Answering Ms Paquette’s 1st Graders: Animals in Burkina

Hey everyone! Sorry for disappearing over the last couple of weeks and neglecting the blog. Repeated changes in location, lack of access to internet and lots of work have kept me busy, but communicating with all of you is important and I’ll try to do a better job in the weeks leading up to my return to Canada.

This week, following the amazing idea of my fellow volunteer Mark Abbott, currently with the EWB team in Ghana, I will be exchanging questions and answers about Burkina Faso and Africa with Audrey Paquette’s class of grade 1 students. Every Monday, Audrey will explore some aspects of Africa with the kids, who will then send the questions my way. Hopefully, I’ll be able to answer them! (Note that the answers are written specifically with the students in mind, but that they will hopefully be interesting for anyone!)

Here are this week’s questions:

Akshay’s question: What do elephants eat?

Annabelle’s question: How do animals get washed?

Maude’s question: How do Zebras lay babies?

Rakesh’s question: How do elephants lay eggs?

Thank you so much for your questions, Akshay, Annabelle, Maude and Rakesh! Believe it or not, I have not seen a single elephant or zebra since arriving in Burkina Faso almost three months ago! Africa is a really big continent. Just like in Quebec, where we don’t have the rattlesnakes that exist in some parts of the United States, the animals that live in one country are not always the same as in another country. That’s why, in Burkina Faso, there are no zebras!

As for elephants, most of the time I am in the big city. Here, you are probably as likely to see an elephant as you are to see a bear in Montreal! however, there are still a lot more animals going around in the city than you will find at home, but you might be surprised to find out that they are animals you probably know: I see chicken, oxen, lamb, goats and donkeys almost every day on my way to work, often in the middle of the street or in people’s yards. I am still hoping that I will get the chance to see some elephants while I’m here. If I do, I’ll be sure to send you some pictures.


A lamb - you never see them with wool here!


A donkey just on the side of the road in the big city!


Even though I haven’t seen them myself, I looked around to answer your questions. Here is what I found out!

What do elephants eat?

Elephants are herbivores, which means that they eat plants. They can eat many different things, like bark, leaves, fruits and shrubs and also sometimes grasses and herbs. However, exactly what an elephant eats depends on where it lives and the season. For example, in Burkina Faso, just like in Canada, there are seasons, except they aren’t the same ones. Instead, here we speak of the rainy season, during which it rains every other day, and the dry season, during which there is almost no rain at all.

Right now it is the rainy season, so there are a lot of plants and everything is very green. I haven’t seen the dry season myself, but I am told that soon everything will start being dryer and dryer, as well as hotter and hotter. Since elephants can eat up to 270 kilograms a day, roughly the weight of three adult humans, I’m a little worried they’ll have enough to eat!

How do elephants lay eggs?

Elephants are mammals, just like humans, dogs, cows, donkeys and many other animals. That means that instead of laying eggs, like reptiles or birds would, the female gives birth to live babies. For elephants, the pregnancy lasts 22 months, more than twice as long as for humans. Even right when it is born, the elephant calf weighs about 115 kg, already more than an average human adult!

There are many animals in Burkina Faso that do lay eggs. For example, snakes are common, and aren’t too difficult to find if you leave the city. I’ve been told not to whistle when outside at night, or they will come to get me. I don’t know if it’s true, but I haven’t been brave enough to try it. For now, I have some Burkinabe friends who have come across big boas and even eaten them,  but I haven’t personally seen a single snake. I guess that makes me really lucky or really unlucky depending on your point of view!

What I have seen are little lizards everywhere. Often, they even come inside the house, like this one!

A lizard in the house!

A lizard in the house!


How do zebras lay babies?

Like elephants, zebras are also mammals that give birth to live young. What this means is that the baby develops in its mother’s belly until it is ready to come out into the world. When it does, it already looks  like a zebra, except for one thing: it is brown and white instead of black and white!

Zebras live more in eastern and southern Africa and can’t be found in Burkina Faso. Here, I’ve seen the zebra’s cousin that you are all familiar with: the horse! Horses tend to be much smaller here than those we have in Canada. Much more common than horses, however, are donkeys. Whether it be in the city or in a village, you can hardly go a day without seeing a donkey here!

How do animals get washed?

Different animals clean themselves in different ways. If some of you have pets, you may have noticed that dogs tend to be given baths while cats often get clean by licking themselves. Of course, a human’s idea of clean and an animal’s idea of clean might be different, so we tend to give our cats baths as well.

In the wild, many animals take baths of their own. Elephants, in particular, can use their trunks to spray water on themselves. When swimming, they can even use their trunks as a snorkel! When elephants are done bathing though, they do something that humans might find pretty weird: they put mud on themselves! This is actually to protect them from the sun, kind of like a sunscreen. Like I said, a human’s idea of clean and an animal’s idea of clean might be very different!

Once again, thank you all so much for your questions! I hope you will have a ton more this week and that I can answer them for you. Have fun!



About dbgiacobbi

I am a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders Canada, spending 10 months in Burkina Faso. I work with an agricultural college (Centre Agricole Polyvalent de Matourkou) and a rural development engineering school (l'Institut du Développement Rural). My idea of development is helping people in Burkina Faso Achieve their potential follow their own vision for themselves, for their school and for their country.
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12 Responses to Answering Ms Paquette’s 1st Graders: Animals in Burkina

  1. Aline says:

    We could all take a lesson from 1st graders in how to ask basic, direct questions.

    Great initiative!

    What is your best experience so far?

    • dbgiacobbi says:

      Maybe I should try the first-grader approach for my work here? I wonder what kind of impact that would have in a committee meeting where we spend hours correcting spelling mistakes.

      I can’t really put my finger on a single best experience. There have been highs and lows, but overall, it’s been very valuable. One really high high was the day I realized I could really have an impact. Maybe I’ll tell you about it at conference?

  2. Sean says:

    So cool! : ) The questions connection is such a great idea.

  3. Arpi says:

    Hi Dana!

    Jeff and I hope that you are doing great in Burkina Faso. We’re reading your blog and learning a lot.

    I love the 1st graders’ questions, so innocent and pure.

    Keep up the good work!

    Arpi and Jeff

    • dbgiacobbi says:

      Hey Arpi, thanks! Hope you liked the second set of questions too. I’m glad you’re learning from the blog — I haven’t said much yet about what I’m actually doing here, but hopefully I’ll get around to it. How is the working world treating you? And Jeff, how is the PhD coming along? (Surprisingly, I don’t feel very disconnected from the academic world, since I’m working with colleges and universities here).

      After all the PDF troubles, I still ended up graduating in October – did you go the ceremony?

      Take care!

      • Arpi Berajeklian says:

        Nice to hear from you Dana! Jeff and I are looking forward to reading about your work in Africa.

        So far, I love working at Maya. The people I work with are great. I prefer this much more than going to school.

        Jeff is taking a class which is eating up most of his time. He has to get working on his research.

        Our graduation is this Monday, Nov. 29. We’re excited. Also, Jeff proposed to me on our anniversary, we’re engaged!

        We can’t wait to see you soon and hear about your work.

        All the best,

        Arpi and Jeff

      • dbgiacobbi says:

        Congratulations on your engagement, that’s great news! In some ways, it puts a lot of things in perspective.

        Graduation tomorrow – a diploma isn’t a bad Birthday present. Hope you have a great time!

        Take care,

  4. Louis says:

    Questions comme ça:
    Est-ce que le lézard est au mur, au plancher ou au plafond?
    Et puis est-ce que pendant la saison la saison des pluies il pleut souvent ou c’est simplement humide? Dans le genre qu’ici on dirait qu’on crève?

    Pas mal cool les questions, j’ai hate de voir les autres.

    • dbgiacobbi says:

      Hey Lay, celui-là si je me rappelle bien il était au mur. J’en vois au moins 5 par jour des lézards de ce type, donc je ne sais plus exactement. Ils peuvent aller au plafond aussi, mais ça doit être plus difficile, on les voit rarement faire ça.

      Durant la saison des pluies, il pleut à tous les deux jours environ, et quand il ne pleut pas, pendant plus de 48 heures on attend que ça parce que l’humidité devient suffocante. À présent la saison des pluies est terminée, ça doit faire deux semaines que je n’ai pas vu d’eau tomber du ciel, et je ne crois pas que le Burkina en verra d’ici plusieurs mois!

  5. Liz says:

    I would like to thank you for your involvement in this project. I can’t tell you how important this is to our students. I look forward to meeting you in the new year.
    Enjoy Africa…..I sure did….perhaps we can compare stories.

    I look forward to your second installment.

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