Where The Streets Have No Names

My bike mechanic, Karim, had to come back to the house the other day for a house call because the pedals on my bike came off again. I’m not sure of the technical term, but at the place where the pedals go through the frame there is a complicated arrangement of ball bearings and suchlike, and on my bike it won’t stay fastened. Last time, Karim put in a new bearing, and this time the one on the other side failed and took the whole thing with it, so the pedals were just hanging loosely. This happened about 10 km from home on a Sunday night, but luckily Djibi was nearby to take me home on his moto, pushing the bike alongside. The next day, Karim and his helper showed up, fastened everything back together again, and said they’d be back the next day with a new chain guard (the old one having been bent all to hell when the pedals gave way). Next day, instead of a chain guard, he was back with a new bike. Bikes

Here are the two bikes together, the new one is on the right. It is a 24-speed, with derailleurs front and rear; not my favorite type of gearshift arrangement, but anyway. It has a small shock absorber on the seat. What with one thing and another (the front shifter cable was broken when first delivered, and other interferences) I didn’t get to try the new bike out until today.

In order to give it a good try on dirt roads, since it is supposed to be a mountain bike, I decided to go outside of town for the first time, heading for a small lake I could see on Google Earth. An extension, if you will, of yesterday’s adventure. Maybe more wildlife awaited? Of course, if you remember yesterday’s post, outside of town is a relative term. This country has a pretty high rate of population growth (around 3% annually, according to an assortment of estimates found with a quick Wikipedia search). And, like everywhere in the developing world – like America in the 19th century – how can you keep the people down on the farm once they’ve seen the bright lights of the city?

So, riding out along the paved boulevard that heads southeast out of town, I came to the edge of the city according to Google Maps:

Edge of town

You can see the end of the pavement to the left, where the black car is headed. The place selling canisters of cooking gas is just inside the city limits. The other side of the street looks pretty much the same but it is officially defined as “rural”. I rode through about five kilometers of that ruralness. Here’s another “rural” scene:

Village market

A very long marketplace. This was the turnoff heading towards the little lake.

Which I found:

Lake 2 Lake 1

As you can see, it’s a reservoir, there’s a dam. Around on the far side, it looked like it got to be about 10 or 15 meters deep. Note the drift of trash at the high water mark. Everywhere you go in Ouaga, whatever you try to buy, people want to give it to you in a disposable plastic sack. And boy do people dispose of them. When the wind is blowing, you can see them blowing along high in the air. And everyplace is full of torn-up plastic bags. Portland and Corvallis have banned plastic sacks but they haven’t gone out of fashion here.

And finally, as I rolled along the crest of the dam, I could see to my east actual agriculture taking place:

Fields

People had run pipes across the top of the dam and were drawing irrigation water with little gas-operated pumps. In addition, there was a very nice well down there, looked like the sort of thing that UNICEF was doing when I was in Guinea. Don’t know exactly what they were growing down there, but it looked verdant and potentially prosperous. I noticed a lot of people had motorcycles in this village.

On the other side of the dam, I was back in village, but this looked more like villages I knew of old. For one thing, the construction was almost entirely out of mud brick. Another thing – something that used to be de rigeur pretty much everywhere in Africa but which I haven’t encountered much at all in Ouagadougou this time – as I passed little kids, and even adults, came running to see, yelling “hello white man” in a variety of languages. I guess they must not see too many white folks out that far. They will no doubt be talking about me for many a week. Here’s the village and a couple of village kids:

village street

As I said, a relatively prosperous village: many houses had tin roofs, you can see a car coming down the road in the distance, and the fields looked productive. They even had a nice little school with a ton of bikes out front (they have school on Saturday morning here, after getting Friday afternoon off because it is Muslim congregational prayer time :

Village school

So, a nice day’s ride, two hours and about 25 km, and I guess Karim has sold me his bike. The seat shock absorber was an especially nice feature on those dirt roads. Now, I have to get rid of the other one. M. Sawadogo at the university said he wanted to buy it when I leave, so I will contact him to see if he was serious and if he wants to pay for it now.

 

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