[Loving Africa 4] A long bus journey from Lomé to Ouagadougou – A Hopeful Continent


Words from the publisher: Queenie my daughter is in Togo, West Africa as a volunteer. About two weeks ago she mentioned the plan to Burkina Faso. Last week after the terrorist attack in its capital Quagadougou, but was relieved when we could still found Queenie on the web, knowing she was safe This and the following article was written by Queenie to pay tribute to people of Burkina Faso.

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In the last week, Burkina Faso made it to the front page of the world news for its most unfortunate first terrorist attack in its capital Ouagadougou. The Islamist militants of the AQMI (the Sahal branch of Al Qaida) attacked one local hotel and a nearby ‘salon de thé-patisserie’ which was popular with foreigners, setting off several explosions and killing 27 innocent people. Furthermore, the Burkina Faso government confirmed that an Australian doctor and his wife, living and working since 1972 in Burkina Faso, were kidnapped in the north of the country, near the border with Niger by the same terrorist group. It is with great sorrow and sadness to hear the news of such disturbing event in the very country which I visited 3 weeks ago. I cannot express more of my most profound condolences for all who were killed and injured in this outrageous attack, and more widely to one of the friendliest countries in the world who have been so movingly affected. No country, no people, no family should have to experience such tragedy and injustice, especially in one of the poorest countries with such tiny foreign investments struggling to survive.

Here I would like to account a little bus adventure when I was Burkina Faso few weeks ago. As I finally made my way across the border into Burkina Faso, I got told by locals that the only daily to Ouagadougou was just about to depart. Being worried that I would be left with no other transportation options, I made the biggest mistake of getting on the longest bus journey I have ever taken.

Lonely Planet claims that buses are the most reliable and comfortable way to get around. Yet my experience has certainly proven them wrong. Not only was the bus decrepit, the number of checkpoints and breakdowns was countless. There was essentially no time-table and the bus departed when full and when the driver feels like it. Moreover, it was over-crowded, filthy, and could only be best described to be a hot sauna chockfull with dirty dust and air.

I initially understood that this journey would take approximately 5 hours yet this “direct service” eventually arrived after a long painful 11 hours. Disregarding the numerous stops which the bus had to make due to the police identification checks with each individuals, our bus also encountered a large blockage on the road as we arrived at 70km away from our destination. Whist motorbikes and cars could pass through the obstructed road, our bus servicing approximately 50 passengers could not proceed. Having waited more than 45 minutes, our impatient driver decided to forge ahead. Our jam-packed bus advanced slowly along the narrow pathway of the craggy and rugged road. Unfortunately, our driver had over-estimated his chance and our bus missed the curve and slowly tilted on the edge of the road. On the verge of tumbling over, all the passengers panicked, screamed, shouted and ran for their lives. My greatest fear however was not the risk of the bus falling on its side, rather the potential accidents which occurs when all the horrified passengers rushed to the door with no order.

The impressive Burkinabe lady behind me yelled “AVANCE! AVANCE!” was in such great terror that she was about to carry me in her arms through the door. Luckily, we all eventually made it back on the ground safely. All the passengers could only kill time with some socialising and chit-chatting whilst waiting for the road to clear.

“Do you think we will ever get to Ouagadougou?” I asked my new Burkinabe friend with my broken French.

Clearly putting behind her the very recent experience of our small “bus accident”, she answered with great hope – “do not worry, we will arrive!”

It was clearly an inefficient solution, yet my curiosity about this never-ending bus journey overtook my logic and I decided to continue to be part of this bus adventure. I often make fun of my colleague that she has become a real Togolese in her level of optimism for our African clients. Indeed, West Africans have the highest level of optimism in their future amongst the global citizens. In the latest international survey done by Gallup, three-quarters of respondents in Africa were confident of an improvement, compared with 26% of those in Western Europe.

Not having witnessed a development of a third-world country, I am perhaps pessimistic. When my Burkinabe friend assured me that the bus would eventually get to Ouagadougou, I was almost certain that her optimism was unreasonable. In fact, I silently thought to myself that it was only the misery of a developing country which gave its people no other options but to wait for their chance.

I am glad that I was proven wrong. More than two hours later, the road was finally cleared. With unusual noise echoing from the bus, slowly but eventually our bus arrived at our destination just before mid-night. As I have learnt from many self-less development workers in West Africa, in building a country’s development not only requires great patience but also long-term commitment. Whilst Burkina Faso observe the national mourn for the victims of the recent tragedy, I sincerely pray that this nation can remain hopeful and that the dark times will end to see the light at the end of the tunnel.