Ouagadougou : Final day, dead meat and Chief Engineers.

blue travel luggage

Day four was relatively uneventful because it was the end of the conference and there were just a few things to tie up and a few last  people to speak with then there was a buffet dinner that night at the Conference Centre, without the President, thankfully. No Goat. 

What I will remember is the sunset, quite spectacular  presumably influenced by the dusts from the desert. 
There was one highlight however,  our passports arrived ! Duly stamped with a receipt for our visas. I had almost forgotten that I was  an illegal immigrant. I saw Mr Shabby Shirt in a new light.

A relatively early night after final goodbyes. 

The next morning I said goodbye to Hassan as he headed off to another event in South Africa, a chance coffee with Marie as we talked about our families, swapping of family photos the usual thing,  then it was time to go to the airport. 
Not unusually,  departures  was in a different part from the arrivals and  also not usually it was less impressive too. But I mean really unimpressive.

I was dropped about 100 metres from the airport and the driver said I had to walk the rest  
“ Go through there ?” “ There ????” I asked in astonishment 
” Oui”
It looked like a market. It was market, a meat market and I had a distressing thought that some animals ( goats ?) could be being brought in. There is nothing, quite like preparing for a long international flight than being taken through a market with the smell of rotting flesh,  but yes there in front of me was a family pulling their bags too. 

I got  to the end of the market but not the beginning of the departure hall. There were two long queues in the blazing sunlight. I went to the end of one and asked a French guy with his family “ Is this the queue for the Paris Charles De Gaulle flight ?” 

Raising his eyebrows and with his arms extended as if to embrace a  global truth he said “ Ah Monsieur, this is one of the great mysteries of life, it may,  be but then it may not be,  it could  be the queue for Bruxelles, who knows ?” 
“ So how do you tell ?” 
“ You don’t, you get to the end and then it will be obvious, but you are English yes ?”
“ British from Scotland actually  my father was French but …well basically, yes.”
“ Ah you see here we French have the genetic advantage, we have the shrug and the elbows. You get to the front of the queue and then if you are in the wrong queue you do not start again  as if you  are British and you just love queuing, you elbow your way to the front of the other one and when they get upset you shrug, naturellement.” And he demonstrated  the classic shrug. 

Then he raised his finger and his eyebrows  a bit like Inspector Poirot (although he was Belgian and would have been in the other queue ) “ But you, you are half French yes? You can only use one elbow. And one shoulder. ” 

He was great fun and in the oppressive heat of the afternoon it was good to have someone to talk to. 
I was in the wrong queue and I did have to migrate to the other queue, not so much with elbows  as through  negotiation with a large group  of nuns who took pity on  me so long as I joined the queue behind them. 

There were six desks to book in with, two worked, the other four were abandoned and there were about 500 passengers, only one desk  had a working printer. But yet everyone needed a boarding pass. How they got round this was ingenious. The one without the printer called the other desk on their mobile,  they then printed  the requisite  pass and put it on the baggage  conveyor and you were invited to collect it on the way round ….job done. Why doesn’t Heathrow work like that?

Although I was travelling economy  I had a lounge pass and was fantasising about a gin and tonic but it was not to be. 

First  we were pushed through  emigration.
A happy Chappy,  but extreme inspection of my passport, how long had I been here, have I any terrorist connections (naturellement ) then finally “ what is your job” 
“ I am a Chief Executive of an NGO.”
“ Ah, Chief Engineer, you work in oil ”
“ No Chief Executive, I do not work in oil”
“Oui , Oui Chief Engineer, very important ….” 
“ No no ,  I am a Chief Ex….” Too little too late. Crash stamp. Mental note to self  if I ever go back to Burkina Faso I have to go as a Chief Engineer.

And then ….. into a small bus standing with about 25 other people in a space meant for about  15, in about 45 degrees, with no air con and going nowhere. In the distance was an Air France aircraft, presumably, I erroneously thought, ours and another presumably the Brussels flight much closer,  may be thirty  metres away. And we are still going  nowhere, half an hour, an hour. An American woman said “ Jeez I’m sweating.” A French woman, with a smile said “ Madame we are ladies we do not sweat,  we glow.” “ In that case Ma’am I’m glowing like  the chandeliers in the White House on the 4th of July.” Much laughter. 

Finally we moved …to the closest aircraft less than a thirty seconds walk  from where we had started. 

The flight was uneventful apart from the nuns. 

I was in a centre seat  sat next to an American who actually was a chief engineer . The nuns, about 20 of them of all kinds of ethnicities  and nationalities but presumably the same order were liberally interspersed  around us. I guess their vows did not include abstinence from alcohol. It certainly seemed as if the cabin staff had a bet on how many they could get tipsy, quickest. They started singing.  Kumbaya, I kind of expected  but when they moved on to Dolly  Parton and Shania Twain lyrics it kinda got the rest  of the plane going too “ Man! I feel like a Woman” was particularly special. 

“ Jesus I get bumped  down from business because of some freaking French diplomat now I’m  surrounded by partying nuns.” My American friend said  “ You sure these gals ain’t on some kinda elaborate hen party?” 

And when  they got off the plane, they were as quiet as, let me think, nuns.

Ougadoubou airport with control tower and an Air Burkina plane in forefront
Sputniktilt, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I doubt I will ever forget  my trip to Ouagadougou. Was it what I expected ? Well, yes and no. But that is the joy of travelling. It certainly rates as one of the most dysfunctional countries I have visited but there is a certain charm in that too.  You get to write stories for instance. I have never been there and I am sure I do it a great disservice but I doubt I will ever write about Basingstoke. 

Visiting Burkina Faso again I am sure will show far more development, but you see what you see, when you see it, every piece of travel is a slice of time.

Whenever I tell my friends of this trip they ask “ And why exactly do you still travel?” 

I speak of Burkina Faso sometimes as if I would never wish to go  there again, but you know,  I am not that sure. Perhaps right now that the Wagner group has a hold on it, well may be not so much. But I also have a Burkinabe colleague who tells me I must come back and not just to see Ouagadougou, there is so much more. I am sure there is. What I know from him from Hassan from George is that there are people in Africa who see a bright future and one that they are invested in. Africa, at least in the West, the Chinese have a different perspective, is the forgotten continent when it comes to investment and development, and yet it is the continent with the most potential.

Perhaps I will stay in number 5 again. Naturellement.

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