Season of the rains
New Internationalist editor Chris Brazier returns to Burkina Faso every decade to produce a magazine on the African country. He has produced three issues and is currently researching his fourth. Read parts one or two of this blog series. Below is part three.
I have never been to Burkina Faso during the rainy season before. On my first visit here, in 1985, the rains were due but were improbably late, so that people who planted at the normal time lost their seed and there was a general air of desperation. Right at the end of that trip there was finally a huge downpour at which the village community – and the parched earth – breathed an enormous sigh of relief. My last visit, in 2005, was just after the rainy season had finished, so that the maize and millet plants were high, strong, green and ready for reaping.
But actually to be here during the rainy season is a new experience for me. The night I arrived in the capital, Ouagadougou, there was a thunderstorm of the most fantastic violence and torrential rain that thrashed down all night and continued into the morning. As I lay awake listening to the din and then again when dawn revealed streets that looked more like rivers, I wondered what on earth I had let myself in for. Was this going to be the norm for my whole time in the village and, if so, how on earth was I going to manage things logistically – travel to and within the different parts of the village would surely be impossible as would photography.
In 1995 Chris Brazier returned to Burkina Faso, 10 years after his first trip.
Thankfully that storm was an extraordinary event, at least for July, and one that wrought no mean destruction in the capital. Rain of such force is expected in August but not so much now. We had a violent storm again yesterday and I was fortunate that I had already called it a day and come back to my room by the time it struck. But for the most part the rains have been more gentle – refreshing the landscape with a shower in the night or a brief burst in the day. This is, of course, much more what the plants in the fields require – the more violent, tumultuous storms sweep away the topsoil and reduce the general fertility.
There is another great benefit to me of this – that it is consistently cloudy almost all of every day and the daytime temperature is much more manageable than I have ever found it before. On all my previous visits the sun has reared high and fierce in a cloudless sky and has made it easy to understand why the Bissa word for sun – husu – is the same that is for god. Working in the middle of the day in such conditions is very difficult and you have to retreat into the shade wherever you can find it. Photography is well nigh impossible for most of the day because the light is simply too bright and all the details of people’s faces is lost.
So being here in the rains is proving to be a blessing. There is a flipside, however, which is that we are not seeing any of the golden, magical light of early morning and late afternoon, which is when all my previous photographs of village life have inevitably been taken. The photographs I am taking now will, as a result, not match those of the past in terms of rich colour and intensity. But for the moment that is certainly a sacrifice I am prepared to make.
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