Thursday, February 9, 2012

Perspective - Burkina Faso

Perspective. It is perhaps what has become most clear for me here in this static land that is at once both incredibly simple and exceedingly difficult. Much is as I anticipated: the hot days, the dusty, rutted streets; the masses of people darting in and out of traffic. I came hoping I would come to love the people, yet all the while assuming I would have a great distaste for the land. But it is not as I thought. Indeed, the people, particularly the children and their mothers, have captivated my heart, but driving home from Boromo, from our day in the bush, I was enthralled with the beauty of the African countryside, a sense of peace settled came with the setting sun, knowing God’s hand is upon this barrenly beautiful land.

Perhaps it was the joy of watching the children play, or teaching the women who, if given the opportunity, could teach me much as well, or perhaps it was just the knowing that here in Burkina Faso, God’s church is alive and well. I am so thankful God has granted me the privilege of coming, to teach the women, to laugh with the children and to share with you a glimpse of God’s church in Burkina.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as our plane made the final descent into Burkina. Loren had spoken of donkey drawn carts coming to gather our luggage and an airport that was reminiscent of a grade B movie set in the Banana Republic. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when we were promptly shuttled from the plane to the newly finished immigration area, where friendly smiles and a newly installed luggage conveyor belt greeted us. Gone were the dim lights and donkey carts, although the swirling fans still clicked away overhead. And what is even more amazing, all of our luggage arrived, in tact.

They say much is changing in this country. For the first time, streetlights illuminate the main roads, scooter lanes and sidewalks now line the street. Yet much is still the same. Scooter drivers ignore the bike lane, choosing instead to play “hit me if you dare” as they dart in and out between the cars and trucks which speed down the road, randomly choosing which traffic signals to obey. This is made even all the more challenging with the rolling blackouts that affect the city periodically, causing all to go dark.

Life in Burkina is lived outdoors. Even at night the people were out; walking, riding, going here and there. I asked Scott and Loren and Ian to give me one word that describes Burkina. Perhaps Scott captured Oaugadougou best; “moving” was the word he used to invoke the feeling of the city. It seems everyone is always on the move. Like ants scurrying, each one knows their purpose but to the outside observer, it is simply chaos.

It should be no surprise then that our first few days here have been much the same, filled with movement and, at times, a bit of chaos. We arrived late at night only to learn the house that is always the haven for the TFAB Burkina trips was not going to be available, but “would we mind so much staying at the extra rooms at the back of the compound?” Being new to Burkina, I didn’t realize how important having “the house” was. Two nights and two different places later, I can tell you, it is VERY important. The rooms they suggested left one feeling very unsafe, especially if your mom is travelling for the first time to Africa, as there were no real locks on the doors and we would be separated from one another.

Marcel suggested a hotel that would be nearer his home. Since it is his town, we assumed it was a place he was well acquainted with. It was only as we travelled to Boromo the next day and saw a sign advertising the “Chic Hotel”, that he confessed he had never laid eyes on the place and had only chosen it because it was the first place that came to mind because he, too had seen the roadside sign advertising it some weeks prior. Such is life in Africa.

The paved highway of town gave way to one of the many rutted, unlit dirt stretches which abound, (I still struggle to call them roads). Bouncing our way past dirty, cluttered, tin storefronts, old stacked tires and the occasional roaming dog, we made a quick turn and arrived at our destination. Dim lights illuminated our way up the stairs to the 2nd floor where we each locked our double bolted doors and called it a night at least feeling somewhat secure, until Loren realized the window to his room had no latch or lock, it freely swung, back and forth, beckoning any who might want to enter. Welcome to Africa.

Morning found us moving to a new compound Marcel was somewhat familiar with. While not ideal, it seemed workable and have to do, since we were scheduled to be in Boromo, some 120 miles away, by 9 am that morning to teach the many pastors and leaders and their wives would be coming. We finally left Ouaga at 9:15, but, no worries, (remember, this is Africa) Marcel called ahead to let them know we would be a little bit late.

I am told the road from Ouga to Boromo and on to the Ivory Coast is one of the most important and heavily travelled roads in the entire country. After travelling it and living to tell about it, I have to agree. I hate to fly, just the mere hint of turbulance sends me into a semi-panic mode. But I would fly a thousand flights back and forth across the Atlantic before I would choose to be a passenger in a vehicle on the Boromo road again. Picture Highway 97 (only about 6 feet narrower) with no shoulders, no center strip and crumbling edges on both sides giving way to rugged ditches. Then add in scooters carrying everything from extra passengers to pigs going to market, bicycles travelling without lights and the occasional walker on the road. Now drive this at 70 miles per hour. Oh did I happen to mention the occasional semi-trucks that are broken down and stopped, dead center in the middle of the road? All quite manageable in the bright sunlight of late morning, but absolutely nail biting in the darkness of night.

Tomorrow we will travel north on a highway which Marcel assures me “is far better, have much less traffic”. Then on Friday we will go again, twice the distance that we went on Tuesday. Funny, when I thought about all the things I might be afraid of in Africa, riding in a van was not one of them. It never crossed my mind, and I think it would be safe to say the thought never entered Scott’s head as well. Until last night, after we finished up at late dinner at 10 pm, thinking we had survived the worst of what the Burkina roads had to offer. But on the way back, we were travelling the paved city streets, travelling 55 mph at minimum I would say, when we heard a yell from the front just as the van careened over a large speed bump, landing and continuing on only to hit a second in just a moment’s time.

Let me just say, the back of the van is not the place you want to be at a time such as this. The chickens in back were squawking (yes, they gave us two at the church where we spoke), but it was Scott who had suffered the most trauma. He was bleeding from the wound inflicted when his head met the ceiling, not once but twice. Much debate erupted over whether or not we should take him to “La Clinique”, which we all knew could be a cure worse than the cause.

After closer examination, we decided to take go to a local pharmacy to buy the items we felt would be necessary to properly dress his wound, all the while so keenly aware that this is Africa, and there are millions of little bugs lurking everywhere, just waiting for the chance to enter some poor unsuspecting persons body. A bottle of antiseptic, a roll of gauze and a purchase of antibiotics later, we all poured back into the van, eager to get home and tend to our wounded only to find the vehicle would not start. Did I happen to mention we had expected just a quick stop and were parked in the road?

With Scott clutching tightly to the gauze patch on his head with one hand and holding his headlamp in the other, he walked behind the van as the other men worked to maneuver the vehicle backwards to a spot where they could get it off the road. This in a place where there were no streetlights and no open stores, save for “La Pharmicia”. While Marcel called a mechanic friend to come look at the car, (remember it is almost midnight now) Loren went back into the pharmacy to purchase sterile gloves so he could administer first aide there under the blinking pharmacy sign. We had acquired quite a little audience by this time, had it not been so late I am sure Marcel would have figured out some way to tell those who gathered about Jesus. As it was, the mechanic arrived and Marcel used his car to drive us to our rooms, where we all fell into an exhausted sleep.

Today has been a good day. I am happy to report that Scott’s head looked great this morning and as far as we can tell, he is his normal, chipper self . Today has been a very good day. I am also delighted to tell you that tonight, we are in “the house”. What a difference in perspective two days makes. If you had led me here the first night, I think I would have looked at the place we were staying and wondered how I would survive two weeks there. Now I look around and say, “Thank you Lord, for providing us with such a place.” As Loren says, now he feels like he is home.

So by now you might be asking, “How is that you have come to love this place which has presented you with so many difficulties?” That, my friends is the rest of the story, which will have to wait until tomorrow’s post….. IF I return from the road to Kongoussi.

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