I saw my first African megafauna during my Burkina Faso stay today. People who go to Africa are often asked upon their return, “so, did you see any lions?” Or elephants, or what have you. The answer is almost always no, unless you actively went on a wildlife safari where guides took you to the limited areas where these critters still survive and led you to the spot (hopefully, without a gun in your hand to further reduce the numbers). Africa is pretty urbanized, and most rural areas are pretty heavily settled with farmers, so there isn’t much out there for the random passerby to see.
In all my years in Africa in the old days, I saw a grand total of: one troop of chimpanzees, near Forecariah in Guinea. One troop of baboons, in central Togo near Notse. One large snake, probably a mamba, on the university campus in Lomé – some kids were in the process of beating it to a pulp and it was pretty hard to recognize. A variety of antelopes, in upper Guinea. Some elephant poop, outside of Kankan, Guinea. Several Duikers, also in Guinea, which are very small deer that are about as common as squirrels, and coexist pretty well with humans (unless the humans are hungry). And, in a Nairobi game park under the supervision of the afore-mentioned guides, rhinos, hippos, a giraffe, ostriches, and a leopard. But that doesn’t count.
And today, I saw a big honking antelope in the little forest park right up the street. I turned onto a trail near the river, and a big dark thing jumped out of the bushes on one side of the road, ran like hell up the road in front of me, and then turned off into the bushes on the other side. Luckily I’ve been riding my bike alot or I would have ditched it again, as it was I was hard put to control the bike. Of course, I didn’t get my camera out in time, so here are a couple of pictures from Wikipedia illustrating the two candidates for the identification:
I think it was a Topi, described as the fastest large antelope in Africa – and this guy was sure fast. I clearly saw the animal’s face, which I thought looked like a horse’s. However, Topi are listed as very rare in Burkina Faso. Also, Topi are said to average about 150 kilograms, and I would have said this guy was the size of a respectable elk, I would have estimated well over 200 kilos. Maybe in my surprise he looked bigger than he actually was.
Much more common are Waterbuck, and as I said I was very close to the water and Waterbuck like to stay close to streams and wetlands. My guy didn’t look much like this fellow in the face and seemed a good bit more grey than brown. Maybe my waterbuck had an unusually flattened face and greyer than normal coloration. Waterbuck are also said to be quite aggressive, maybe he thought he was charging me.
They seem to have in common with American deer the tendency to wait until the last possible second before jumping out in front of passing vehicles. I imagine the adrenaline rush brings a needed thrill to their otherwise peaceful, leaf-licking lives. And while there are a few lions still in the wild in Burkina I don’t imagine any of them are inside the city limits of Ouagadougou, removing the major source of excitement in an antelope’s life.
Anyway, it was an exciting conclusion to a pretty good day. Earlier in the day, I went down to the embassy in my nice African shirt and pants, made out of a pagne (batik cloth) celebrating the ordinations in the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou this summer:
(but I thought it looked Christmasy enough for caroling) and gave a Christmas choral concert to the assembled multitudes. People brought their kids, there were goodies including eggnog afterwards, and we sang pretty well – for a choir that only got together about three months ago and has a wide range of musical abilities. Some of our members are really talented musicians. We have one young woman, who is the music teacher at the American School here, who has a wonderful voice. We have a French woman who works at their embassy who has worked as a musician and has formal training (a degree in music, I think). One of our tenors has a music degree. On the other hand, there are a lot of people like me, who like to sing but don’t really have any sense of the deeper theory or (often) an ability to sing the right notes consistently. A lot of the choir members are guys who work in the embassy warehouse, physical plant, etcetera, so, unlike every choir I have ever been in, we have an oversupply of bass voices. So I’m now a tenor. Luckily, I have a good wide range. We sang the same “Deck the Halls” version as at the flash mob reported a week or so ago, and I was able to hit almost all the high notes this time (I had to shut up for half a measure). But when I was done I had to go around the corner and cough a bit.
I’m also starting my newest class on Tuesday, and I’m almost done putting together the Power Points for my lectures. Class runs from 7 am to noon on Tuesdays. I can’t imagine lecturing for five hours straight, so I am going to get students to give presentations. Another thing I got done at the embassy was borrowing a projector for my Power Point slides. The Faculté des Sciences Humaines has one (only) projector, and it is always in use. I have tried to reserve it every week and I have gotten it exactly twice – the first time, I didn’t have the correct adapter to hook up the display on my computer, so I have been able to use my slides once so far this semester. Luckily, all the classrooms have that appropriate-tech standby, the blackboard. It helps students who have to listen to my admittedly not very perfect accented French to have words, at least, to help them follow along. And I have laid in a stock of chalk. But maybe after next week I won’t need it. Assuming always that I can make the embassy’s projector work in the college classroom, and also assuming that there isn’t a power outage. I’m not tossing out my chalk.