Saturday, August 23
In my quest to get to Ghana, I stumbled across a journalist’s gem.
It started, of course, with a ridiculous day of transport. What I was told would be a three-hour ride from Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, to Hamale, Ghana, ended up taking all day. (Yes, Suzanne, the road is paved! It was just the rain and many, many stops that took so long.)
I expected a bit of trouble because I was taking the back door into Ghana. The few travelers who go there overland from Burkina usually take the direct route south from Ouagadougou, Burkina’s capital. That was my original plan. But I so loved Burkina that I detoured west to Bobo-Dioulasso, then attempted to enter Ghana from the northeast, via Hamale. (I wanted to show a map here, but Google doesn’t know Hamale! It’s in Ghana’s northwest corner.)
Day turned to night before we had even reached the Ghana border, and I knew immigration probably would be closed. So I stayed the night in Ouessa, a tiny Burkina town just a few kilometers from the border, at the invitation of two Spanish guys who worked there for a non-governmental organization.
It was an exciting day for Ouessa, they told me: electricity had made its way to the town and the streets were lit up for the first time. Indeed, modern-looking, albeit above-ground, electricity poles dotted the landscape. I smelled a story. But I had already spent way too much time in Burkina, and it was time to move on.
Easier said than done, since few cars pass through Ouessa toward Ghana. The next morning, I made my way to the main road — the only paved road, that is — but was told I’d have to wait until evening for any sort of bus or transportation.
So I got some freshly-made donuts to munch on and stood by the side of the road, waiting for a car to pass. In America, we call this hitchhiking. In Africa, it’s simply catching a ride.
I flagged down the first car that approached, and the driver agreed I could ride, so I threw my bags in the back of the pickup and climbed in.
It took me a few minutes of talking with the back-seat passenger to realize who was driving me to the border: the organization installing electricity! My gem.
The group was part of the Burkina government, which was paying for the electricity infrastructure. It would then be up to each individual village, they said, to cover the costs of electricity itself. I had heard from the NGO guys that this cost often is prohibitive for villages; some have the actual wires set up, but no money to pay for the power.
How would electricity benefit these towns? I asked. In more ways than just lighting, they told me.
Electricity stimulates “petite commerce,” allowing vendors to sell goods that require refridgeration, such as frozen juices, which are popular in West Africa. Fridges also let villagers keep certain health supplies on hand, like vaccines. And electricity gives students decent lights to study by at night instead of weak kerosene lamps.
As we talked, the driver struggled to keep the four-wheel drive on the road, which was a pile of mud from recent rains. But it was obvious that crews had been working to pave it, the last section between Burkina and Ghana that was still plain old dirt.
It really was remarkable, the development of both electricity and a real road, which would drastically improve access to these villages. Imagine how, just a year from now, those two simple yet drastic improvements will have changed life here.