Hi everyone! This week is the last installment of my exchanges with Ms Paquette’s 1st-Graders (I am coming home next week, after all.) This week, the students asked about anything they wanted to. They really went all over the map, and so I hope I’ve answered questions you all may have had yourself. Here are the questions:
Do kids have toys in Africa? – Vanessa
Hi Vanessa! Great question. In Burkina Faso, most kids here have a bit of a different life than the one you’re probably used to. Especially in the villages, going to elementary school is not something every kid can do. Their parents might not be able to afford it, or there might not be a school near their home that they can get to. From the age of 5 or so, most kids, even those who go to school, start to help out their family on the farm and with food preparation.
My village host Seydou's youngest son, collecting peanuts on the field.
Seydou's wife and three of his children preparing karité nuts.
By maybe 10 or so, the girls will be helping their mom take care of the youngest siblings, by bathing them, carrying them and feeding them. All this doesn’t leave too much time for toys, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any – you just might not recognize them as toys right away!
The most popular toy in Burkina
From what I’ve seen, this tireless bicycle wheel is probably the single most popular toy in Burkina. Basically, you can do anything with it. Most often, you see kids running after the wheel with some sort of stick, trying to make it keep turning as long as possible to get as far as they can. In the picture, one kid had buried it a little bit, and was trying to crawl through it as fast as possible. I think he also tried to jump over it, but that didn’t go so well! I’ve also seen some girls using it as hoola-hoop, so the possibilities are endless. In the city, things can be a bit different – I’ve even seen a video game! – but I think it’s safe to say that the bicycle wheel is by far the most popular toy, wherever you go. I’ll have to find out if it’s the same in other African countries from my friends in Ghana and Malawi!
Shawn’s question: Are there police in Africa?
Hi Shawn, thanks for your question! In Burkina Faso, there are three general types of enforcement: police (it has a different name, but is essentially the same thing), military and ‘gendarmes’ – so it’s not that different from in Canada. I don’t know all the details, but the municipal police take care of local problems, the military deal with questions of national security, and basically the gendarmes just do everything, from enforcement to investigation, a bit like the RCMP.
I’ve seen very few policemen since I’ve been here, in fact I’m not sure I’ve seen any. Still, I’m told they exist. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of the military, a lot more than I would normally see in Canada. I unfortunately don’t have any pictures (not sure they would like that) but I can tell you it’s pretty intimidating sometimes. Aside from seeing them decked out in their green military uniform just outside the base in Bobo, where I walk by every now and again, I’ve also seen – fairly often – some drive by on military vehicles, one that was carrying no less than a rocket launcher!
As for the gendarmes, they dress in blue and are somewhat everywhere, though doing what exactly I do not know. My friend and colleague Bouda has an uncle (an uncle who is younger than him, but that’s another story) who is a gendarme and who I was lucky enough to meet. He’s the one who taught me about the different roles of police, military and gendarmes, and I went to a gendarmes office with him. There was one guy there who was about three times my width, I certainly didn’t want to get on his bad side!
Aidan’s question: Do you play sports in Africa?
Hi Aidan, thanks for asking! In Burkina, and probably the rest of Africa, you don’t really play ‘sports’ you mostly play ‘sport’, and that sport is soccer (or as it is called here and the rest of the world except North America, football). The most popular player is Samuel Eto, a Cameroonian player who is one of Africa’s rising stars.
The bedroom wall of my friend Issakou
People also play basket-ball a little bit, but if I end up being the best basket-ball player on the court, it can only be because the others don’t play very much. Soccer is definitely the one sport everyone plays, and everyone I’ve played with is a lot better at it than I am. I can blame the heat and the dust and the dehydration and the fact that it was 7:00 am, but most Burkinabés play circles around me. They’re also a lot less demanding of their field conditions: no grass needed.
The soccer field at the college where I was working
Swimming also seems to be getting more popular. I haven’t witnessed this in person, but they seem to be making a big deal about it on television, where there have been several news episodes dedicated to the emergence of swimming as an athletic discipline here. It’s not accessible to most people though: going to the pool is usually really expensive (2$ +), so most people can’t afford to go swimming regularly just for fun.
Lastly, EWB volunteers have, for a few years now, been introducing ultimate Frisbee to the country, but so far it hasn’t taken off!
Rakesh’s question: My dad is an engineer, is your Dad an engineer?
Hi Rakesh – interesting question ! My Dad is not an engineer. He’s retired now, but before that he was a lot of things: a business consultant, a senior manager in information technology at a steel company, …
I am an engineer though! Just before coming here, I finished my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering at McGill University. My master’s thesis was on the dynamics of pipes conveying fluid. So, what is that? Well, think of a hose with water coming out of it at its free end ; if you put the water too high, it starts to swish back and forth uncontrollably. Now imagine that that hose is a pipe in a nuclear reactor; if it starts to swish, you have a serious problem! My thesis has to do with figuring out when, how and why the hose swishes, usually to avoid it happening.
The famous garden hose!
What does that have to do with international development and my work in Africa? Well, very little. The idea though, is to bring the engineer’s problem-solving approach, his way of thinking and way of acting, to solve problems of development. Ironically, over the last couple of months, my Dad’s business advice has been some of the best, so I guess we came full-circle!
Nyden’s question: What do you do at your job?
Hello Nyden! That really is the million-dollar question. Concretely, I do a lot of different things. Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time doing one-on-one interviews with professors, giving presentations and having group discussions with university students, creating, collecting and registering surveys, and lastly writing up my final report, which I’m taking a break from right now to write to you.
But what does all of this go towards? Well, from a really global perspective, it’s helping improve people’s lives, helping Burkina Faso develop, and helping to create a world of opportunity for all Burkinabés. A bit more specifically (but still really broadly), Engineers Without Borders is trying to develop Burkinabés’ entrepreneurial spirit: moving from waiting – waiting to be told what to do, waiting to be given what to learn, waiting for development to happen – towards driving their own decisions , driving their education and driving their development. Specifically, I’ve been working with an agricultural college and a rural development engineering school, to see how they can help develop that drive within their students, and how those students can also bring that drive to the farmers they will work with.
Hopefully that answers all of your questions, at least for now!
I’ve really loved taking with all of you over the last month. You’ve asked great questions and given me a chance to think over a few things myself. Through it all I hope you see that Burkina Faso is in some ways really different from Canada, but in many ways very similar. There are villages and cities, schools and jobs, work and fun, things that need developing and things that are absolutely wonderful! Just as Burkina Faso can learn a lot from Canada, Canada can learn a lot from it, so I hope you’ll keep finding out more about it, because we just scratched the surface.
… and get more questions ready, because I hope we’ll be seeing each other in January!
For everyone else…
With only one week left in Burkina Faso and still a lot to do, there are still so many things I’d like to discuss. I can’t possibly tackle everything I’d like to, but hopefully I’ll have something up before the end of the week. At least, for now, you’ve gotten an abbreviated version of what I’m actually doing here. So, as always, if there’s any particular subject people are interested in, let me know – this may be the last!
Thanks for reading,