A Little Sunday Drive

Last night, Saturday, I got a last-minute message from Brenda at the American Embassy that there would be Mass in English at the Nonciature at 5:00. I wanted to say farewell to Father Jozef who has been so kind to me, and also the rest of the Embassy folks, so off I went on my bike. A nice afternoon at church, handshaking and goodbyes all around, and then off to the headline event of the evening, the goodbye party at the neighborhood drinking establishment, Chez Issouf Gouem. I was greeted by my host and his charming wife

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And then we got down to some serious boozing and arm-waving conversation. At one point during the festivities, I put up a Facebook status that these folks can drink like Czechs, which is high praise indeed since the Czech Republic holds the world’s record for per capita beer consumption.

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In my honor, they trotted out the Jack Daniels, which everyone seemed to like. The party went on until quite late, and I didn’t actually get to sleep until about 2:00 a.m.

This was material because this morning at 6:00 a.m., my friend Ousmane Sawadogo was coming by to pick me up so we could go out to his village where he’s building a school, see the site, and have lunch. He told me it was two hours by road, which it probably is in the dry season. But now it is raining

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And we were in a little Mitsubishi rice-burning box driven by Ousmane’s brother Joseph.

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Not exactly the best tool for four-wheeling through mud puddles approximately the size of Lake Superior. I swear I saw some little kids bathing in a roadside puddle that came up to their shoulders though I didn’t get a picture. We started about 6:30 and didn’t get to the village until 10:45. I slept through most of it.

The lycee project is somewhat less aspirational than Jean Ouedraogo’s in that they actually are in business and holding classes. Here’s the school office, with a very dusty-looking computer, plenty of files all over the place, in other words, much like any academic office probably anywhere in the world:

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However, they are in rented quarters, belonging to the Catholic Church, which apparently doesn’t run a church school in that parish any more. Their school has grown too big for the four classrooms they have at the Catholic site and so they have their 6th and 5th classes (equivalent to our 7th and 8th grades) in another building several hundred meters away on another street. They want to consolidate and have enough rooms for some technical classrooms. Some ideas that really sounded familiar from Jean’s work; I’m going to try to hook the two of them up.

Anyway, they own a piece of land and have taken one step to develop it. With the help of Turkish development assistance, they put in a well.

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You can see in the background the lady with the bucket on her head; clearly the neighbors appreciate the well. But it is a long way from here to putting up buildings. They have ambitious plans and are looking for financing. The Burkinabè government will give them some support. Apparently, there is a program to pay private school fees for some public students if the public facilities in the village are insufficient, and this is the case in Fara. Ousmane and his colleagues are already getting some money from the government and they will get more if only they can find the money to build the classrooms.

I don’t have any money, especially not somewhere around US$75,000 that they need to realize their plans. I tried to help them figure out where they could find that money, suggesting several different development agencies that I believe build school buildings and who might be willing to contribute. The amount is way too large for the US Embassy self-help fund, but perhaps the project could be divided up among several donors with each contributing a classroom or something on that order. Joe is a finance guy and has a pretty good idea of how to do this sort of thing, probably better than me, truth be told, since he is from here and knows the potential pitfalls better. We talked about a number of projects that he has been involved with; he is with a construction firm that has built water and sanitation projects for the national water company in several towns including Fara and the prefecture center Poura.

We visited around the town, including the Police Commissioner and the Deputy Mayor, who sat at the maquis across the street from the police post and had drinks with us (I had Fanta!). The big topic of conversation was the upcoming election of the mayor. The municipal councilors were elected in the elections last week, but tomorrow is their first meeting when they choose the mayor. Mayor is one of those jobs that has as much power as you can arrange for it – in principle, the mayor is just the chairman of the board but since municipal councilors are volunteer part-timers, the mayor actually has a lot of power just by being on the scene all the time. The national governing party, the MPP, won 26 council seats, the leading opposition party, the UPC, got 24, and there are a couple of scattered. If the MPP can hold together and sway a couple of the smaller parties, as they did in the national legislature, they should win. But, local politics is often about personalities and the MPP worthys, sitting in the restaurant at the next table from us, were apparently a little concerned that maybe they couldn’t count on every single one of their votes for their preferred candidate.

The Police Commissioner was also concerned about recent manifestations of kogl-wéogo sentiment in the neighborhood. He dismissed them as a bunch of bandits who want to make themselves look legitimate. His civilian counterpart, the Deputy Mayor (who is a full-time professional public servant, I believe, sort of like a city manager in the US system) disagreed, and felt that they would fade away now there was an elected local government. The police weren’t taking any chances; there was a detachment of reinforcements hanging around, come over from the provincial capital to back up the local cops during the election period. The local commissioner had set them to checking IDs of people on the roads outside of town, so I got my passport looked at twice today, which is once more than has happened up to now.

On the way out, we looked up an uncle, who is also with the MPP in the prefecture center town, and they were huddling at his house figuring out their strategy for the morrow. We greeted everyone and congratulated them and let them get back to work.

The prefecture center, Poura, is the center of a gold-mining area. This is the “welcome to Poura” sign: a minecart, a stack of slag, and a worker with drill now pretty much buried in a tree growing out of the side of the monument.

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The minecart got me thinking about Minecraft. In only a few days, I’ll be back in the big world of the functional Internet.

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