This is another writing piece from a past trip that had encompassed my experience in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (for those of you who haven’t heard of either, it’s in West Africa ;))…
The country was almost impossible to pronounce; Burkina Faso, specifically the city of Ouagadougou. I stared at the complicated African names for a while before giving up and deciding that one of the citizens of the country would tell us. Us: my mom, my dad, and I, who were flying to Africa to give away my dad’s solar cooker invention to the masses there.
The drive to our hotel was excruciatingly hot. Ouagadougou, with its barren, dry ground and red dirt loomed ahead. Hardly a tree could be seen for miles around. There were at least twenty people trying to sell SIM cards on the street each time we stopped at a light. Through the open window of the car, I noticed the many fruit stands and tin roofed shops. The people baked in the hot, African sun, trying to make enough for their next meal.
Once we got into the hotel, we were practically in heaven. The air was cool, the rooms were beautifully decorated, waiters walked around, all heading towards a hotel restaurant where roses sat on vases on each table.
It felt completely out of place.
Through the large window in the lobby that stretched from floor to ceiling, I could still see those skinny, hardworking, sweat drenched commoners. Their faces long and over worked, their bodies tired, their minds anywhere but where they physically were. I looked back at the rose at the center of our table, at the clean, crisp napkin on my lap, at the beautiful paintings that surrounded us. I looked at the tea cup in my hand, our table piled with food, the sheer silk table cloth under the elbows holding up my wondering face. We were truly in our own little material bubble, built by money, race, and status; that was made clear as I looked at those two completely opposing scenes
After spending a night at the heaven in hell, we woke up from the dreamland we were in and went out into the real Africa, with its heat and poverty. My parents and I met Lassina, our solar oven distributor, at his office. They got down to business, talking of numbers, buyers, and prices. All the while, I sat beside my parents and spaced out, waiting for the heat to overtake me. Sweat was at a constant flow for all in the room; the fan did nothing to relieve any of us.
After the meeting, Lassina took us into his car, and we were driven to the homes that currently used our cooker. We stepped out of the shade of the car. There was no escape from the scorching sun’s wrath. We met families with bleating goats in their yards, their houses made of mud. I noticed their sweat drenched, ragged clothes.
But then, I saw the baby that the mother cradled in her arms. I saw the smile widen on the people’s faces when they spoke to us, telling us how much these new devices had helped their lives. I felt what I had thought I wouldn’t be able to feel when seeing these people in their unfathomable everyday lives. I felt what it was like to put a smile on the faces of those otherwise suffering beings. Everything became clearer; I now knew why we were bringing our cookers to these poverty-stricken people. I now knew what it meant to be generous to people who otherwise have nothing.
In the days afterward, though we were practically on the verge of heat stroke most of the time, all three of us enjoyed every moment that we shared with the people in Ouagadougou. Although we passed by their mud huts and were reminded of their hard, tiring lives, we also saw the children wave and smile as we passed them by. We saw both sides of the coin; even though the people did not have the same privileges and materials as we do, they still were able to find happiness in the smallest things. My parents and I realized that happiness resides everywhere, in all kinds of manifestations. It’s there in the deserts of Africa too, you only need to look for it.