Back to Ouaga


Goodbye to the beach…Got back this afternoon, and here I am sitting in my accustomed chair at the dining table in my house looking at a slew of “not connected” messages on my browser. The Internet here appears to be much as usual, which is to say, not much during the day and speeding up slightly at night.

We got up this morning and Evans, a guy Jean met at the university, came to get us at the hotel. We bid a fond farewell to Helen, Quashie, Awa and all the personnel of the Agoo Hostel, a very fine institution that housed us for our week in Accra. It was sad to leave, they were genuinely friendly and helpful, professionally so of course, but they did a good job. And the place was very comfortable. It reminded me of the pensions that those American writers like Hemingway and Richard Wright stayed in on the left bank in Paris. For 20$ US (each) a night, Jean and I had beds in an air-conditioned room and a nice breakfast in the morning. Getting around town in tro-tros is dirt cheap, one cedi a ride though you might need a couple of rides to get you where you are going. Accra is a big place. There are all kinds of services available, including excellent restaurants, though you could also eat Awa’s cooking for dinner at 17 cedis and buy lunch on the street for five or six. If you wanted to, you could live quite comfortably in Ghana for 40 bucks a day. I imagine there are a bunch of people doing just that – some of them the students we met at the Agoo. The crowd there tends young and enthusiastic; presumably the Hemingway-esque types are elsewhere.

If you’re looking for Margaritaville, Accra might be your destination. They even have nice beaches, once you get 20 kilometers or so out of town and away from the pollution. The beach in Jamestown was pretty depressing though that didn’t stop local people from swimming. The surf is great. Every time I saw the ocean, I could see several nice breaks. There was a really sweet one around the point at Elmina, with about 1.5 meter crests on a not-too-windy day. I didn’t see any obvious rip currents, which is what this coast is known for. I felt completely at ease in terms of security, riding public transportation, walking around the city at night, and so on.

But, now I’m back in Ouagadougou. The flight back brought back some memories of old-fashioned African travel. The flight that the embassy booked us on, on A-Sky, a regional carrier based out of Togo, was just cancelled, no explanations. We trekked upstairs to the A-Sky office, expecting to be blown off and told to come back tomorrow. That’s what would have happened in the old days of national carriers, like Air Afrique, my old nemesis of 30 years ago, which we called Air Peut-être (air maybe). But now, they did what a European or American airline would have done in similar circumstances: they booked us on another airline’s flight to the same location. We actually got to Ouaga earlier than we would have on the A-Sky flight, because Air Burkina flies jets (instead of the commuter prop planes of A-Sky) and there was no changing planes in Lomé. I managed to resist the 70$ US bottle of 15-year-old single malt scotch in the airport duty free shop, too. Mostly on the argument “that’s great, but where would the next bottle come from…”

Flying first out of Accra and then into Ouaga, we were able to contrast the two cities. Accra is much bigger, 2.25 million to Ouaga’s 1.4 million. The urban core of Accra is much more developed, with big skyscrapers and bustling streets; I was reminded of Nairobi 25 years ago. There are a whole bunch more western restaurants and in general a lot more stuff catering to the tourist trade there. The bourgeois neighborhoods look pretty similar – the neighborhood where the US embassy is in Accra, Cantonments, is leafy streets and big houses, just like Ouaga 2000 (except that the trees haven’t had the same amount of time to grow up in Ouaga 2000). The urban neighborhoods outside the core, though, where ordinary people live, seem to be better in Ouaga than in Accra. I was struck by a real sense of poverty in Jamestown, while in the neighborhood where Djibi lives, it seems at least more mixed. There are certainly plenty of poor people around but I get the impression that there is more of a balance between rich and poor here.

This might have to do with the difference between Anglophone and Francophone Africa. I noticed the same difference 30 years ago between Togo and Nigeria. Or else it is the inherent wealth of the place, with wealthier places, more central to the global economy, like Accra or Lagos in the old days having a bigger disparity of incomes and more social class divisions while the places that are more peripheral (and poorer) have more harmonious class structures and instead divide on other, more traditional lines. Hard to tell, but anyway this is one thing about Burkina Faso that I enjoy.


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