Togo and Burkina Faso and all that we don't know
In spite of the infinity of what we do not know - we surely seem confident
In our galaxy there is about 10,000 stars for every grain of sand, on every beach on earth. It's not possible to comprehend. A low estimate is that there are around 500 quintillion (500 billion billion) earth like suns out there. Don't try to comprehend it. And by another really low estimate there are around 100 earth like planets in the galaxy for every grain of sand in the world (100 quintillion). And I'm down here traveling somewhere below the 2,500 stars we can see with the naked eye on a extraordinary clear night.
As I left Ghana I also said farewell to the people working at Mette's house where I had stayed for 3 weeks. I get attached to people quite easily. Sometimes superficially and sometimes on a more profound level. But I actually think that the majority of everyone I have met on this journey is traveling along with me.
The driver (Wisdom), who turned out to be a Jehovahs Witness, and I had some good conversations regarding religion, humanity, science and the beginning of life. I've mentioned before that I am not a religious man. But I respect that others choose to be. It's however hard to get a good conversation going about what happened 10,000 years ago when the person next to you believes that Adam and Eve (2 naked white people in a jungle) were created only 6,000 years ago. But it does create the setting for other interesting conversations :)
To my surprise Wisdom handed me a Jehovahs Witness bible and some other religious material as I departed Ghana. In a situation like that I always accept because it is a present and I would never rob the giver of the pleasure that it is to give. But it seems odd for me to travel with a stack of religious material while I'm not religious myself and represent the Red Cross which is neutral. So I handed it off to someone else at a later point.
Before I reached the border of Togo Wisdom told me a story of the eastern region of Ghana. That region is much more prone to traditional beliefs like the sorts of Voodoo. And not too long ago, he told, it was still customary that if a village was dealing with a very bad boy. A boy so mischievous that nothing could be done - then they would set an example by bringing him to the woods, digging a hole and burying him alive with only his head above the ground. Then they would leave him and let the animals of the forest come to take his life. Birds by hacking his eyes. Rats by chewing his ears. Snakes, lizards, ants etc... Now the question for me was: "How long ago was not too long ago"?
Entering Togo was a piece of cake. But I'm always a little tense when I'm switching passports because you never know. I handed in my 2 passports, the new and the cancelled (full) one, and Ghana stamped me out. Then I crossed the road and received a relatively cheap visa in my new (empty) passport. And then I was in.
The capital of Togo is called Lomé and borders Ghana. The border crossing is at the coast. So as soon as you cross over you find a pristine beach to your right, with small restaurants and a beautiful ocean. On your right you have the capital city. There is nowhere in the world I have had that experience before. It's a special feeling.
I walked for a few minutes and sat down to have lunch on the beach. I had some rice with fish, tomato sauce and sand. Then I continued to the home address of Ingrid. She works for the Red Cross and invited me to stay at her place. Fantastic! I arrived and she wasn't home yet, left my luggage and bought a simcard for my phone. Then I called Cecilie - she also works for the Red Cross but we had actually met before in Denmark. Now we met again but in Togo. And it turned out that it was her birthday...Ingrid was with her and we got talking. The subject fell on malaria and as it turned out Cecilie had a very serious case of malaria which now has me thinking. I was only a level 1 malaria case. And I felt pretty badly out of shape. Cecilie was a level 5!!! It does not get worse. She entered a coma and was hospitalized. Soon a decision was made to fly her to the Canary Islands to treat her there. Eventually she was flown home to Denmark and it took her 3 months to recover. She's fine now, by the way, and looks great. But what if I entered a coma and was flown somewhere??! Sure, it would save my life...but the project would be over. Because of a mosquito. It really has me thinking a lot these days...
Anyway, I had a good time with Ingrid and Cecilie for a few days and we were living it up expat style with restaurants, sushi and sunbathing at the pool. Ingrid is pretty tough too by the way. In the 70ties she and two other woman drove a car thought the Saharan dessert, north to south, and made a lot of adventures in the process!! 3 women! I've learned long ago that women can do whatever they want...
My favourite Togo Vikings: Ingrid on the left and Cecilie on the right.
After a few days I left Lomé and the two Viking ladies behind me and set my direction towards Burkina Faso which is a landlocked country north of Togo. I was planing on buying a bus ticket in the morning and leaving towards the afternoon. But the bus didn't leave on Sunday's although Ingrid and I had been told otherwise. A minibus did however...but NOW!! So I raced back to get my luggage and hopped onboard. That's my life now :)
To my surprise a lot of people were jogging in Lomé the morning I left. This is a picture of a group.
I sat next to a young man in shorts, open shoes and a very worn T-shirt. Behind was a baby which cried a lot. And then there were a lot of other passengers. We rolled out of Lomé, shared some food, slept, talked and meanwhile the landscape drifted by outside the minibus.
The minibus having a break to cool the engine down.
During the evening it started getting dark and the cars coming against us would blind us with their headlights. But that's normal. The reason I remember that is that suddenly the young mans head was pressed hard up against mine? First I thought he had fallen asleep but his body was shaking really bad and his eyes were wild and locked into the night. He had some awful cramps running through his body and some white froth was forming around his mouth. I instantly knew it was epilepsy and I put my arm around him while my other hand supported his head. The seizure lasted for a few minutes while I got the minibus to stop. Everyone rushed out and encouraged me to do the same. But I sat with the man until he started vomiting. Then I pushed him away and got out. But I quickly returned with a cloth I found and some water. I started wiping vomit of his face and tried to speak to him in whatever French I could: "I am Red Cross, everything is okay, everything is okay, everything is okay, I am Red Cross, It's okay..."
I then proceeded to inform everyone else that I was Red Cross, that it was okay and that the young man had epilepsy. This seemed to calm everyone down. Then I returned to the young man who was resting and calm...but frightened. I had a second to check my phones first aid application for epilepsy.
1: Support head. Check!
2: Did the attack it last more than 5 minutes? No!
3: Did he wake up afterwards? Yes!
All good then.
I had help to remove him to the backseat and we proceeded towards to the border. I checked his pulse and breathing regularly...and perhaps a little too often because he got annoyed after a while :) I observed that he was calming down, that he seemed ashamed and that his eyes slowly went from wild to calm. An hour later we stopped and he got out and hopped onto a motorcycle taxi and left into the night. As he left the minibus I kept my eye on him but his balance seemed fine.
Had I done everything right? No, I probably shouldn't have pushed him away when he vomited. Well, I couldn't go back in time...
It was very late when we reached the border. I found a guesthouse and fell asleep with the smell of vomit in the room from my bag and my pants. The rain outside went wild and damaged some of the guesthouse. But I slept through it...
Crossing the border to Burkina Faso the next day was easy with my visa. I had obtained it in only 1 day in Ghana. Everyone at the border were kind and polite. It went really fast.
I got onboard a bus and within 30 minutes it had left the border. It had 3 seats on one side and 2 seat on the other. What kind of strange "airplane constellation" was that?
3 seats / 2 seats
I sat by the window and enjoyed the view of a new country. Much less rainforest than Togo. Much more open wide space, fields and small round clay farms. I was looking at those randomly placed farms for hours. I looked at the small paths leading up to them. Each farm must have contained a family. But none of them had a car or a tractor or anything of the sort out in front. Once in a while I would spot a scooter but far more often a bicycle. Life gets pretty simple in the country...
I never spotted a vehicle among all those homes.
I arrived to Ouagadougou which is the greatest name for any capital I have ever been to. Ouagadougou, Ouagadougou, Ouagadougou. My friend Lars in Denmark would probably be pleased at this point if I remembered to tell you all that as a child in school, Lars used to saw pillow covers which were to be sent to Burkina Faso. That would have been 25 years ago :)
We rolled into a terminal, I got into a taxi and asked to go to the Red Cross. It was Monday evening and I figured I would find a guesthouse nearby and work my way from there. But as it turns out Burkina Faso Red Cross is a large complex and they had a basic guest room. So that became my home for the week. I initially thought that I needed to apply for a visa in Burkina Faso for Niger. But it turns out that you can apply for something called an "entente visa" which gives you access to Niger, Benin, Togo, Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Pretty neat. And after a few days I had received it.
Ouagadougou stadium can hold 60,000 spectators but I couldn't hold that Coke which landed in my lap.
Ouagadougou is a nice capital I find. Ouagadougou, Ouagadougou :) It has green surroundings and it is full of art. 16 languages are spoken in Burkina Faso among the 60 ethnic groups. For some reason art thrives in Burkina Faso and the country could be portrait as the art center for all of Africa. Masks, paintings, music, dance, sculptures, handicrafts...you name it...come and get it.
There is art everywhere in Ouagadougou.
The population is rich on culture but not so much on the gold which seems to leave the borders without really enriching the country. But what else is new around West Africa? But people are friendly and helpful and don't miss out on knowing that Ouagadougou actually means "You are welcome here at home with us" in the Mòoré dialect.
I've been spending time with Joachim Ouedraogo who's a football referee, an English teacher and currently an intern at the Red Cross. He's been helping out with getting me to and from the office where I obtained the "entente visa". Actually I wanted to go on my own as I do not like to be babied. But no matter how many countries I travel to and how many cities I navigate people still seem to think that I'll get lost :) Sometimes it's not worth fighting people's help. And although I did try to give some resistance and emphasize that I REALLY could manage on my own...I found that resistance was futile :)
My streetside fish head dinner. Yum yum.
It's okay, I didn't get to wander off as much as I would in my own but Joachim is a pretty good guy and he told me what he is up to on Sunday:
Joachim belongs to the Mosse tribe. And in the village an unmarried young girl has become pregnant with her Nigerian boyfriend. So now there has been brought SHAME on the ENTIRE family!! This calls for a ritual! The village chief and his senior wife (I love that term), along with the village elders, the family and a number of villagers will be present. A chicken will be sacrificed and the blood will be spread out on the ground. Then the chicken will be thrown on the ground where it moves around until it finally lands in a position. If it lands on its back with the wings spread out then it is interpreted as the ancestors approval and forgiveness. If not then the ritual is repeated after a few weeks.
I was assured that there is no violence involved towards the pregnant woman. But there is a great deal of shame involved. If the ancestors approve then a goat is slaughtered and shared among the village elders. And finally the shame is lifted and life can go on. Amazing!! I am in a part of the world were traditional rituals are being performed in order to ask ancestors for forgiveness!!! I love traveling. I should go and see?! Yeah!! That would be interesting!! But alas...I will not go and see. Because I have not been invited and because I plan to be in Niger by Sunday.
A tricky part of this project lies ahead of me. Besides the risk of more malaria, there are some bad men who wish to harm me because of where I come from in this world. They reside in some relatively small parts of Africa, which nonetheless challenges the logistics, compared to when I left home almost 2 years ago. So my focus is on the ball and not so much on getting to witness traditional rituals. But if I play it out right then I should be able to manage safe passage.
Joachim and I heading home with the "entente visa".
Oh well, all good things come to those who wait. Oh no, I forgot - I don't believe in that. Okay then, let's keep moving ;)
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - the universe is a fairly big place
Once Upon A Saga