Life in Dédougou

March 4, 2014 | Valerie, DVM, WUSC, Burkina Faso, REVS +

Coming into my eighth week over here in Dédougou, I’d say I have developed a pretty routine lifestyle. I’ve become accustomed to the frequent stares and being called the ‘tobabou mousso’ – the white woman and occasionally ‘la chinoise’ as well as of a diet of constant leafy gooey sauces with milled millet and rice platters along with my daily Coke to settle any complaints my stomach expresses. I’ve also learned how to be resourceful with the availability of water. As the weather gets hotter (up to a high of 38 C), water shortages are more frequent, sometimes up to 24 hours. I initially made the
mistake of not keeping enough water in stock, but now take advantage every time running water miraculously appears at volatile times of the day.

The majority of my time is spent at work where my daily interactions with my colleagues have lead me to build a somewhat closer relationship to them than in the initial month. This week was particularly interesting, because I finally had the opportunity to attend an HIV/AIDS outreach session in a village and in a school. I didn’t understand much, as they were held in their local dialects, but it was always amusing to witness people uncomfortably laugh and some covering their faces at the distribution of condoms. Even though the rates have significantly improved (approximately 1.2% off the population in 2009), questions about HIV/AIDS remain, and the stigma around it continues.

A beneficiary came to see us because she wanted to refer her sister for the test to see whether she was HIV positive or not. With loquacious characters in small villages where everyone knows everything about each other’s business, she had heard from someone that her brother in law was being treated for HIV/AIDS. Her sister was referred to what we call the ‘Centre de ‘Dépistage Volontaire’ and took the test – the result: HIV Positive Type 1. The husband omitted this from his relationship with his wife, pretty sly if you ask me. This anecdote gives you only a slight idea of how relationships are over here between men and women. The fault will always lay be upon the woman, if a couple is unable to conceive a child, it is without a doubt that the woman who is infertile. This is a patriarchal society, where the woman is believed to be inferior to the man, she is a gnat. She must submit to him, because she was created within the man as mentioned in the bible that the woman came out of the man’s flank. Note that the main religions here are Catholicism, Muslim and Animist, though regardless of their faith, they all believe the same thing. Religion over here peacefully coexists, where inter religious marriages are not uncommon, but everyone here practices to some extent animist rituals.

Anyway, whenever engaging in a conversation with a man on this topic, I can never get any cogent response to my inquiries as to why they think women should not have the same rights as men. I listen to them with incredulity and abhorrence and they look at me with a disagreeing countenance as I explain that in Canada, women and men are equal and have the same rights (not to say that we are post gender equality, but at least the concept resonates within the majority). I thought with this country celebrating Women’s National Day coming this 8th of March as a national holiday, there would have a certain consideration for gender quality within the society. As previously mentioned, I do live in a village (I was definitely mistaken about the population, it is actually closer to 80,000 than the previously mentioned 30,000) and the perspectives are very different from ones from the capital city, therefore it is not to say that the perspectives over here are representative of the entire country. Beside this irksome mentality and obstinate attitude, people do have a funny sense of humor. There are various ethnicities in Burkina Faso and over 60 spoken dialects, where I am presently, it is the village of Boamo, where the Chief of the Village himself is Boamo. As Dédougou is a becoming village/city, there is an eclectic mix of ethnicities.

The most common pleasantries that I have heard are between the Samo and Mossi where the former
will call the latter his slave, as it once was. Or one will comically harangue the other about their incompetence; most problems get solved through these seemingly cantankerous pleasantries. It’s interesting to witness as I’m never sure as to whether they are being serious or not since the ambiance does get intense, until there is that loud outbreak of a heartily laughter.

The month of February has been an interesting one for Dédougou. At this time of the year, it is considered as the New Year for the Boamo, as they start to pray for the rain to fall. Men of Boamo ethnicity will dress up in masks (masks over here mean that the entire body is covered, and not the just the face) made of leaves and branches. During the entire month, there are hundreds of them peregrinating the streets barricading you until you give them money that you throw on the ground. They run after those who provoke them, and hit them with a wooden stick that they carry around with them complementary to their whip. I wouldn’t say that they hit very hard, but I have heard stories where in some cases, people have been beaten because of provocation.

The last week of February also came to know a week full of excitement as biannual the Festival of Masks – FESTIMA began. Many countries of West Africa gather here in Dédougou to perform and show case their masks made of resplendent tissues and fibres. I feel fortunate to have been able to attend the festival, as many foreigners travel to Burkina Faso solely for this event. I’d say it also brings a moderate amount of revenue for the village as well as more visibility. On that note, Dédougou will also be hosting Independence Day this coming December, which means that there will finally be paved roads and less of the omnipresent red dust! There is definitely a lot of potential for Dédougou, which I hope someday I could return and observe its transformation.

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