Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gorom Gorom

One of the more remote outposts in a country filled with remote outposts is to the north east of Ouagadougou, to the town of Gorom Gorom deep in the heart of the Sahel. It’s a 6 hour bus ride to the town of Dori from Ouaga along a surprisingly good road and then a two hour wait for a minibus to fill to bring me further along a dirt road to Gorom Gorom. In spite of its abject poverty, Burkina has a phenomenal collection of bus companies to choose from - shit, one of them has air-con - all willing to bring you to the remotest parts of the country. In all of the countries that I’ve visited in West Africa to date, Burkina is by far the best served by public transport, not at all what I‘d expected. I am starting to miss the sept-place experience a little though.
The reason I’ve come this far is for Gorom Gorom’s famous Thursday market. These markets are an essential part of the lives of people in remote areas like this, offering them a chance to bring their produce from outlying villages and make enough money to buy whatever’s needed until the following week. It must be said though that what’s on sale is pretty disappointing - large amounts of plastic Chinese tat outnumber the traditional arts and crafts I’d hoped to see. The market though is a roll call for ethnic groups in this region, from the slightly sinister looking Tuareg males with their loose robes and prominent swords, to the Fulani herders with their conical hats to the Fulani women, famous for their beauty, bedecked in psychedelic dresses, their faces almost lost in the jewellery they wear. One of the best parts of the day is sitting and watching the traders arrive and depart from neighbouring villages on foot, moped, ass and cart and, for the Tuaregs, on camel back.
As with everywhere in Burkina Faso there are some pretty enduring images of poverty here. Eating becomes an almost uncomfortable experience as scores of ragged children lie in wait with their plastic buckets for anything you might leave for them when you’ve finished your meal. And there are children like this everywhere here, many of them AIDS orphans. Life expectancy in Burkina Faso is just over 51 and I’m tempted to believe that it’s below that here in the heart of The Sahel. There’s a running battle between the restaurant proprietors and the children, who stand wide-eyed and eager for an invitation to take what you don’t want to eat. I’ve never witnessed poverty on such a scale and I haven’t managed to finish a meal here yet, knowing that there are scores of hungry eyes waiting and watching.
There’s the constant dilemma - in my head at least - of whether or not to be taking photos here, feeling as if I’m just being the typically ignorant tourist taking pictures for the holiday slideshow at home - “Look, a poor black person” - whilst stepping across the beggars in the street and hoping the kids with their plastic buckets don‘t ruin the shot. I do feel as if there is something almost indecent about taking pictures of people mired in misery as many of these market traders and villagers are. That’s probably overstating it somewhat but, regardless, most of my images here are mental ones. There’s also the fact that the Fulani women in particular are fiercely reluctant to have their photo taken as a fellow Swiss-German traveller discovered much to her disappointment. I’ve long since stopped asking people if I can take their photo as I realise most of them are unwilling and those who oblige want payment.

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