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View from the village: my return to Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

Motorcycles kick up dust in Burkina Faso. Jeff Attaway under a Creative Commons Licence

Chris Brazier returns every decade to produce a New Internationalist magazine on the country. He has produced three magazines and is currently researching his fourth. Read part one of this blog series.

How do I begin to blog about my experiences in Sabtenga? This is the African village that I first came to know in 1985 and have returned to in every subsequent decade to chart its progress and that of the people about whom I care most within it. The first visit was to make a film but the two subsequent visits were charted in the magazine. In a way, I feel it has been my greatest achievement as a journalist to have pursued this longitudinal story so single-mindedly and in such depth – and would any other magazine but New Internationalist have been prepared to run with such a project over such a long period?

In 1995 New Internationalist editor Chris Brazier returned to Burkina Faso, 10 years after his first trip (described in this blog) to see how people’s lives had changed. 

Read this June 1995 issue.

So the material I am gathering here in Burkina Faso now will form the main part of a forthcoming issue of the magazine. But how do I blog about the experience while here? On previous visits it would have been completely impossible to do so: I was armed with a notebook and a camera and that was about it. I wrote up my experiences longhand in the evening of every day and then later distilled those into a coherent story to present to the wider world. And I would have been thankful not to have to tell any of those stories as I went along – they often need to be played out to the end to be understood, or, more likely still, need to be processed carefully in my mind before I can see how to write about them.

So back then there was not the technology. To be honest, there barely is now. I do have my laptop with me but communicating anything I write on it to the outside world is problematic. There is electricity in Garango, the local town where I am lodging, but there is no wifi facility nor even an internet café – which surprises me, since one had just sprung up on the outskirts on my last visit 11 years ago and I had assumed there would be more provision now rather than less. But I think the mobile phone has taken over the African landscape so completely that people don’t feel a need for other kinds of computers and still less for email.

The only way I can send a message to the office or to home is by persuading Sophie, who works for the local NGO Association Dakupa, to give up her own computer and somewhat temperamental internet connection to me for a few minutes – and it is by that means that I transmit this piece, written the day before. Dakupa have also lent me a motor scooter, which has transformed my own travel around the area – where 21 years ago I simply walked and 11 years ago I rode a bicycle I have now become motorized, though I must admit this has posed some danger to life and limb, in part because of the difficult sandy tracks and fording of seasonal rivers but mainly because of my own incompetence as a driver of such a vehicle.

I realize this is a roundabout way of saying not very much at all about what I have found in Sabtenga this time around – I feel like I should save those stories for the magazine itself. But I will say, mainly to those few of you out there who remember the past magazines (and I did have a loyal subscriber contact me a couple of years back to ask when I would be returning to the village, so eager was she for the next instalment), that all the key individuals you have met before are thankfully still alive and well. And perhaps just one piece of news: that the new Chief of the village is the most modern of men, who is using his traditional position to the greatest possible effect in terms of community development. My interview with him today was fascinating and will be a cornerstone of the eventual magazine.

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