Sunday, August 31, 2008

A day in Burkina

I was treated to a rare insight into life in Ouaga on a Sunday today. Invited to have lunch with Salli and a friend of hers I was soon to find myself astride her little mo bike as she navigated the streets of Ouaga to her home.

Burkina Faso is one of the regions poorest nations and while the elite enjoy a life style that is unimaginable even to me, the majority live a life which is more or less a struggle.

Salli lives in a 'gated community' but no where near the one that those words conjure up to a middle class Asian. This community is a collection of two roomed houses, one against the other in a single compound.

What immediately struck me was the cleanliness, the almost pristine cleanliness of the compound within and without each individual home.

While money was obviously not something in excess, the smiles certainly were as people greeted each other as they went about their Sunday chores - fixing doors, re adjusting antennas, cleaning, cooking.

It struck me how fortunate I am, how much in excess of the basics I actually have and how my desire for one thing or the other are really wants and not needs anymore - not if I went by with how little so many can actually manage.

Lunch was simple wholesome fare, chicken and spaghetti, cooked out in the open, prepared over a period of no more than 30 minutes.

Over and after lunch animated, warm conversation of this and that, simple things that affect life at its basic level.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Got me thinking

"sounds like the good life. all this gadding about africa, meeting clients and securing deals reminds me of the lord of war ;)
Pissu Perea"

Sometimes it takes a comment to really appreciate somethings, and this one got me thinking about what I do. Fond of claiming that if you found a job you loved you would never have to work a day in your life, I really have not voiced the fact just how much I do love what I do.

My roots start 20yrs ago and on a tea plantation a long long way from where I am right now. For the next decade I was to be found tramping amongst the tea gardens of Sri Lanka, first in Maskeliya and then in Bandarawela. A sudden realization that the world was changing and I was left behind the driver to make a change and exchange my stout walking shoes, long socks, shorts and short sleeved shirts for a tie and stiff collar and a desk in a poky little office in Union Place trying my hand at selling what I had learn t to grown!

Five years, and the initial forays overseas on work taking me to Europe, the US and Japan in search of markets. It was then that I took the next big step in my life by leaving my employer of 15 yrs to join a new company just starting off. In the first three months I found myself traveling more than I had in the previous five years going to China, Hong Kong, India and the Maldives seeing the Himalaya's, the tea gardens of Darjeeling, Assam, the Nilgiris and China.

In year 3 a two month assignment to conduct market research became a two year stint in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and one I would dearly love to live in, South Africa. That first exposure kindled my love for this 'dark' continent, little suspecting at the time how intimate I was to become with it in time. From South Africa to Kenya then Uganda before eventually returning home.

The winds of change blew again, following a briefly frustrating period warming a seat in Colombo and I was now en route for West Africa and the countries of Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Angola.

This my third visit to the region with a new destination on the cards in two weeks - Nigeria.

So yes, I am lucky, I am fortunate, I am blessed to be doing something I love, in a continent that I love being in, Africa.

30th August 2008

Eight days into this trip and I am back in Ouagadougou (Wa-ga-doo-goo) after a two day trip to Niamey, Niger.

Traveling by road can be pleasant and not so pleasant depending on how things pan out. Border crossings can be fun too and I do enjoy crossing these borders. The two I don't look forward to are entering Mali and Guinea Conakry.

The trip to Niger was a good one, my meetings went off well. The stretched into another day that I had not planned for, but the stay was worth it given the end results.

Come Monday I need to get a visa for Mali and then plan to leave Wednesday

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Its suddenly hit me that I am happy, happier than I have been in many a day.

Burkina Faso is no paradise, it is one of the poorest West African nations in the region with a majority managing on one US doller a day - keep in mind that a pint bottle of fanta is around $ 1.30.

The truth is I thrive away from my office. The day to day monotony of warming a seat, gazing into the blue screen of a computer, irrespective of what is actually on the screen, gets to me and tires me to the edge of my tether. I dislike office politics, having to watch the stream of long tongue practitioners ply their art to get through just another day, the power plays of the insecure, the whip cracking authority figures who have to just because they can. And I hate that I am looked upon as an oddity, disliked merely because I refuse to toe the line and march to the beat of the drum everyone else tries to conform to. My creed is simply that I do my job to the best of my ability, deliver what is expected of me when it is, and to ensure that what I do, is sustainable.

And I am away from the tensions of my personal life, of the emotional pulls that drag me in all directions, that critique my feelings, the agenda of so called well meaning souls refusing to understand that I deserve to be happy, that ultimately no one lives my life but me alone.

I am away from it all, and I would be the lighter for it if there was one I did not miss...

I have fallen in love with Ouagadougou, with Burkina Faso, with the dust and the flies and the poverty. With the almost incomprehensible francophone chatter all around me as I try to maneuver my way through the market streets from one client to another, from one place to the other. The initial day here is usually a blur, followed by a gradual immersion into this lovely god forsaken place. The telephone card sellers, the petrol pump attendants, the old man by the mosque steps eventually become accustomed to the sight of me lagging my stuffed laptop bag on the way to the market place in the morning, back to my hotel in the afternoon with a repeat performance again at 3. The staff at 4 Seasons start to treat me as a regular, sooner than later learning to anticipate my "Une Castel s’il vous plaît" each evening as I step in for a leisurely dinner. Unlike at home, I spend close to an hour over my meal, sipping my beer watching the wo rld go past, looking with care at the menu, rounding off my meal with a cup of cafe o lay and then ambling back to my bed...

I could grow used to this life, living away from it all,,drawing in my orders moving around the region on a regular basis, breathing in the beauty that is peculiar to Africa!

And I have been fortunate, two orders fallen into my lap, another one on the verge of confirmation and two more to clinch in the course of the next two weeks. And then the new market that I am looking at, Nigeria.

Perhaps I can lose myself here... that sounds pretty good to me, it sounds right to me, it may sound right to someone else too...

Monday, August 25, 2008

25th August 2008

Let me see if I can stay on top of things!

Its the close of the day, I am back in my room after a day spent out in the markets.

The day has been a quiet one, marred by the fact that I was unable to secure my visa to Ghana - an officious suited gentlemen decided to demonstrate his importance by waving a letter in my face! Never mind, I can wait till the morro.

Good news from back home, of sofa's and tv tables, light green covers and soft cushions... it sounds scrumptious mate!

I hope to be on my way to Niger come Wednesday, will see soon if that happens.

Till tomorrow.... ciao

25th August 2008

23rd August 2008

Well, I am rested, and well so if I may put it that way. My sleep was deep, lasting for almost ten hours uninterrupted and awake I did come most refreshed.

The day has been a good one, except for one thing which concerns me deeply. More on that later.

This morning was spent in the company of one of my clients, a jovial man whom I have come to respect as I have got to know him. My dealings with him, as with all my clientele, have been transparent and if at all, all I can be faulted with it for being to o trusting.

Work discussed I broached a matter which I have been tasked with – to consider the possibility of setting up a permanent presence here in West Africa. I am now of mind to do so here in Ouaga as opposed to my initial selection Accra.

There are reasons.

In spite of an attempt to sound cheerful, I know that it was a mere subterfuge to spare me any pain. But while words can try, a voice finds it harder and I am so attuned to the nuances of that voice that I know. What can I do? I am helpless in this matter, I cannot stand up and protect. That this is how it is pains me considerably, leaving me feeling impotent, raging at my inability to do what must be done.

Three square meals I have partaken of this day, tomorrow I intend to revert back to form, avoiding the noon meal, if I can!

Lunch spent in good company, eating what I easily can call the best tomato soup that it has been my fortune to have in my entire life – it was really good.

Dinner was a pizza royal, washed down with a pint of Castel beer. The evening topped of with an unexpected meeting and a ride back perched on the back of a little scooter – my second ride for today on such a mode of transport!

I am of relatively good cheer, my spirits weighed down only by my concerns back home. I am worried… in my dreams perhaps I will find comfort…

25th August 2008 – 0130hrs

Well Sunday was a quiet day. Spent almost all of it in my room reading except for a brief trip outside for lunch. My clock is a little off still – a short nap taken ay 1830 lasted till ten minutes ago!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


20th August 2008 – 0600hrs

Leave Colombo for Dubai. I have an eighteen hour lay over and some possibility of getting out of the airport. If not, it’s going to be a wait – thank god there is wifi!

Well, it worked out and I am out of the airport and in the city. Right now I’m sprawled on the bed playing with my new toy – a Canon S5 IS, my replacement for the S1 I had.

I need to head back to the airport in a few hours, taking off to Accra

21st August 2008 – 0500hrs

Well, alls worked out so well, and I am now waiting for my flight to Accra. An on line chat with a dear friend has lifted my spirits to some extent.

This is going to be interesting and I will find out if I made a good decision or not. A dearth of seats to Burkina Faso for the next three days threatens to upset my schedule. Within hours of landing having secured my visa for BF this is an unexpected setback. The alternate is a domestic flight to Tamale, a city in the North Eastern part of Ghana and then to travel by road to Ouagadougou – a road trip of three hours I’m told. We shall see what happens

22nd August 2008 – 0500hrs

I’ve been up since 3am, tired, not much sleep last night, not much sleep since the 19th! At Accra’s domestic terminal, waiting my flight. I’m annoyed that my new piece of fancy luggage arrived from Dubai broke. A heavy investment made on the assumption that it would be hardy enough to bear the journey shattered…. I hate not getting my moneys worth!

1500hrs and I am tired, annoyed and angry. I’ve finally reached my destination, Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and it has been a trip

Due to a lack of seats I was forced to look at alternatives if I was to stick with my schedule.

A 6am departure was delayed for an hour due to bad weather at destination. Eventually landing in Tamale, Northern Ghana at 8am I then hired a car to drive me three hours further to Paga and the border and from there another two hour journey to Ouaga.

It’s the rainy season here in Africa and during the entire journey we were lashed with rain as we traveled further north. The moisture has given a lush green look to the region, different to the usually dusty dry landscape I have seen during my previous trips. My biggest fear at this time is the competency of my driver and the road worthiness of my chariot. I have taken the precaution of inspecting the tires!

This was my first real experience of corruption at the lower levels of administration – and that it was by the BF border guards rather than the Ghanaian ones interesting. I was met by “Transport Manager” an English speaking gentlemen who ushered me into a vehicle saying that the charge was CEF 4000/ - about US$ 11/- from the border to Ouaga. Too good to be true I thought settling myself in the car. Then came the rider – that we need wait for another nine people to join us, if they ever did. OR, I could pay CEF 35,000/- and be on my way! Faced with the possibility of spending the night in the rain, I eventually agreed, then to see 5000 of the 35,000 handed over to the TM as his commission.

It’s been three days since I’ve left Colombo. Sleep has been elusive, a combination of jet lag, early morning flight schedules and a restless mind, I am awfully tired.

Ouaga eventually at 3 something in the afternoon. Nine hours in all! The hotel is adequate, central and in close proximity to a high speed internet café. Checked in, a long needed soak in a tub full of hot water and I crawled into bed at 1630, planning on a couple of hours sleep before looking for something to eat.

Just as I dosed off, an amazing experience, the sensation of not being alone... I'll leave it at that, for it was an exquisitely intimate moment to savour.

I did wake up, turned over and slept again, eventually coming wide awake at 2am, which is about 730 in Colombo.

Unable to fall asleep again, I’ve sorted my accounts out, re packed my bags, thrown my laundry out, edited my photographs and typing this before taking another snooze. I think I’ll post this today, carry on later.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

On the road again...

With a heartache and a sense of loss I travel again...

On the plus side - a canon s5 is!

More to come as the days pass

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Its to be

4am and I can feel the tug of those threads that bind lives to one another. The pull is strong and while it may just be the results of a restless mind, I think it’s something more.

The week has been another difficult one. Absence takes its toil affecting my ability to look at the world with a smile.

Very few understand, and the many that don’t, seek tangible reasons of anything that is acceptable – they don’t understand.

It makes me angry, it also saddens me for it merely highlights the sheer vastness of the gap that exists.

An opportunity has appeared upon my horizon, it may be the door that I seek, a path to take me where I desire to be. But alone I cannot do that, one other must chose to walk with me. The path requires patience, the ability to remain calm in the face of the storms that rage.

I sense that it will be, in the distance I see it, I still believe.

It will happen