Thursday, November 13, 2008

Burkina, Part the First

It’s been a long time, and it’s a good thing that we didn’t promise to write from Burkina because we would have had to break it given a few things: 1) Burkinabé food is awesome and we only wanted to eat when we got into the country (though we really only sampled a few of the local specialties, namely baguettes, brick-oven pizza, homemade ice cream, couscous, yogurt, and second-hand smoke), 2) internet connections in Burkina are spotty at best, even in the high-class 5-star hotels we frequented, 3) we usually try to get to the internet in part ecause we had no clue how the election was going, but since there was no escaping the fervor over the president elect we actually welcomed a break from the news.

But let us start the story with a basic tutorial of how not to travel to Ouaga from Bolga. First, don’t ask the local Ghanaians how to get there. I think everyone told us “It’s easy, just take a shared taxi from Bolga.” Let me rephrase: never trust a Ghanaian when they start a set of instructions with “it’s easy”. I still have no idea if this “shared taxi” they spoke of exists. We had a Ghanaian from town in Bongo who was going to be in Bolga the morning we left arrange the taxi. Well, he chose one that did not want to go to Burkina, who haggled the price with us, and then when we got to the border and he could not continue did not look all that surprised...I think he even said he expected as much (maybe this is the reason why he filled up his gas tank before we got there, a tank we ended up paying for). What were all the price negotiations about then, I have no f-ing idea!

Second: it would be advisable to have some local currency on you or, if you are going to negotiate with the black market traders, to have some knowledge of what the going rates are. I kinda knew, but was unaware that no one else did, and I was not involved in the negotiations at that point. So, in all honesty, I have no idea how much the trotro from the boarder to Ouga actually cost because Matt took responsibility for the whole transaction (way to take one for the team).

Third: If you are changing money at the boarder anyway, it is usually advisable to change a little extra so that one would have some money in their pocket...we of course did not do this. So, we arrive in Ouga, hire a taxi and then have him take us to the banks to withdraw money or in Mo and mine’s case, exchange cedis. So, of course it is a Friday, 30 minutes before the bank is supposed to close, so naturally it is closed already, right? Now all four of us are relying on Andrea to get some money using her bank card, which is repeatedly denied. Crap! Then, at a small Western Union I was able to exchange the only American dollars I had, all 30 of them, so that we could have some money in our pocket and at least pay for the cab. By the way, we totally got a shit deal on that exchange.

Fourth: Generally, upon arriving to a big city, one should know where they are staying, but we did not. Andrea had arranged for us all to stay with a Ghanaian (T.K.) she knew who would be selling at SIAO, but, she did not know where said residence was. So, now with no money, we had to bribe the ticket lady to give us two tickets so that Andrea and Matt could go find T.K. while Mo and I sat outside as collateral. Only after an hour had passed did they return. Of course, we had not paid for the taxi yet because we wanted to hold onto him (since he was nice) just in case we needed to find a hotel.

The first day ended a lot better than it started since we were able to borrow money and found the lady who would be hosting us, so all in all we couldn’t really get too upset since the best time to be had in all of West Africa was about to begin. . . but more on that in another post! (Don’t you like how we’re serializing the Burkina Chronicles? It’s like, we need to have these R. Kelly-esque “cliffhangers” to keep you enticed, so stay tuned for the midget! And if you have no clue at all what the hell we’re talking about, you’d better rent Trapped in the Closet before I pull out my 9).

Meanwhile, back in Ghana . . . Katie and I had our first successful test using some of the homemade devices we plan to using for water sampling . . . we’ll post a detailed list as soon as we know everything works as well as we want it to, so don’t feel like we’re leaving you in the dark . . . we’re just not ready for the world premiere. We’ll be conducting field tests for the rest of this week and into next so expect that to come soon.

And in other news, it looks like we’ll be moving back to Austin since Mr. Obama won the presidency . . . 
Texas – 1, Iceland – 0.

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