Saturday, 15 January 2011

Personal Service

Today I am in Ouagadougou, known locally as Ouaga (pronounced wagga), the capital of BF. For the past week the theatre troupe have been staying in a cultural centre for a training workshop to develop their theatrical skills, and I have been with them. The training finished yesterday, and today, Saturday, is a free day so that everyone can go and visit their families in Ouaga before returning to Bobo – offence would probably be taken if they came to Ouaga and did not do so. As my family is a bit far away to visit in a day, I have taken advantage of the day to be a bit of a tourist, and visit the museums here.

First stop National Museum, a huge campus of a site with half a dozen pavilion style buildings dotted about in loads of empty space. Two of these are exhibition halls, at some distance from each other (the issue of visitors getting wet between one and the other would only arise for a few weeks a year!). One display is on the role of women in Burkinabe society – interesting, but quite a bit of it about things which are now familiar. One exhibit was a calabash (a type of gourd or such used as a container for liquids) used for drawing water from the well, and the point of interest to me was that it had been broken and then repaired, laboriously stitched together – no photos allowed, unfortunately. Calabashes are not expensive, but they are seasonal – and this type of repair is typical of the care taken here not to waste or discard material objects even when we might consider them well beyond repair.

The other display was of masks – I did see this when I first arrived in April, but the room was SO hot I didn’t absorb much – although I sweated plenty – so I was glad to revisit. Masks in BF have an independent existence, and come out and do things of their own accord. Several of the masks have what seem like useful functions. There is one, looking a bit like a lion, which is called upon when there is sickness in the village. It comes out at night, spits in the well, and then when water is drawn and drunk, everyone gets well again. There is another, a monkey mask, which can be used to get your own back. If you want revenge, but not (in a village where everyone knows everyone else’s business) to take it overtly, you sacrifice to the monkey mask (chicken, goat, cow, according to your means) and the mask sends some real monkeys to do nasty things to your victim. Handy, and discreet.

I was shown around, object by object, by a charming and reasonably well informed guide, 1:1. At the end I asked her about the Music Museum, which is being rebuilt – is it totally closed? No, it’s in temporary premises just down the road – and she promptly gave me a lift there! Helpful, because it was not otherwise very easy to spot. So I wandered in there, and they unlocked it for me, and a helpful young man again took me round object by object (this is the consistent style here – not much chance to read the interpretation). At the end of the tour, we went into the performance room, and 5 of the museum staff promptly gave a short performance demonstrating different contemporary instruments (and wouldn’t stop until I danced…). I have some photos of this – fortunately not of me dancing – which I will post when I am back in Bobo with access to the kit.

Both museums have a bit to learn in terms of attracting visitors, with no obvious reception point – but I couldn’t fault the customer service!


  1. This is so great to find your blog Helen, and to see that yo are working in Bobo. I have a very dear, dear friend living in Bobo. It is his home town (though he normally lives in France, his name is Kalifa Hema, and he is the soloist with Farafina). Anyway, I just spoke to him on the telephone and he said - it I understood him correctly - that there have been many deaths in Bobo this week and today they are having funeral celebrations for his uncle and some others. Both the phone and my French were not operating perfectly, so I'm not sure all that he said. i got the feeling that there's some big problem there at the moment, so I came on the internet to see if I could find out anything. All i go is the horrible political unrest in the Ivory Coast, which is spilling over (people) into Burkina, but would not account for what Kalifa's talking about. I wondered if there has been an outbreak of some specific disease. Anyway, it was so great to find your blog because I'm wondering what I can do to help if I come visit/ stay in Burkina for a while. Would it be possible for me to chat about some of this with you, via emai. Jen Richardson (an Australia living in Bali, Indonesia),

  2. Hi Jen,

    Good to hear from you, glad you like the blog. Don't panic, although life is often difficult there is nothing new and big wrong here in Bobo - this weekend we are celebrating winning the cup!!

    The crisis in Cote d'Ivoire is worrying and lots of Burkinabes live there - almost everyone here has friends or family in Cote d'Ivoire.

    Life expectancy is low here, and there are a lot of funerals - people are mostly buried the day they die if possible, with one or more celebratory funerals some while (even years) later, these can be quite cheerful events.

    Happy to correspond by email if you let me have your address.


  3. Hi Helen
    Glad you managed to see a couple of Museums. Can you let me have a postal address as I would like to send out a pile of children's T shirts.