Dogon Country

From Dogon Country to Burkina Faso


For a change, finding transport to take us from Mali to Burkina Faso was easy. After saying a fond farewell to John ( Mac) and his staff, Banya arrived and took us to the Mopti / Burkina taxi-garage around 8.00 am. A small minibus was almost ready to leave and Alaghi and I were the lucky last two passengers they were waiting for to complete their quota of passengers. We paid for our tickets at CFA 3000 each to take us to Koro, the last village before the Burkinabe border.

Retracing our previous route as far as Bandiagara, instead of taking the dirt road past Sanga, we kept on the part dirt / part tarmac road which led us up and over the Bandiagara Escarpment towards Bankass. Some of the descents were so steep and bends so tight, the driver's assistant had to get out and run around the corner to make sure that nothing was coming up the slope .. before we crawled round very slowly, with our brakes graunching and seemingly strained to the limit.

Once down on the Gondo Plain, travelling was fairly easy .. if a little dusty .. to Bankass, where we stopped only to swap a few passengers before driving through the village, seeing a few horsemen and decorative marquees, the remnants of the recent Dogon Cultural Festival which we had been watching on TV in the Timbuktu restaurant. Unfortunately we had to choose between the Festival and going to Timbuktu .. next time it will be the festival. From talking to people who had been there, it is a colourful celebration of Tuareg horsemanship and music and an occasion not to be missed.

From Bankass it was a fairly good road to Koro, travelling without problem until the young girl sitting opposite us felt unwell and was sick into a nice new plastic bowl that her mother had been carrying, probably for this very purpose. I was just marvelling at how efficiently her mother had handled the whole affair .. until she passed the bowl to the front of the bus and her friend tipped it out of the open window .. seemingly oblivious to the shouts of NO !! which echoed around the minibus.
The predictable result occurred, the contents of the bowl blew back down the side of the bus and back in through all the open windows .. with everyone getting showered ! Not nice !!

Arriving in Koro, a tiny and dusty village, we found out that we had an hour and a half to wait before our next transport, which would take us towards Ouagadougou, would be ready to leave at 2.00 pm.

After buying our tickets we were guided to a local restaurant to have a few cool soft drinks in some welcome shade .. it was a very hot day.

Arriving back at the ticket office, we sat in the shade of a decrepit wreck of a bus .. with half its windows missing and its doors hanging at rakish angles from their hinges .. waiting for our transport to arrive.

2.00 o'clock approached and with a flurry of activity, bags and people started loading into this wreck. Not only was it not destined for the scrap yard, this was our transport into Burkina !! Half the windows were not the only things missing .. most of the upholstery, fittings and fixtures had long since disappeared, but remarkably the engine roared into life and we set off towards the border.

We hadn't covered more than 2 km when a loud thumping noise became apparent under where we were sitting. "I think you had better tell the driver that all is not well," I suggested to the dozing Alaghi. "Er, why .. what's the problem ?" said he. Before I could say anymore, an almighty crunch followed by the coach grinding to a halt, signalled that the prop shaft mounting had become detached from the chassis. Everyone got out .. the driver and helpers crawled under the coach and, equipped with a strong piece of rope, tied it back in place .. off we went again .. an hour later !! Arriving at the Mali exit border post, happily equipped with a small drinks bar, we queued to have our passports stamped and had a drink.

What should have taken a short time was extended by at least 20 minutes due to the instant attraction shown by one of the Immigration Officers to young Gillian ( the one in the orange T-shirt in the

picture ). Inviting her into his office and occasionally remembering to look at and stamp a passport, he focussed most of his attention on energetically chatting her up.  She was obviously enjoying the attention and her brother Luke did remark to the rest of us, who were patiently queuing, that it was far from a rare occurrence. Although completely innocent .. to quote her words .. she did endure a great deal of teasing afterwards and was christened the bus Ci Ci .. pronounced sigh sigh and meaning flirt in the local Wollof language !! ;-))

Another 3 or 4 km later, through virtually deserted countryside with the occasional small groups of huts .. in one of the longest 'no-mans lands' between borders I have experienced .. we were passing through a small village when we heard a loud bang followed by a sort of flapping noise, once more beneath our seats. Again, no one seemed particularly concerned .. until a larger explosion and a further grinding halt signalled that one of the rear tyres had completely disintegrated.

By now, a spirit of camaraderie had built up between the passengers .. some of whom where toubab students from Canada, Australia and America .. living, studying and working on projects in Mali .. some with relatives who had come to visit. Being in the middle of a hot desert, between two countries' borders and with no sign of habitation in sight, didn't really seem to matter. Putting our faith in the mechanical ability of the driver and his crew .. obviously used to such happenings .. we laughed and joked, swapped stories and waited for them to fix it. Having replaced the shredded tyre with another one in little better condition .. almost tread-less with canvas showing through in places .. we set off, having lost another hour or so.

On reaching the border post at Thiou for our entry into Burkina Faso, Alaghi took on a very serious tone and gave me strict instructions not to start being over-friendly with the Burkinabe officials .. they don't like it, he said !! Sure enough as we descended from our bus, we were ordered into separate lines of blacks and whites and pointedly told to stand there in a queue until we were seen. We toubabs stood in a group and waited, but the Africans were almost standing to attention in a long line, with dutifully downcast eyes .. something I never like to see. Whatever our colour, race or employment, we are all equal human beings and border officials are simply doing a job of work, sometimes with vastly over-inflated egos. Most of this lot had more ego than efficiency and it took an age until every passport was closely scanned and stamped in colour / race segregated offices.

We were just about to walk the 1/2 kilometre to the next Police / Customs Post when a bugle sounded and everything came to a stop with a few shouted commands .. the lowering of the national flag was carried out with utmost solemnity .. not a soul daring to move .. except 'yours truly,' probably risking life imprisonment by sneaking a picture with a luckily silent digital camera !! Whilst respecting the occasion and their authority, most well-travelled toubabs are not the best people to willingly put up with such treatment from officials

.. so we decided to play them at their own officious game and carefully lined up in a straight line at the Police Post alongside the similar line of Africans, before being ordered to. With an air of total pomposity, the overweight uniformed officer made a great play of walking down the African line first .. which had no effect on us, it is their country after all .. hardly looking at their passports .. and then slowly walking back up our line from the rear, with pointedly disdainful glances at ours. A backward wave of his hand dismissed us all, as he wandered back to lounge in the shade amongst his smirking cronies.

Oh hell, was this to be the attitude of everyone in officialdom in Burkina Faso ? All the people I had previously met from this country had been mild mannered, friendly and very polite. Thankfully, this was the last we experienced of any of this type of behaviour .. but a warm welcome to their country it definitely wasn't !!

The delays from the two breakdowns were quite enough for all of us and night had fallen as we eventually rattled into a small bus station, to exchange busses for the final leg to Ouagadougou. Having time for something to eat and drink, Alaghi and I went to the only café available and ordered two soft drinks, two plates of spaghetti and meat, a tea and a coffee .. with a few glasses of water to wash it all down. Very tasty and so cheap it was amazing .. well under CFA 1000 for the lot !! Had they made a mistake ? We thought perhaps they had, but later, when buying biscuits and other snack items we realised that they hadn't. Burkina Faso, it turned out, had the cheapest prices of any West African country that I have visited so far.

Our new bus was indeed almost brand new and we purred up the good tarmac road towards Ouagadougou at the appointed hour of departure. Stopping to pick up the occasional passenger in a village we were making good time, all thoughts of the previous journey's delays far from our thoughts as we snuggled down in the comfortable seats to get some sleep. An few hours later, still some 200 kilometres from Ouaga, we stopped in the town of Ouahigouya for a refreshment break .. and those of us still awake went for a drink on a well lit street with scores of corrugated shack-type cafés, restaurants and small shops, this was obviously a major transport crossroad.

After 20 minutes or so we piled back into the bus and the driver started the engine. Then he stopped it again, got out and crawled under the front of the bus. Being too tired to take much notice, we settled back and waited as this procedure was repeated many times. As with most occasions of "we have a problem" in Africa .. a crowd of onlookers, pseudo-mechanics and advisors soon gathered around the driver and his assistants .. many diving under the engine cover, others crawling around under the bus and all offering advice. "What's the problem ?" I asked. "The bus has no lights," they said !! "Oh lovely," I said .. or something reasonably similar, but to the point !!

We were lucky not to be in the middle of the bush .. for the delay cost us a further three hours whilst phone calls were made and spare parts were delivered. Many slept on the bus, others of us wandered around looking in the shops and restaurants that were rapidly closing for the night. One guy, on the point of closing his outside café, must have thought Christmas, or rather Tobaski, had come early .. for being the only one left open, he was descended upon by a succession of bored passengers ordering tea, coffee and bread, long past his normal hours of business. His smile was a wonder to behold !!

Whilst looking in a small shop for something cool but not fizzy, I spied some white plastic tubs of various sizes in the freezer. "Ice cream", I asked keenly. "Non, monsieur, yahout," he said. "Er ... yahout, whatever is that, can I try some please ?" And try some I did. It was pure nectar on that hot and dry night. Locally-made yoghurt with a strawberry-like flavour .. cool, non acrid ( which most of their soft drinks are ) and an absolute treat, as it slipped down my throat. Two small tubs later ( cost : CFA 100 each ), I bought larger tubs to take back to a snoozing-on-the-bus Alaghi and ended up letting many more passenger have a taste. Although the shop was well stocked, we virtually cleared it out as Africans and toubabs alike flocked to buy more, returning time and time again, it was truly delicious.

When we finally did depart with all the bus's lights blazing, the shop's owner could be seen waving and bowing in delighted gratitude .. another lucky local who would have two Tobaskis that year !!

We arrived at last in Ouaga at around 2.00 am .. fearing that the two of us might have to sleep on the streets. From conversations with the toubab students who had been using their mobile phones to try to arrange hotel rooms for the night, it was evident that with the staging of the biannual African Film Festival, most if not all the hotels were full. For once, we were visiting a city in which Alaghi had never stayed before, only passing straight through on his way home to Niger. No friends, no contacts and no one that we could have contacted prior to our arrival. Oh well, sometimes one just has to trust to luck and hope that something will turn up. In a city crammed full of film buffs, reporters and traders from all over West Africa, at 2 am .. our luck was going to have to be very good.