This morning, on the invitation of my friend Issouf Gouem, who works at the poop factory, I rode up to Kossodo to visit the site again. They’ve made a lot of progress since the last time I was there.
The foundations that were there the last time I visited are now functional-looking machines and structures. There’s a big blue natural gas tank in the background. The single fermentation tank I saw last time has been joined by a half-dozen others. The site is busy as a beehive. All the construction workers are Chinese, and do not speak French, so we did not have a lot to say to each other, but everybody smiled and waved. Issouf and the rumored German engineers were not present, since apparently (according to Salif) one of the German guys was overcome with heat prostration and had to go to the hospital. I was of the opinion that it was a marvelous day, temperatures hitting a high of 37 C (99 F) with a nice breeze. Although to be fair, the engineers were doing some physical labor in the sun on a 99 degree day… Anyway, I missed my date with Issouf and went back towards town.
Interesting that the contractor, Datong Construction, was using exclusively Chinese workers. Of course, labor costs in China are comparable to what you would have to pay here to hire skilled welders, pipefitters, etc. The Chinese company presumably feels that the skills of its home-grown workers are sufficiently superior to any possible locally-hired talent that it is worth flying them halfway around the world to do the job. They seemed quite cheerful though we couldn’t communicate at all since none of them speak anything other than Mandarin.
On the way up, I got a picture of one of the signs that I had noted last trip but not taken the picture. A useful sign for a lot of places in the third world:
Please don’t shit or dump your trash in our woods. This was right next door to the poop factory, so perhaps they are concerned about losing access to needed raw material…
On the way back, I visited the back end of the park I often visit. Bangr-Wéogo city park has a arboretum and zoological park that are not generally open to the public. However, the arboretum gate was open this afternoon, so in I went. I encountered this remarkable conjunction of signs:
It’s hard to read the sign in the back, but it reads “traditional medicinal plants”. The sign in the front says “drug use prohibited.” So you can see the traditional herbs being grown, but don’t actually use any of them.
Traditional medicine is still very important here. Unlike my beloved America, Burkina Faso has a national health care system. The costs for medical treatments, even very complex procedures, are quite low in the government hospitals and health care centers. Everybody has the right to basic health care services including immunizations – which have reduced the rate of infectious diseases that used to kill almost half of all babies before their fifth birthday to something like 5%. However, the system is underfunded and plenty of disorders are not covered. All over town there are ads for traditional medical practitioners who promise to cure such disorders as male impotence (Viagra from India costs around CFA 10,000, or $15, per box of 8 capsules, a fraction of the cost in the US but still a bundle of money for the ordinary middle-aged guy who’s dreaming of his youthful prowess), hemorrhoids, and excessive flatulence (a common parasitic disorder called giardia causes really nasty-smelling flatulence and burps too). The young woman who cleans my house, washes my clothes, and cooks my food had a toothache last week. She came to me to ask for an advance on her pay, 10,000 CFA, so she could go to the hospital to take care of her dental problems. I figured it was for an extraction, but wonder of wonders, she had a root canal instead. In the US, that is hundreds or thousands of dollars, a very complex piece of dental surgery. Here, US$ 15 and you’re fixed up. She showed up this afternoon with a nice bunch of rice and leaf sauce that she had cooked for me and no more toothache. That said, people who can’t come up with the CFA 10K can go to the herbal practitioner instead. Within a couple of blocks of my house there are a number of people who are advertising cures for what have you (including AIDS) for less than the CFA 10K payment required at the health center. And you might well feel better if you have the herbal treatment, especially if there is a bunch of impressive mumbo-jumbo associated with it. Most disorders heal themselves (including giardia, which I’ve had a couple of times since I’ve been here, including last week). If you paid somebody to rid you of unwanted flatulence and sure enough the flatulence went away, you’d give him a 5-star rating.
Politics is still going on. Tuesday, I went down to the embassy for English hour at the library. The table I was sitting with were discussing the municipal elections. Only three of eight people at the table were planning to vote. Nonetheless, the elections continue to provoke some hard feelings between the parties. In a provincial capital yesterday, a gang of activists of the ruling party burned the electoral lists at the local electoral council headquarters. They were upset that their candidates were not permitted to contest the local elections because they hadn’t gotten their list in on time. It is a good sign that technical errors on the part of the ruling party are also punished. I was thinking of the parallel to similar events at the Nevada Democratic Convention, where a slate of Bernie Sanders delegates was dismissed because they had failed to fulfill some basic tasks (in the case of the Sanders people, to re-register as Democrats before a deadline). These procedural requirements may seem frustrating and confusing, but these are the rules of the game, and people who want to play the political game have to be prepared to play by the rules. Otherwise, you have chaos, which is no good for anybody. Sunday is election day. I’m going to go to church Saturday night, to witness among other things the first communion of my host Brenda Soya’s children, and so I can get up early Sunday morning to witness the election. Hopefully, it won’t involve any taking cover.