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Arriving in the Land of the Upright Men

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The vibrant colours of a local tailor and its neighbouring entrepreneurs.

The last few days have been a blur of excitement, and I apologise now if this inhibits my ability to write coherently.

After travelling for 12 hours with my new housemates for the next three months, I arrived in the 'Land of the Upright Men' - Burkina Faso. The moment we hit the runway at Ouagadougou airport we were fuelled with adrenalin. Our fellow African passengers wasted no time and within seconds they were up, unloading their bags and getting ready to leave. In true British style, myself and the other volunteers remained seated, waiting patiently to hear the trusty 'ping' of the seatbelt sign.

As I stepped off the plane I did not feel the wave of heat that I had expected. However, I can confidently say that the breeze that surrounded me at 5.30am was much warmer than the harsh, icy wind that I had left behind in the UK.

A local Burkinabe

Inside the capital's tiny airport we showed our Yellow fever vaccination certificate, whilst feeling relieved to avoid being vaccinated on the spot by the intimidating security guard. We passed through baggage collection with ease – the first sign of how surprisingly organised we would find Ouagadougou to be – and headed out of the exit, eager to start our long-anticipated adventure.

At the exit I quickly found our 6 ft. 5” dedicated team leader, Juju. As I greeted him, two men by his side took my luggage and headed off. I presumed they were part of the International Service team (the organisation I will be volunteering for) but as I watched them disappear, wheeling away my belongings for the next three months, I couldn’t help feeling a little anxious. This escalated when I realised nobody knew who the men were. I ran after them and watched as they loaded a truck with my things. To my relief, they didn’t speed away into the distance, but instead began to demand money for their work. I pretended I didn’t understand and luckily they wandered away. However, unfortunately, another one of the volunteers was worried for his possessions and ended up paying one of the men ten euros.

The experience we had at the airport was a great taster of the hustle and bustle of Burkina Faso in general. As one of the poorest countries in the world, many Burkinabes (people of

A local woman searches barefoot among the rubbish.

Burkina Faso) live on less than a dollar a day. Driving away from the airport, I had my first glimpse of this poverty. We saw an old woman sifting through rubbish dumps and a young boy leading an emaciated donkey as it lugged a cart loaded with bags of rice and couscous. All along the sides of the road, women were carrying out the impossible job of clearing dust from the road.

Our orientation week in Ouagadougou has now allowed us to acclimatise to our new surroundings, the local culture and, of course, the 30 degree heat. I'll be sharing more about this, and our work with the Tigoung Nonma co-operative, in my next post.

ICS volunteers Esi, Mohammed and Ceri
Podcast: returned ICS volunteers.

Ceri, Esi and Mohammed volunteered for ICS last year. Hear them talk about their experiences in Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya in the latest DFID podcast. Listen here, or subscribe on iTunes.

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  1. Comment by Ajmir Imtiaz posted on

    thanks for writing, great story indeed Harriet, looking forward for your next post!

  2. Comment by Harriet Macdonald-Walker posted on

    Hi Ajmir,
    I only just saw your comment. Thank you very much it means a lot!

  3. Comment by Tahir Ahmad posted on

    I'm going to BF in December to kick start and revitalise some projects. Looking forward to having my eyes opened. The people I am liasing with will only have a limited view of what imperative work will be required medium-long term in BF, do you know of anyone who I could speak to in DFID who may be able to help enable me with a broader perspective?

  4. Comment by Harriet Macdonald-Walker posted on

    Hi Tahir,
    I am very sorry for such a slow response. I have not been checking my blog for comments. How is your work going in BF? Who are you working for?
    I know of a number of NGOs in Burkina Faso that have a vast amount of experience working in Burkina and will thus have a better persective than I on what is needed. Burkina Faso is not actually one of DFIDs focus countries, although DFID does indirectly carry out some development work in BF. Please do let me know how your work is going! BF will always remain close to my heart. Amazing people.
    Best wishes,