"Rescued" From a Howling Dust Storm in Northern Burkina Faso

1645.  Well, that was excellent.  One of the best times of the trip and perhaps my life.  We're now heading back to Ouaga in the middle of a howling rain storm.  Country is awash.  My hair's full of dust and bettered only by my two cameras for which cleaning will have to come quickly if I'm not to write them both off: and brand new cameras at that!

It was a day very much of two halves.....  A brilliant morning.  But an amazing afternoon.  Incredible.

We headed up to Bani this morning in the north of Burkina Faso to check out the mosque.  The drive up was nothing out of the ordinary though I did love the country change as we got up into the Sahel region of the country: near the border with Niger; what many tourist now call the so-­‐called danger zone.  Certainly we didn't see any tourists today: only a military convoy going up and back to the border and something they now do every day we were told to protect from rebel incursions from Niger (ie, Al Qaida).

It turned into an excellent day.  The mosque was spectacular.  There were actually seven satellite mosques and a grand mosque configured in shape around a hill.  The grand mosque was amazing.  Inside there were one hundred pillars with each representing one of the one hundred names that God has according to Islam.  The mosque is said to be around three centuries old and was built by a local who travelled to Mecca. He returned after forty years, and after consultation with the locals built the mosque.  It took him 18 months to build.  It is made of mud brick and part of the rear of the temple had collapsed and was being restored by locals whenever tourist money came in.

 Grand Mosque, Bani, Burkina Faso, 2012

Grand Mosque, Bani, Burkina Faso, 2012

We were told that tourism had all but stopped in this area because of Al Qaida and they were getting about three tourists a month now (I'm not sure if I was one, two or three.....).  The ceilings of the mosque were secured by wooden logs holding the mud bricks up.  The seven satellite mosques were said to resemble, according to Islam, God having built the world in seven days.  The experience was excellent and the guide even got some locals to come up in traditional dress and pray while we were there.  The floor of the mosque was earthen and entry required the removal of shoes and socks: bare feet only.  I rewarded them well and made a donation to the restoration of the mosque.  I think we get so blinkered at times in the western world that we think we know best and fail to heed the lessons that can be learned in other parts of the world.

We stopped briefly to wander around the markets in Bani also which were great. The kids didn't beg.  They asked for biros instead for school - out in these remote parts you tend not to find touristy things - there are no tourists - and so trade is built around the necessities of life: primarily food and clothing.  Throughout the day I made sure I was aware of my surrounds but never felt threatened at any stage.  It was a really cool day.

But it was in the second half of the day in which the day really gained some intensity.

Back to Ouaga we headed.

About half an hour out of Bani I noticed a big big storm building.  I've been around desert regions now for long enough to know when a dust storm is building and this had some serious potential.  As the storm got bigger I asked Brassiere, the driver, to slow, and then to stop.  The sky had an orange tinge to it and I eventually asked him to stop and grabbed my cameras and bolted for the top of a hill.  Dust storm fronts move very quickly.  I immediately started shooting and a local from a nearby village wandered up to see what I was doing.  When he realised what I was doing he stepped out of the frame and I shot like there was no tomorrow. It was spectacular with the round huts of the village and the rocks of the hill in the background.  A dust storm with a front this big: something that is not seen often.

Within a short time the dust and wind were intense and me and my cameras were getting smashed.  The man from the village lead me to his round house -­‐   visibility was no more than about 20 metres -­‐   and then inside.  It was pitch black inside.  No electricity out here.

So at this point, I'm in north-­‐eastern Burkina Faso on an unfamiliar road in the middle of nowhere near an area where Al Qaida have been kicking about in a raging dust-­‐storm, separated from my vehicle and drivers and sitting in a round mud brick house with a thatched roof with people I have never met in my life.  It was excellent. There was a man (probably late twenties), with his wife and baby and they couldn't even speak a word of French. So that had me totally buggered.  My English is bad, my French is worse and my Peule (the local dialect) is non-existent.  But it was still excellent.

He pulled out a torch and made a seat for me on their bed.  There is not a great deal of room in these round houses.  In this one, there was a double bed on which the man, his wife and baby all slept.  It felt comfortable.  He showed me a mat his wife had made which was really cool and I offered to buy it (though not wanting to spoil the mood).  He jumped at it and I thought to myself I would pay whatever price they asked given their generosity in having me back to their home. The roof was thatched and tied to logs that went up in a conical shape.  The walls had some decorations painted on.  It felt really homely.  The floor was earthen (ie, sand).

The landscape would have made you feel right at home in Marble Bar.  Outcropping granite and the landscape was sandy and desolate: not that one could see more than 20 metres outside when we opened the door, the storm blowing from the Niger side. I gave him 6000 CIFA for the matt (about A$12) and he then proceeded to point to his wife and say "cinq mill" (ie, 5000 CIFA or A$10).  For a minute the language barrier stonkered us and I thought he was trying to sell me his wife (who was also lovely).  I told him that I would not take his wife off him but then realised a minute or two later that he was asking me if I could contribute to "les enfant" or his daughter.  I gave them a further 10000 CIFA or A$20 and they were elated.  His wife went outside and brought in some guinea fowl eggs and they insisted that I take them as a gift while he read to me from the Koran and showed me some of the items in his house.

Life here in the village seemed so uncomplicated when compared with the rubbish issues we worry about in the west. Husbands and wives working the fields.  Kids growing up to do the same.  The round house felt so comfortable from the raging storm outside.

 A raging dust storm in Burkina Faso in 2012 gave me one of the most memorable afternoons of my life.

A raging dust storm in Burkina Faso in 2012 gave me one of the most memorable afternoons of my life.

The storm must have raged for about 45 minutes and then there was the inevitable lull before the thunderstorm. We raced across the landscape to the vehicle where Abdou had earlier become concerned for my welfare and called me (remote African telephone communications are far better than we get back home).

It was a really cool afternoon.  I will never see this family ever again but I'll always keep what is a wonderful memory.

The trip home saw rain squalls most of the way.  When it rains here the locals all get wet: coming back from the fields and markets on their pushbikes and motor scooters.  Some riding donkeys.  It must have been very cold notwithstanding the climate.