Sunday Spotlight today returns to West Africa to the land-locked country that despite my trials there I still have a soft heart for – Burkina Faso. The capital city is the ‘fun-to-pronounce’ Ouagadougou, and whilst it is not a city with a million sights to see, it has a certain character that makes it a pretty decent, off-the-beaten-path (as far as capitals can be) feel to it which makes it kinda special.
Let’s not beat about the bush here – it’s not suave and sophisticated, it’s a dusty African capital that pretty much bakes in over 35 degree-heat for about 365 days in the calendar year. That heats helps the heart of Burkina Faso going though.
It’s sort of set out in blocks in a number of areas. I remember distinctly it looked like a whole district had been pulled down no doubt with the hope that shining new buildings were to be built in place of this area. It was a strange feeling, like being in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a country’s capital. In 2006 this is where the Senegalese embassy was located. In the middle of these empty blocks one building stood and on the third or fourth floor was the embassy of Senegal. I went to get a visa I wasn’t going to get to use, and had been told by a guy staying at my hostel that the woman behind the desk had flirted with him and asked for his phone number and he wondered if she did that with everyone. Well – I had the same exact experience!
Not too far from Ouaga are a couple of parks which I didn’t go to but you can probably see a number of African animals there. You’ll notice interesting architecture and sculptures here and there, often in the middle of roundabouts. The Place d’Independence was full of … not much when I was there. But I imagine it’s a buzz when things get political in Burkina Faso. There are a couple of museums, most of which have opened since I was in Ouagadougou so they might be worth checking out. The Grand Mosque is on a busy street with many vendors selling their wares outside too. It’s not in the impressive mudbrick style of the one in Bobo-Diolosso but it’s interesting from the outside at least.
Ouagadougou does hit the international stage too. Burkina Faso hosts the ‘Tour de Faso’ every year (bar 2014, not staged due to the ebola crisis in nearby countries) which is run over ten days and in that weather must be as gruelling as a cycling event can get! The Pan-African Film Festival is also something that attracts people to the city, every two years. The locals can be really friendly, when I was there in 2007 I met a group of students who were on a mission to get the most photos taken with foreigners!
Sleeping can be an issue in Ouagadougou – I spent an awful lot of money on a pretty average place in 2007 when arriving in the middle of the night. 38,000 cfa, around 58 Euro for a pretty average room. This was at the Hotel Continental, which in its defence did have great views from the rooftop. In 2006 I stayed at a sort of hostel which I can’t find on the net after a bit of searching but it might be there.
Eating – well both times I was in Ouagadougou I loved to go to a place on the main drag – Avenue Kwameh Nkrumah – called Chez Simon. It’s a Lebanese place with a large selection of different foods including decent pizzas. It’s well-priced, and nice enough if not serving actual authentic Burkinabe food. Yes, it’s mainly for ex-pats. Shame on me!
And so there’s a little light shone at a pretty nice capital. You can see a bit more of it in my Burkina Faso video from 2007, including the best supermarket in town. See you soon – may the journey never end!