It is 2008, the automobile business is booming in Nigeria. Mum’s car is a write off and my siblings and I had put our money together to get her the car of her choice. A Mercedes Benz E class. It is easier to bring in cars through Cotonou. Less stress we were told. By the way, that is where the big boys shop. I was offered to go to Cotonou on behalf of my siblings. Would be fun as travelling has always been my first love. I love to see new places.
The trip to Cotonou was rather rough. The people were loving and kind. After putting down payment on the car, I decided to wander deeper into the city. I had heard of the famous Tokpa market. This was my chance to see the massive market, largely talked about by Authors in the African Readers Series.
Tokpa was fascinating. I felt at home. Open markets are the same in Africa. What overwhelmed me in Tokpa was its orderliness. Two steps further into the market I heard some noise. Ouaga! Ouagaaa!! Ouagaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!
Bonjour! Mes Enfants. What does Ouga mean? I said to the old man right on my right. He looked at me and smiled knowing I am not from a Francophone country. You must be from Nigeria. That means good day my kids. At once I knew it was a rude statement and knowing the AC (African Code), I took off my hat and prostrated flat in apology.
Ouaga is short for Ouagadougou. You mean they are going to Ouagadougou? At once I got hold of a phone and called my friend in Ouagadoudou. ‘I would be coming over to spend the week.’
Did I say the trip to Cotonou was rough? Well this ride was not rough. It was ROUGH! It was a Peageot 504 Station wagon. We had our bags tied on the roof of the car. I knew Chinue Achebe must have ploughed this root. How else can one explain the numerous scenes in his novels? The car had 4 people packed behind, four in the middle and four in front. It was a hot West African day.
The journey to Ouagadoudou lasted two days. I was sandwiched between two fine ladies. They appeared the quiet type. They kept chatting to each other across me and gradually I got involved in their conversation. They were Fulani- a large Ethnic group that stretches across West Africa. The trip was an experience. We got to the northern part of Benin Republic at 8pm. The car stopped at a cluster of roadside fast food sheds. It was run by a group of Hausas (another major ethnic group of West Africa). We all got out to stretch. This was our first chance to eat and familiarise with one another. We set off once again. Now I could understand the reality of travelling in West Africa. The sudden transformation in temperatures. IT WAS COLD! For once we were glad to be clustered together. We stopped in the pitch of the dark to bring out our blankets from our bags and set off again. I didn’t feel the cold as much as the other travellers because I had my walkman with me. Surprisingly I felt hot. No one listens to a collection of Fela, Bob Marley, Mariam Makeba and Manu de Bango and feels cold. The ride took us to 4 am. At this time the driver stopped under a huge tree. We spread our blankets on the ground and all slept together like chicks clustering around a lantern. It was still dark. At 6am. The driver bade us good bye, gave half of the total collection he had made to a foreman. I was stunned as I could not speak French. The Fulani lady by my side said another car would come pick us up. I was scared as my family thought I was still south of Cotonou bargaining for the car. Shortly after, a bus came to pick us up. The foreman presented the driver with the money given to him by the first driver. We were on our way to Burkina Faso.
There were about two or three border posts on entering Burkina Faso. I had to pay between 200 & 300CFA. My immunisation card was compulsory as well. I have to admit. The Immigrations and customs of Burkina Faso were very friendly. So were the people. I called my friend In Ouagadougou. ‘I’m around come pick me up.’ He laughed over the phone. ‘Run back into the bus before it leaves you. You are not in Abeokuta (a small city in western Nigeria)? You are still 6hrs away from me.’ It was now 1pm the next day. Exhausted and tired, the bus swayed along the poorly tarred road when suddenly everything became smooth. Like the Emerald city, I could see light ahead. It was now 6.45pm. Street lights were on. Sounds were booming. It was the grand life French speaking Africans are known for. I knew it was Burkina Faso.
We stopped at a petrol Station. My friend and his friends were around to pick me up. What struck me about the city of Ouagadougou were the street lights. All solar powered. Hi to everyone. The taxis were different. No signs depicting poverty. I wonder where the Western media get their pictures? The roads were beautiful and lots to eat everywhere. I had my first taste of Horchata (a white drink made from tigernuts.) I must go back to the Taxis. Ouagadougou uses the Mercedes Benz for taxis. I wonder why my mum was so crazy about the Mercedes Benz. She hasn’t the knack for driving. The Taxis come in two colours. Green means not equipped with telephone and white means it has got a phone. I’m sure your guess is as good as mine. The white is more expensive. It’s for the big boys. My friends and I got in the white.
There’s no where like Ouagadougou. I know I do not like President Blaise Compaoré but I got to admit. The fellow has done a good job. The city was so orderly. No horning. You obey street lights and all went well. I’d be lying if I end here without admitting the high standard of ladies Burkina has to parade. I am of the conservative kind but I had to tell my friend upon seeing his girl friend. “If we were soldiers I’d have sent you to the battle front in Iraq wearing Kunfu shoes without a gun”. Burkinabe boys are quit shy. Nothing as bad as travelling with boys who don’t know the girls. I had to create my openings. At last there was one. She was tall and decent. I took my friend over to do the introduction as I could not speak French. I was ready to forgo my mum’s car and spend the rest of my life learning French. So I pulled my friend over. But like a cock grows thin and gets a long neck when in the mist of its seniors, my friend chickened out. I followed the lady (not Stalking) one morning and discovered she worked in the bank so that was all I needed. I had my brother to send me money by western union. I cashed it next day at her bank. We made good friends, had memorable moments together laughing, holding hands and drinking the lovely Burkinabe beer.