Archive for March, 2009

The Road

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009


There is one road in Mahadaga.   It is name-less but everyone knows it well.  The Burkinabe live their lives on it, near it, around it, beside it.  They buy and sell and visit each other on it, work their fields beside it, and celebrate important events under the shade of the mango trees along it.  To journey into the lives of the people here, we have needed to learn how to walk along this road.  And we are learning.  We’re becoming familiar with its rises and dips, its rough and smooth parts, its comings and goings, as our feet walk this road each and every day:  


As the sun rises in the morning we can already hear the motorbikes traversing along it and the street vendors sweeping the dirt around their shops to prepare for their work day.  From the road one can hear and see more than one woman pounding grain for the morning meal.  Groups of children giggle and greet each other while kicking up clouds of dirt as they walk to school.  There are the men we fondly call the “Burkina bike team” who make their way in the early light- a group of men carrying supplies strapped to their bicycles from one town to the next.  The donkeys and pigs, guinea fowl and chickens, dogs and goats, sheep and roosters make their footprints too into the sandy turf below the rush hour traffic.  They weave and meander, generally to the agitation of those trying to pass along the route. 


People begin greeting everyone early in the day on this road.  It doesn’t matter the time of day or if you saw someone five minutes earlier, you are never an outsider, never excluded on the Mahadaga road.  Children run to wave and greet you, bicycling men and women smile and say hello, and street vendors never ignore you.  You cannot walk this road alone as you are constantly surrounded by the hum of people who know you by name or appearance.  When your bicycle breaks down there are 7 people to instantly come to your rescue.   When you go for a walk along it people want to know where you are going or coming from.   Or, they might even join you.   One time we had a herd of children following along behind us.  When we stopped to look at something, they all stopped and looked too, even though we couldn’t communicate what we were looking at. 


At midday the hum continues.  There is the sizzling sound of flour cakes being cooked in hot oil over open fires.  There is the bartering and exchanging of coins for the local produce displayed on woven mats along the roadside.  There is the whirring of motor bikes, the ringing of a cell phone or two, and the loud boisterous laughter, clucking of tongues, and slapping of hands as friends reunite.  Kids take long sticks and tap, tap against the tall mango tree branches, hoping for a ripe mango to fall.  Or one can hear the tap tapping of sticks against a donkey’s behind as the animal pulls a cart full of hand-made bricks, crops, or some sleeping kids.  Large trucks are seen coming for a long distance with their large, straining loads of cotton or other merchandise.  Even though work and school stops for over 2 hours when the sun is at its hottest, the road never sits quietly.


As the afternoon marches onwards the children return to school and the road lives on.  Singing and reciting can be heard from the classrooms or the distant sound of drums for a funeral.  The squeaking, turnstyle metal gate at the medical clinic continues constantly as people come and go.  Newborn baby cries can be heard in the clinic not far from the road as well as the wailing of sick children receiving their unwelcomed treatments.  Hand pumps for water wells are never left idle, nor are the mechanized mills for millet and corn (available for those who can afford it).  Tailors have foot-controlled sewing machines that whirr and there are women gathering around a head or two, braiding hair.  People walk carrying anything and everything on their heads, backs, bikes, and motos.  Women are always heavy-laden with household finds, especially on Thursdays (market day).  Babies are strapped to backs of older children and mothers, their heads neatly tucked into “tuques.”  The pitter pattering of bare feet on hot, rocky sand is constant, and always a reminder of our weak feet and our inability to go unnoticed (as its usually a child or two running to say hello). 


As the evening approaches, one may or may not be able to see the sun.  The air is thick and heavy with dust.  One can taste it and smell it.  It lays heavy upon the horizon as the night approaches.  People return to their homes after work and visiting.  Roadside shops become emptier and bikes become less frequent.  But as we take our evening stroll we continue to greet onlookers.  The few lights of “torches” (flashlights) and small generator powered lights are seen from far off in the distance as there are few of them.  Groups of people crowd around on benches near shops and listen to music blaring from radios.  They talk and sit, and again we greet them.  They tell us to have a “good sport” and we continue onwards only to return back the same way.  The moon sometimes casts shadows it’s so bright and then the whole town is on the road with us- bike riding and eating, visiting and sharing their day with one another.  But when the night is dark, one must strain to see the approaching biker or stray animal.  The road is quiet, but not empty.  Never empty.  Life passes alongside it.  Mosquitos whir in the air, and the sound of dogs and donkeys continue on as fires are lit and people head to their beds to sleep outside their houses where it is cooler. 


Another day on the road in Mahadaga.  At first light everyone is awake and out, traversing the same road again and again, day after day.

I like thinking about this road and all that it witnesses.  It carries the weight of small children and large over-burdened trucks.   It is a reminder to us of the simple things, the important things, and the normal things that make up life wherever you are:  coming and going, working and playing, friends and fellowship, sickness and exercise, all that life brings can be found on this one road. It is so thick with sand you sink in it and you have to fight others who are biking or riding motos for the one route (a tire track) of hard enough sand to travel on.  We must share the road with everyone: those with shoes and those without, those who are on two feet, or four.  When you want to be ignored, you can’t be.   You are always greeted, always smiled at, and never left alone. But we love it. We pray that wherever we live we will be reminded of this Mahadaga road and the simple, daily, important things that we are to be faithful to God in.  And who knows, maybe one day we’ll come back here and find the road hasn’t changed one bit and then with a bit of time and practice, we’ll be able to run barefoot on the hot sand of this road like the kids do.


From Lemmings to Leaven : lessons on time

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009


On our long bus ride to Ghana, Jason and I started reading a book that has started us reflecting on how we want to live differently when we get back to Canada.  It talks about making choices based on values: choosing contentment over consumerism, stop and play over fast forward, talking over technology, so on and so forth.  It seems especially relevant because the values it promotes are modeled for us here in the cultural nuances of Burkina.  One choice in particular relates to the issue of time.


Jason and I recall the state in which we left Canada: hurried, harried, to-do lists, late nights, overworked and overtired, trying to get ourselves on that plane to come here.  We had spent more time in a state of motion versus a state of rest. We had established a pattern of choices based on our value of productivity over process.  Somehow this very notion was working itself into the way we were viewing relationships too.   In fact, we have struggled with the notion of taking a Sabbath for awhile now. 


It strikes us here in Burkina how un-hurried life seems to be.  It is more about relationship and process than efficiency and product.  Sure, inefficiencies in many areas of this culture are, to be blunt, irritating.  And maybe the lack of development actually doesn’t give anyone a choice in the matter really.  But, we can’t help but notice how much more it feels like acommunity here, when process and relationships are more important than productivity.  For example: what does everyone do in the evenings?  They sit outside and visit.  The streets at night are humming with everyone out in their shops visiting with friends, sitting around, just being WITH other people.   What about at midday?  We take a 2-2.5 hour break from work for rest and relaxation.  Sure, maybe people do this as a matter of necessity because it’s so hot…but even so, when do we do that in Canada?   It takes a torn ligament for me to take that kind of rest!


Other examples: one of our friends here invited us over for dinner.  While there, the rest of his family was still awake, but were just sitting outside in their compound, in the dark- just being with one another.  In all of life’s circumstances this restful, relaxed and unhurried characteristic of the culture is evident.  Even when a bus stops unexpectedly, making us now 5 instead of 4 hours late, and everyone has to sit on the side of the road in the hot sun, no one is irate about the loss of time.  No one is yelling and screaming, shaking their heads.  People just sit there and well, seem to handle this whole notion of being stillquite well.


Everything takes time here and for that, in so many ways, I am thankful.  It’s a daily reminder that most things shouldn’t be and can’t be rushed (like making leavened bread or learning languages).

One quote in particular cuts straight to the heart of the matter:


“We’ve [our culture] sanctified a rushed pace as having a sort of inherent virtue, as if going someplace fast is naturally good.  But the question lost in our almost panic driven pursuit is this: just where are we trying to get? It’s as if where we are going becomes insignificant.  What’s important is that we just go, go, go.  And so, lemming-like, that’s what we do.  In a world of fast-forward, we desperately need to hit “pause” and “play.”  There are some things which cannot be rushed: time with God, time with family, time with friends, time with ourselves.”


God help us recognize taking short cuts is not always better.  God help us rejoice in processes and relationships for the characteristics they produce in us.  God remind us that some of the best things are etched with time.

More Pics from Ghana

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Shannon put a bunch more pictures from our Ghana trip on Facebook – check out the photo album here:

Ghana or bust

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

So what DOES one do on a 30 hour bus trip anyways? 

Jason and I just arrived back from a mini-Ghana excursion.  We had a bit of time to take a “break” and put on our adventurous travel backpacks and hit the road.  SO we started with a 16 hour bus ride from Ouagadougou to Kumasi in Ghana.  We did most things you can imagine to pass the time: read books, did crosswords, cross-stitching, exercise band (no joke), ipod….and watched some interested Ghana soap operas with Christian themes (it’s an incredibly Christian nation).  Here’s some bus trip pictures for your viewing delight:

We decided to document our bus ride by hour...see how perky we were at 9 am?

We decided to document our bus ride by hour...see how perky we were at 9 am?

12:00 and we're happy all because of fan-ice (icecream in a bag- what better invention is there??)

12:00 and we are happy all because of fan-ice. Icecream in a bag. WHAT BETTER invention is there than that??

 2 pm and fanta it is!  (I'm still smiling!)

Okay- so uploading on this blog is a pain. We’re going to put some other pictures up on facebook depicting some of the rest of the trip. 
We had some fun times in Ghana though anyways…eating fried plantains and beans, playing in the very fierce and powerful waves of the Atlantic and touring the historic slave castles (some of the oldest European buildings outside of Europe and south of the Sahara).  We enjoyed the many aventures of tro-tros and cab rides with goats under our seats butting our legs, and riding in a station wagon with 8 of us (5 seater) with me on Jason’s lap hitting my head on the roof…  We stayed in interesting dormitory like backpackers places (no top-sheets, no soap, no towels, shared bathrooms) and at a nicer resort where we got gauged for a bowl of icecream.  yay tourism.  We got to experience friendly Ghanians with their strange sounding English helping us find our way, and strange Ghanian ‘black market’ currency exchange booths at the back of stores, run by Arabs (?).  We also got asked a hundred times “what is your name” and “where are you going” and got shuffled around the crazy Kumasi central market with sights, sounds, and smells abundantly beyond our senses’ ability to take it all in (and Ghanians yelling out “small girl, small girl!”  Jason got to do back flips on the beach with some kids (show off =) and we watched true soccer fans cheer on the Ghana team in their semi-final game at the bus station…and play soccer barefoot on the beach.  We saw pigs eating jellyfish on the beach (what?), men in Togas, and the whole town of Cape Coast at one point wearing black, and then the next day wearing white and black (for a funeral).  The lush green of Ghana was a nice change from Burkina, but well, we were still in africa so efficiency wasn’t the strong point of their transportation and cleanliness and hygiene was far from reality with their open sewer systems running along every road-way and the beach being a public latrine.  BUT overall, we had a lovely little adventure and are glad to be somewhat almost home. We missed the friendly Burkinabe and the dry heat of Burkina (it was over 32 degrees and 60% humidity in Ghana = sweating!!) and look forward to our home stretch of ministry in Mahadaga!