If this entry seems disjointed, it’s because a huge rat with a long tail just ran across my desk in this Internet cafe. Ugh.

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Friday, August 15
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Burkina is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Half the population lives on less than a dollar each day, my Lonely Planet guide tells me, and more than a third don’t live to see their 40th birthday. (Check out this BBC News country profile.)

And yet, in the capital city of Ouagadougou (see where it is on a map), pronounced Waga-doo-goo, the government has organized a project that smells of wealth, a neighborhood of mansions, expensive hotels and fancy boulevards.

They call it Ouaga 2000 (See Wikipedia’s explanation). I had to see it.

Since I’m still too much of a wuss to rent a motorbike and drive it in the free-for-all here they call traffic, I hired a guy to drive me there on his moto, just before dark.

On the way there, we passed: a Catholic parade in celebration of some unknown holiday; a motorcycle driver wearing a helmet (first I’d seen in Ouaga); men on bicycles with goats slung over the handlebars; and Muslims lined up along the street, bending over in prayer.

I, too, was praying as my driver darted in and out of traffic. A car came so close to us at one point it nearly brushed my leg. (My driver announced that the guy at the wheel didn’t know how to drive. I guess that’s universal.)

Our arrival at Ouaga 2000 was obvious. Huge streetlights dotted the beautifully paved road and large houses — mansions even by U.S. standards — were under construction on both sides. I laughed out loud when I saw the Christmas-like lights in delicate shapes on the posts in the middle of the boulevard, a sight straight out of Houston’s upscale Galleria shopping area.

Several buildings, too, resembled Houston’s newer condos, complete with palm trees around the exterior. A Libya Hotel stood at least 10 stories high.

But what really made my jaw drop was the presidential palace. It looked more like a convention center than a house, and it was so well lit and guarded that you’d think the president already lived there. In reality, he still resides in his old palace in a different part of town until Ouaga 2000 is complete.

We left the neighborhood via a freeway that had a proper overpass, the kind you see at highway exits in the States. But only a few cars were using the road. It was full, instead, of motorcyles, bicycles, people on foot and the occasional donkey cart.

To our left was a huge monument (see photo), and I asked the driver what it was.

“The Eiffel Tower,” he responded, straight-faced.

Indeed, it did look like the Eiffel Tower. Only we were in Africa, not Paris. And the further away from the statue we drove, as the roads turned to dirt and the houses to shacks, Ouaga 2000, like Paris, seemed a world away.