Ouagadougou: motorcycle city

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June 25, 2010 – I was a child the first time I heard of Ouagadougou. My brother and I were testing each other on the names of capital cities in the world and Burkina Faso came up somehow.

At the time, in my youth, I had no idea the path of my life would include a visit to this interesting country. Allow me to share my experience with you.

Ouagadougou is primitive and modern at the same time, and even includes an old and new city.

It looks almost like a very big estate in Nairobi, with occasional high-rise buildings popping out of nowhere, towering above several double storey establishments. The streets of Ouaga, as it is more commonly referred to, are quite clean and devoid of potholes

They are however littered with motorcycles – the most common mode of transportation. One does not need a license to own and drive a motorcycle in the city. Thus it is a given to see locals riding on these cycles, and more especially women.

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Some have babies tied to their midriffs, while others carry their neighbours and/or friends at the back. So many are they that on most major streets they have lanes dedicated to them. And for visitors; they can be hired at a not too expensive rate.

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country and largely depends on its neighbours for most of its imports, making most commodities expensive. However, duty on things like cars is quite low, so it is commonplace to see a Cayenne, Range Rovers, X5s and other luxury cars in the hot sun.

It took a total of 24 hours to get there from Nairobi. We had stopovers in Entebbe, Addis Ababa, Lome, and Abidjan before we finally arrived in Ouagadougou.

I stayed at Splendid Hotel right in the heart of the old city and about five minutes from the airport. The reception looked a bit seedy, with cabinets of perfume and jewellery for sale along with a host of decorations that created a neat cluster.

The rooms were however splendid. The pleather seats, conference table, huge bedroom and modern bathroom made me eager to get back to the room after walking around in the streets. The air-conditioning was spot on after temperatures of 36 degrees Celsius and thankfully, the lizards stayed out. If you have a phobia like me, the red, yellow, black lizards, chameleons and ordinary but giant geckos would drive you mad. I was not attacked though, thank Heavens.

Opposite splendid was a place called Taxi Browse, where I understand you can browse for night nurses. The light was off on the S and somehow that added to the character of the place. Just two blocks down was the restaurant La Veranda. It had plush black and white leather chairs and simple square tables with lime yellow walls, and somehow I found myself going back almost every day of my visit, either for a drink or the yummy fresh food.

Burkinabes like to have fun, as do most people in West Africa. And football features greatly. Apart from crowding the locals (like Showbiz Pub) while sporting the shirts of their favourite teams, electronic shops left their TVs on and connected to the games, so interested passers-by could enjoy the World Cup.

Burkina Faso is mainly a French speaking state, and communication for non-french speakers consists of sign language accompanied by common French and English words.

For instance, at La Veranda, one of the managers spoke limited English. Since the menu is in French, some explanation becomes necessary. Poulet, is chicken, and the item I chose was explained as follows: “First, I want to put in water. Then I want to put in a little oil, then I want to put in sauce… and voila!” Rice and chicken stew it was!

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The staple food is continental in Ouagadougou. The breakfast menu however is filling enough to last you the entire day! From fried kidneys to croissants, dry and sweet buns, beef skewers, and pies, plus the best mango you have ever tasted. The abundant pineapple supply from Cote D’Ivoire fill the breakfast buffet plates and the juice jugs as well. A good plate of food ranges between 5,000 to 9,000 CFA, which is equivalent to Sh1,000 to Sh1,800. The alcohol goes for an equivalent of Sh200 for beer and Sh300 for a double shot of Smirnoff Vodka.

The people are friendly and helpful. Airtime, phones such as Nckias and jewellery are peddled on the streets. Even as late as 2am (it is safe to walk the streets at that time), you can buy a chair for the baby, brand new shoes and large ornamental swords.

Ouagadougou is growing and it is easily noticeable that the women are more enterprising. But the energy is unmistakable. I would recommend a visit. I hope that by that time they will have completed the renovation of the airport and gotten rid of the potholes (in the airport)!

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