This week is what we volunteers refer to as "spring break." It's the 11-day break between the second and third trimesters. Most folks have used it as vacation time. Too bad I didn't go with them - there are some good stories from the volunteers who went on safari. But you'll have to look elsewhere for those stories. I've been working in Ouaga.
I've been working on collecting information on agroforestry in Burkina Faso. The Peace Corps does agroforestry in other countries, but not here, so I've been talking mostly to different people in the Burkinabe government and a bit with people working with ONGs (sorry, that's NGO in English). Not much on the latter because of the difficulty of the former...
I'm staying about 10 km outside of Ouaga. I suppose I could take a cab in, but that adds up, and overall it's easier to have my bike with me than not, so I bike in everyday. So unlike every other stay I've had in Ouaga, I'm not gaining any weight! Tuesday in particular I biked a lot - I'd guess at least 40 km in all, and much of it in 110 degree heat. That day I started off by heading to the main office of the Ministry of the Environment. It turns out there's no general secretary, so there wasn't anyone there to help me figure out who I needed to talk to. Fortunately, I'd anticipated that I had a good idea of which divisions within the ministry I needed to visit. UNfortunately, neither of the two divisions I wanted to talk to have offices in the main building. The secretary of one of the other departments gave me directions to the other two. I'm willing to accept the theory that the reason these directions were so useless was in large part due to my French, but whatever the cause I wandered downtown for an hour looking for the first place she'd tried to direct me to. I eventually gave up and went looking for the second, in hopes that when I found that one, over and above helping me with my project they could direct me to the office I couldn't find. This second office took an hour and a half to find. My directions were "Go straight down the Avenue d'Independence, and it's behind the BCAO building." Sounds straightforward, right? Problem: it turns out that by "go straight" what she meant was "turn twice." Solution: Fortunately, I know this area of town slightly, and was able to figure that out reasonably quickly. Problem: The BCAO building is entirely unmarked. Solution: Ask around about the giant building with no signs and a big wall around it. Consensus is that it's the BCAO building. Problem: Which side is "behind"? Solution: ...Probably the side opposite the side on the main road? No one seems really clear about this. Problem: There's no Ministry of the Environment building on ANY side of BCAO. Solution: There's an office for a different ministry on one side. Maybe they'll know. Problem: Nope, they have no idea. Solution: Ask at a coffee stand outside. Problem: The directions they give me send me...nowhere in particular. Solution: Ask yet more people as I wander around. Finally, some folks know about a Ministry of the Environment office nearby. It's not the one I'm looking for, but maybe they'll know. I find them, and go in...and despite the fact that their sign lists a different division, this IS the office I was looking for. Problem: They can't, in fact, give me the information I need!
So that was a frustrating morning. On the plus side, they were able to direct me to two OTHER offices, both of which proved more fruitful (and one of which was the one I couldn't find earlier). At least as good for my state of mind at that point, they were also both on the way back to the Transit House (where I'm not staying, but I'm not above napping on a couch). Then that afternoon, I biked basically all the way across town (laterally to the direction of the place I'm staying at, so it didn't save me a whole lot with regard to my trip back) to another office. Fortunately, that office was also helpful - so much so that I went back the next morning. So I was glad to go...it was just an awful lot of biking.
Anyway, I still don't love Ouaga, but I do feel more comfortable here now, and I definitely have learned my way around better. I alternate between eating expensive and eating cheap. Today I plan on trying a place that claims to have Big Macs on its sign (it's not a McDonald's, there aren't any here).
And now I'm going to try to start collating the massive amounts of information I've collected. Whew!