign Affairs had been tightened in recent years. Where previously the entire country was colored “yellow” in the travel advice legend (on a scale of green-yellow-orange-red in an increasing insecurity), the northwestern edge and parts of the east had already been colored orange. However, in the weeks before our departure there were again several attacks in the North and East of the country. The whole 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 also “orange”. Can you go then? We already had our tickets at home and that prompted some research of our own before making a decision. Calling and emailing friends in Bobo and Koudougou, a phone call by Yvonne to the embassy of Burkina Faso in Brussels. She speaks perfect French and was therefore able to absorb all information well. Fortunately, reassuring sounds came from all our sources. At the embassy they were very enthusiastic about our trip and asked us to call again afterwards and report back. The unsafe situation actually did not apply to Bobo and Ouaga or the bus route between them; we decided to go anyway. However, the planned excursion to a village was canceled, also because the festivities there were canceled.
The four from the Amsterdam / Amstelveen area decided to travel to Brussels the night before our flight, otherwise the plane might be missed with some setback. So she added another tourist getaway to Brussels. Anja and myself joined them on Saturday morning and we were able to fly! At least when Yvonne was able to get her forgotten bag (with all the papers) from the train …
There was little to be noticed in the aircraft of the declining need for flight. The number of whites on these flights is normally not that high anyway. After a peaceful journey we landed in Ouagadougou and were taken by taxi to Pension Sarah. We stayed here overnight to take the bus to Bobo early the next morning. Although the air in Ouagadougou is heavily polluted by smoldering (waste) fires, blown-up dust and bad combustion engines, it was still wonderful 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.
The fact that western tourism in Burkina Faso (even further than previous years) had declined was also noticeable in the hotel. After Odile had previously left for France with her new husband, Adama – her buddy in the hotel – had now also taken on other work.
The hotel was now managed by the owner’s brother. For us, all meals would be prepared as desired (and use), but the walk-in restaurant function had been discontinued. Furthermore, it seemed that now people, students lived in the hotel. In the course of our stay, we learned that they should have made way for our party. 4 students slept in one room of maximum 2.5 x 2 meters! We also occasionally saw a mountain of clothes that was also inside and there was cooking in that room! While there was enough space in the hotel courtyard to cook outside the room as well. A bed for two people was also improvised in the pantry next to the kitchen. The residents of it were disturbed for every bottle of beer or cola we ordered… ..
Because Bas (100%) and Winnie (50%) also wanted N’Goni lessons, we made a distinction between before noon (with Winnie) and after noon (without). For the N’Goni classes, we went to look around for a suitable location in the area. Another hotel in the district seemed like something, with a beautiful green garden. However, it was a not really a short walk.
There is also a study center nearby, where I always used to copy and print concept teaching materials. There we were also welcome in a nice spot in the shade in front of the center. However, we heard that the English teacher had suddenly left and that they were now without a teacher for Sunday class. Reason for us to register for this task once. The first Sunday we didn’t have a lesson ourselves, so we were able to offer a kind of convesation lesson. At first Yvonne and I would do that alternately, but once there, it suddenly seemed better to split up the group (about 20 students) and have conversation in English in small groups. This was well received by the students and they asked for more lessons. Unfortunately – given our own program – we no longer had time for that.
As has grown over the years, Youssouf and I did the balafon lessons together. Youssouf presents the song, plays it while I analyze and write down what the patterns should be. Then I will learn the pattern myself step by step and at the same time instruct the others. Youssouf checks for correctness and plays on the missing measures of a pattern to get a complete image and feeling with the pattern. This way we can quickly practice in “loops” and we are therefore soon busy making music together. We learned 6 balafon pieces from Youssouf this year The piece Bobo Sin tells about how great Bobo Dioulasso really is! Check it out here. Each with melody, song and at least two patterns.
In the first days we got to know the staff who would take care of us during our stay. Drissa the owner’s brother was responsible and made the decisions. His wife Fatoumata barely spoke French, she did the laundry for us, was busy with her baby. She went to her village every now and then and was gone for a few days. Our cook Felicité was an exuberant but also a bit insecure woman towards us. She kept asking, ‘Tu est Fatigé ?. She made a list of things she could make for us. When we heard it, it was clear: “Start with the first!” Later, the peanut sauce became an often recurring element in our meals; delicious!
Ibrahim was there especially for us to provide us with everything we wanted from the bar in between. He turned out to be a Malian boy who had already been to Libya to try to cross to Europe. Disillusioned and traumatized from everything he had experienced on the way and during his repatriation, he was able to earn some money in ZION again. That way he might be able to face his family in Bamako again. Both Felicité and Ibrahim were single and were open to getting in touch with a – unmarried – western man / woman for a possible relationship. However, no response from us.
Our trip was not just about taking lessons. We had planned trips. Our weekend to the village of Daara near Nouna, however, was canceled. A funerail was planned, a memorial party for a person who died earlier that year. The planned party was canceled and there was also a curfew in that province, on the border with Mali. We were therefore forced to stay closer to Bobo. If we had had to go a little further away, it would have been by bus. Now we were completely dependent on mopeds and taxis in Bobo. … Or on foot! While exploring the neighborhood in the evening, we came across a wedding party where we could dance along. Scrambling, honking, light-flashing mopeds that sent a lot of sand on purpose, welcomed the bride.
Taking the taxi was always a pleasure; sometimes there seemed to be no working instrument on the dashboard anymore! Furthermore, gas bottles in the back, broken windows, loud music, a detour to avoid the police check, sink through the suspension and all kinds of tricks to keep the car moving. But yes, that was already possible for 220 CFA per person from our Hotel to the center (30 euro-cents)
A visit to Moumouni’s yard is a regular occurrence on every Burkinatrip. With taxis to it, with balafons. We played and sang with the children (+ 25) and, as usual, had an exuberant meal, the remains of which were quickly used up in the yard. Moumouni’s daughter Aicha was the only one who was allowed to eat with us.
A day at Bobo’s music museum, Youssouf’s workshop, a visit to Hakiri’s yard and a courtesy visit to Haruna Dembele (almost a neighbor of Youssouf) eventually took place without me. I was sick all day with stomach and intestinal problems. Haruna was not there but his father was happy with the visit.
“In the evenings we also went out every now and then. For example, we visited a concert with Senoufo balafon. The Senoufo dance in a very special way with fast rolls of the feet. We were enthusiastically welcomed when we tried to master that too. We also visited a CD promotion in the Institut Francais, of the band ‘Taleard’. In this, the balafon was played by Moussa Traore, our N’Goni teacher. We all bought their new CD there of course!
After an attack elsewhere in the country, three days of national mourning had at one point been declared. The program of the Cultural Festival that was running at that time was quite confused by it. Still we were able to join a performance in the ‘Bambous’.
Finally we also paid a visit to ‘Farafina Love’ the terrace near ZION, where we stop by every year. This year there was a group unknown to us, with a ‘djeli’, who told very long stories during the songs. He had the appearance of a world star (he thought himself). This year also two ‘farewell concerts’ of ourselves: one at Anja’s departure, and one on our (almost) last evening.
One afternoon during this Burkinatrip we visited Dafra with its sacred fish. First a taxi / moped ride on a narrow grassy and rocky spade. Then park with a local guide. And a marabout that took us on foot to a cave where there is always water and where the sacred fish live, which you can make an offering. We agreed to sacrifice together for peace in Burkina Faso and West Africa and brought three chickens to sacrifice. After a long walk, descending over the rocks to the cavern, we arrived at Dafra. Take off your shoes and don’t take pictures. When we arrived at the water we saw feathers from skinned chickens everywhere that were sacrificed earlier. But in addition to chickens, goats, sheep and even cattle were taken 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 eat that meat.
In a corner we saw the sacrificial stone and barefoot through this slaughterhouse area we went to it. The marabout mentioned our names in a story and we got to express our wish with one of the chickens hanging upside down in our hands. Above the sacrificial stone a monitor lizard was visible for a moment, which lived there, and which I had also seen a previous time. After a jugular vein was cut, the writhing chicken was thrown to the ground and we saw a spectacle that easily turns your stomach. After the sacrifice an African songbird began to sing above the sacrificial site with beautiful colors. For us a confirmation that our wish was an appropriate one that would certainly come true.
The chickens were cleaned and we each got the giblets to feed the fish. They fought over it! The largest were at least half a meter long and it was a big fuss if another piece of liver or kidney went into the water. Afterwards we were allowed to wash hands in the water there. We weren’t allowed to take a shower for the next morning because that wouldn’t help make the wish come true…. (and we felt so dirty!) The rest of the chicken was eaten by Drissa’s family (the Hotel manager).
Goodbye and going home
In the run-up to the home trip, the last purchases were made. Moumouni was very keen to take us to his ’boutique’ earlier to show what else he had to offer (besides the market stall in the large market of Bobo). Many colleagues / friends also have a shop in the same street, to which we were warmly invited.
When entering the street, a saleswoman asked me to come in. I apologized with my planned visit to Moumouni but said with courtesy that I would stop by on the way back. But after an hour of watching, being taken, pinhgling or passing on and waiting, I was actually too tired to go inside when I returned. But okay, let’s take a quick look inside.
But what did I see hanging right there on the ceiling? A wind balafon that hangs from the tree in ZION and that I have bumped into so often! I’d never seen them on sale before and thought I’d make one at home from discarded balafon sticks.
Anja heard my enthusiasm and wanted one too. I myself already had a few presents in mind and three seemed like a nice number. Well, it also works for the rest of our group. But there was only one ….. No problem they said right away, we will have it made for you! And so one of the last days 6 or seven wind balafones were delivered to take home.
At the bus on the way to Ouaga, at the end of our Burkinatrip, Moumouni and Youssouf came to say goodbye to us. Youssouf had a small memento for the mother-with-daughter of his special experience with two generations of balafon students from one family.