(n.b. I actually wrote this a week ago…)
Here I am in a small town in northern Burkina Faso. It is raining outside. As we drove into town after a four hour journey, the driver pointed out how much more arid the terrain is up here in the north, than it was in the capital which we left four hours earlier. He said it hardly rains here, and then it started to rain.
Even so, his observation was absolutely correct: the terrain here is much more brown and much less green than further southwest, even for rainy season. It is a little eery how big a difference I saw during what felt like a reasonably short drive – apparently we drove about 260 km, that is, 160 miles. The further we drove, the green decreased as the number of women and girls carrying buckets on their heads increased. We passed a few water points, pumps that had the distinctive look of NGO, or perhaps government, projects about them. After we passed one water point, we drove at least two kilometres before I stopped seeing women walking in its direction with empty buckets. Two kilometres is a long way to walk to get a bucket of water.
And those women’s heads must be buff! Indeed, my respect for these Burkinabé women is mounting by the hour, and I’ve hardly spoken with any as of yet. But from the moment I landed in this country I spotted women with babies tied on their backs doing everything I might feel too weak to do, even without a baby on my back. Oh how cute those babies are, with their feet sticking out on each side of the woman’s waist, securely nestled in a swath of cloth on their mothers’ backs. But their mothers! They ride bikes and motorcycles with babies on their backs. Today I passed a few women working the fields with babies on their backs. And some of the women fetching water bore babies on their backs and 20kg of water on their heads. And walked a mile each way.
They don’t look pathetic, or sad, or downtrodden. They don’t even really look poor in their bright coloured layers of dress. They look practical. They look like they’re just living their lives, nothing more and nothing less.
Even though their demeanour doesn’t beg sympathy, it still somehow feels wrong to not allow some emotion to dictate my reaction upon seeing a nine-year-old girl with a 20 litre bucket on her head, or her brother trying to keep a couple dozen scrawny goats in tow, or their mother with little sister tied to her back selling produce in the market, or even their father sitting with his friends in the hot sun after a long day of planting.
On the other hand, I find myself envying them as I was in awe of these Burkinabé villagers who could walk, or sit with their flocks, for hours on end. What wonderful thing occupies their thoughts all day such that they stand proud and appear content? Or is the beauty that they don’t feel the need to think at all? What a wonder life must be if my brain could slow down, just a little.
Sept 13: Shared this with Emily and Friends at Imperfect Prose