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The rich-poor divide hits home

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Africa, International Citizen Service
Children play in an abandoned car
A group of children playing in an abandoned car: we made friends and I taught them a little English. Picture: Harriet Macdonald-Walker

As I write under the light of the moon, my first thought is that the moon is not designed as a side light. It is there for those without pen and paper; those who can and cannot write; and even those who don’t have the time to stop and bask in its beauty.

Sitting here on the roof, I gaze up at the clear night sky. I can hear a grasshopper's chirp and, in the background, the sound of our neighbours chatting away in the dark.

I can see our friendly, but slightly barmy, middle-aged security guard, Le Monde ('The World' in French). I watch as he puts his arms up ready to clap the next mosquito into smithereens. I wonder how many hours of the night he sits there, hands in the air, watching and waiting for his next victim. Le Monde works all night and what seems like all day, seven days a week. I wonder if Le Monde's children know their father at all.

It dawns on me that here in Burkina Faso, Le Monde is a 'lucky' man. He has work and he can feed his family.

Ouagadougou's larger houses sit within areas of wider poverty. Picture: Harriet Macdonald-Walker

It's not any of the above that finally drove me to leave my bubble of peace on the roof to find a pen and paper. As I listened to our neighbours' chatter below, I had stretched my feet out and felt the powerful healthy green pines of a tree in our garden. As I looked away from our garden, all I could see was dry, dusty ground, and only when I searched far into the distance could I see one other tree, brown and wilting. I looked back to the luscious green plants and bushes in our garden, trying to accept the startlingly obvious rich-poor divide.

Turns out I'm not the only one to have noticed the relative 'wealth' of our home. This morning I woke to be told that in the night there had been an attempted break in. The man, thought to be someone from the local area and someone we know, had climbed up over the wall behind the house. When he saw our security guard approaching him, he shouted in Moore (the local dialect), "Stop, I have a gun". Le Monde was unfazed by these threats. He told the man to go ahead and shoot, before chasing him away with a large rusty machete. Le Monde has since showed me his weapons: the rusty machete and a catapult complete with six marbles. The same man, masked with a balaclava, tried to enter the house a total of three times during the night, in the hope that Le Monde would fall asleep.

Since the attempted break-in, we have been told to be wary about befriending adults in the local neighbourhood. I am a trusting person and so I very much dislike that I must now exercise caution and always consider whether people who befriend me are just trying to find out where I live.

Two women cycling with wood on their bikes
Two village women cycle in the 35-degree heat to sell wood in the capital. Picture: Harriet Macdonald-Walker

Before the break-in, I thought it horrendous that all the large houses in Ouagadougou had gigantic gates that separated the 'rich' from the rest of the local, and much poorer, community. Now I can comprehend that, because the rich-poor divide here is so large, security guards and high gates are crucial. I can equally understand, however, why a desperate man would break into the house of seven Westerners in order to feed his family. And I believe that one way of removing this recurring 'Robin Hood' effect, and the gaping rich-poor divide, is by creating new job opportunities and reducing the cost of education here.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Mike Green posted on

    Oh dear, a stark reminder of the rich-poor divide. It must be doubly upsetting when you are there to try and help the community.