Gorom-Gorom, January 15, 2009 - Thursday
Trip Start Dec 18, 2008
79Trip End Jan 18, 2009
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On the other hand, next to the way the poor locals had it, packed as tightly as potatoes in a sack, we were really privileged. Out there, cloaked in a huge cloud of dust that rose all over our vehicle, they must’ve envied us, the white foreigners. I would have if I had been among them. But there were such who were even lower on the travel class list. Two or three guys sat right up on the cabin roof, clutching tightly whatever there was up there to clutch, desperately seeking not to tumble down and onto the road. Their legs dangling over all the windows except the front shield, they were naturally a subject of our conversation for a while
Everything considered, our squeeze soon started looking just like a petty grievance.
Nevertheless, when we made one of those unaccountable stops in the middle of nowhere – apparently just for the driver to take a leak by the roadside – all of us except Lois jumped on the chance to stretch our legs. Fully aware that locals were hardly ever thrilled at being taken pictures of, I nevertheless couldn’t pass up this opportunity to take a few of this human bundle at the bed of our pick-up.
Back in the car, Paul asked me:
„Did you take a pictures of them?"
„Yes, I did,“ I answered.
„You were braver than me,“ he said
So we agreed that upon our return to Dori we would stop by at his place where he had a laptop and exchange all today’s photos.
From Dori to Gorom-Gorom it seems to take around an hour and a half. That’s how long it took us to get there, at least. We chatted away our time in a pleasant and cheery mood, usually swapping stories about our previous trips and the countries where we lived. Arno seemed to be the most travelled one of us all, with a clear knack for trips to less touted parts of the world. I could boast a visit to North Korea same as he could, but he saw the likes of Bhutan, Djibouti and Laos which you don’t necessarily consider the easiest places to visit. On this trip, he had started it out in Mali with an intention to go on to Senegal by way of Burkina Faso.
Paul and Lois mostly entertained us with the information – completely unknown to both Arno and me up until that point – that in the US anyone, meaning literally anyone, could obtain themselves a credit card. If there was an age restriction, it was still below the majority age. And there were absolutely no restrictions on employment conditions
But then again, that’s what travels are all about, as they say. Every day you learn something new.
Anyway, it was around eight thirty when we finally arrived in Gorom-Gorom. The action was not up to the full speed yet, and we obviously came while the things were still about to start swinging into high gear. The whole market show was only gradually picking up pace with people still unloading stuff and setting up what they ambitiously called their „shops“. But the place was already abuzz and you could tell that it wouldn’t be long before it would start bristling with activity.
Arno, Paul and Lois had not eaten yet and they decided to first look for breakfast. So we agreed that basically we would spread each in our own direction and start looking for each other some time in the afternoon. Like around two or three. And then we’d start asking for a ride back to Dori. Which should be the same vehicle that had brought us here
So I set out on my own.
Gorom-Gorom didn’t appear to be too big. It most certainly wasn’t anything in the category of sprawling. But then again, it wasn’t just a two-street settlement, either. Some called it a town, some called it a village. As for me, I had been unsure as to how to categorise some other settlements and how to draw a line before. So Gororm-Gorom was no exception. In any event, whatever it was, it was most famous for its Thursday market and there I was, too.
I started roaming around just as I always do in similar circumstances, by simply following my nose. Now it lead me past a number of people who were well into preparations for market business and some had already got it under way. The streets were increasingly crowded and there was no mistake. This could really be a show full of colourful protagonists.
Some of them, a number of men in particular, could pass off as locals elsewhere in Burkina Faso. Particularly those dressed according to apparently prevalent local fashion – a football jersey
As for the other groups, it was difficult to tell. They were conspicuous by their women mostly. Dressed differently than elsewhere, or at least that’s how it came across to a foreigner like me, in colourful outfites with designs very African and yet incomparable to anything I’d seen that far, they had to have a name as an ethnic group. But which one exactly, I couldn’t know.
I roamed around quite a bit. I mostly kept around „shops“, but I also veered into side alleys which clearly led to houses. Or shacks, more to the point.
With every new moment, Gorom-Gorom was transforming into more of a perpetual show. Of course, being a white man so strikingly out of place, I was a target of many offers to buy something, regardless of whether I needed it or not. After all, how could they know if I needed something unless they asked.
However, after an hour or so, I came to a conclusion that Gorom-Gorom was not leaving the same impression on me as Djenné had
Maybe I was just getting used to it all. After all, I’d been in West Africa for more than four weeks now. OK, I knew I would never see the continent through the same eyes as Africans did. Things they don’t even notice because they see them as utterly common and normal would always hold attraction to me. But I might have simply arrived at a point of saturation where I’d best go home and allow the impressions to settle in on me. Either way, I was not walking around as wide-eyed any more as I had when I had just arrived.
So, I somehow felt an urge to move away from the bustle and explore the calmer and more peaceful parts of the town. And true enough, once I was away from the market itself, the number of people drastically dropped and I could occasionally find places where there wasn’t almost anyone in sight
One of those people came up to me flashing a big, birthday picture smile.
It was a young guy. I offered him my hand, but explained that I didn’t speak French. So he switched to basic, broken English and managed to inform me that he was a teacher in a local primary school. We chatted a bit and I told him I had arrived for the market, as it was a pretty famous affair, even among such tourists who chose Burkina Faso as their travelling destinations. He then offered me the information that there were some interesting villages around and also on the spot offered himself as a guide. I explained him that I didn’t have time for it today.
„Maybe some other time,“ I added, knowing very well that this „other time“ in all likelihood would never come
Could I meet him later? Well, why not? But now I had to go on checking the market. So we left it at that. I was convinced that my non-commitment was enough to shake him off in a nice way. I wouldn’t have to explain him any more that I couldn’t visit those villages and he wouldn’t feel refused roughly.
So I continued roaming around. There were kids playing in the dusty streets, there were women at public water pumps which at the same time obviously served as focal points of social life as they were invariably crowded almost as bus stops. There were more donkey carts, but also camels. There was an occasional pick–up truck and an odd lorry.
And there was the scorching sun.
So after another round of walking I decided it was time to take some rest. Again I retreated from the hub of activities and found myself a shaded place away from the market, on a terrace of what could have been a local school building
But it wasn’t going to be. The children were soon falling in line, just as I knew they would. However, Arno, too, was getting tired of the baking hot day. Looking for a place to retreat, he simply stumbled upon the same spot where I was. Seeing me there, he came up to me.
„Do you mind?“
„Of course not,“ I said. And so he joined me.
Children looked on with a renewed interest, but instinctively they knew that now when we were two, they would not be able to amuse us with any antics. So interestingly enough, Arno’s presence in fact calmed them down. Even if they didn’t understand a word we said, they stared at us with such an intense attention, so engrossed, as if the two of us were acting out a thriller for them
And what did Arno and I talk about if not about travels? First it was about Gorom-Gorom and then about the rest of the world. And finally about a lifestyle of an independent traveller.
„Most of the people I know,“ I said „spend money on new cars and skiing in January. I spend mine on travels.“
„I don’t even have a car,“ he added. “When I need it, I ask my mother.“
And so we chatted away. He was giving me snippets from his travels, from places like Ethiopia and Cambodia, when suddenly the good teacher appeared again. This time in a company of another guy.
Seeing us, he went straight up to us, all beaming and happy as a birthday. The other guy was his colleague and friend. Another teacher, that is. We all got acquainted and took a few pictures together. Then Patrick – that was the teacher’s name – asked us if we could have a drink somewhere together
However, neither Arno nor I were willing to spend time sitting around here in Gorom-Gorom. At least not just as yet. OK, we were sitting now, but that was a temporary respite and a time off away from the burning sun. It was not the end of our visit here. So again we sent Patrick away with another „later“.
If Patrick and Edmond had not showed up, maybe Arno and I would have stayed longer in that shade. But this way, after we had refused Patrick’s invitation, it would’ve been hypocritical to stay on. Truth to say, I think both Arno and I were thinking along the same lines. After those weeks here in West Africa, you simply grew tired of people constantly and relentlessly asking you for a „cadeau“, be it in a form of money or something else. So poor Patrick, whatever his reason for seeking our company, simply popped up too late, after the tolerance level for such things in both of us had already dropped sharply down.
Arno and I left and headed back to the thick of the market
And we found ourselves on the animal market.
It was a large, open compound, unexpectedly crowded, with several hundred men standing or sitting – even lying - around and trading in domestic animals. Many of them were impossibly picturesque and each of them would be a street show in his own right on any European street. Of course, this was their natural element and they blended perfectly in, but for an unused eye, like Arno’s or mine, this was an incredible festival of colours, turbans and ethnic wear.
And animals, of course. Even if there was no clear sign of division or any fences, it was obvious that different parts of this spacious compound belonged to different animal species
Probably the same way as any of those characters would stand out in our part of the world, Arno and I were out of place here. However, locals didn’t seem to pay much attention to us. They had their own fun and things to do. Which was fine with us. And also, in this very domestic crowd we were easily able to finally locate the only two tourists we’d seen the whole time since our arrival. Apart from ourselves, that is. So at least in that sense I could safely say that Gorom-Gorom was one up on Djenné.
The two foreigners were an elderly Canadian-Danish couple who had, not surprisingly, known Arno from somewhere back up the line. And the Canadian half of this couple, the lady, was positively the only woman here on the animal market. We chatted a bit, as tourists usually do when they meet like that, and then Arno and I moved on.
On the opposite side from the gate where we’d entered the animal market, there was another metal gate which obviously led away from the town
And on the other side was the end of Gorom-Gorom. There were a few low, ramshackle brick houses, one or two beat-up cars which I wasn’t sure whether they were in a driving condition any more, and a tidy number of goats, cattle and donkeys. Beyond the edge of the settlement there was a sizeable water pond around which they made those clay bricks. And that was it. Farther up, there was not much.
Except for some sparse trees maybe a kilometre away and a row of low houses among them. Now, that was a village. Whatever Gorom-Gorom was, that was a true village. The day was hot and apart form ubiquitous lazy domestic animals, hardly a living soul was in sight. But Arno and I decided to go there nevertheless. A thought occurred to me and I wondered if such a village had a name. Not that it mattered much. But out of sheer curiosity, I’d have liked to know if there was a name to this cluster of mud-brick houses.
Of course, we were not going unnoticed. Every now and then we could spot an odd kid briefly popping out and eying us with curiosity, only to disappear the next moment
No one, of course.
But someone was coming in the opposite direction.
Suddenly, from among those brick houses, almost like a fairy, a tall, proud, young woman emerged and it soon was clear that she was coming our way. Her skin was dark, much darker than most of the people we’d seen around. She wore a multi-coloured long dress with an almost as long bright pink headscarf. Her hands were full of bracelets and fingers full of rings. A couple of braids wrapped up in white cloth were hanging from below the headscarf. My jaw dropped. She was stunningly beautiful.
As she drew closer, you could see that she felt a bit uncomfortable at the sight of two white foreigners and would have given us a wide berth if only she’d been able to
When she drew so near that she had to meet our eyes, we asked her if we could take a photo. She didn’t understand English, of course, but she clearly understood what we wanted. She simply shielded her face with one hand and waved her refusal with another. But Arno wouldn’t be budged. He already had his wallet out and was picking coins out of it. I followed suit. And like with a magic wand, the money changed the young lady’s attitude. The hand on her face dropped down right off and the other one, which initially sought to chase us away, reached for the money.
All the hurdles were now cleared.
And during those few short minutes, a few kids suddenly materialised almost like out of thin air, both following with keen interest the whole thing, and also probably themselves hoping we would cut them in. The lady, now fully satisfied with her modelling fee, gracefully posed for us and patiently waited for Arno and me to let her go. When we did, we thanked her, she smiled and that was it.
And as it often happens, after we had acquired ourselves this unexpected photo-souvenir, Arno and I didn’t feel like continuing towards the village any more. So we agreed to return to Gorom-Gorom instead. However, we decided to wait a bit, so we could keep a respectful distance from the young lady we had just photographed. We wouldn’t let it appear as if we were tailing her.
But in general, we were returning to the market.
We passed by the animal market again and found ourselves in the crowd of the regular market. And then, perhaps not surprisingly, we again bumped into Patrick and Edmond. Do we have time now?
„Are these guys following us?“ Arno asked. I couldn’t know. But it looked as if they had really been sitting tight on one spot and just waiting for us until we reappeared. We had hoped that „later“ we’d given them earlier today would be enough to get them off of our backs. But those two guys seemed to have a different agenda. However, I had to give them one thing. Even if a bit strangely too persistent, they were nice.
We tried to explain that we were not alone and that we had two more friends roaming around the market who we should meet, and only then we could know how much time we had. Even if, privately, after a few hours here, both Arno and I felt that we’d seen most of what the market had to offer. Therefore it was increasingly difficult for us to go on excusing ourselves just on the basis of having „something else to see“
So I guess we were just not determined enough to shake them off. Patrick must have sensed that, as Edmond was - as usual – the quiet one. Therefore, as Arno and I kind of started looking for Paul and Lois, the two teachers just joined us as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Now, Gorom-Gorom may be famous. Probably even rightly so. But it’s not like it’s spilling over on all sides, and you don’t need to hire a detective to find someone there. In short, crossing paths with Paul and Lois was not a hard thing at all. It seemed that they too were ready for a break.
„How about a lunch?“ Paul asked and we all agreed. And then Patrick jumped in. He said he knew a good restaurant where we could eat. The four of us looked at each other. As none of us knew any place ourselves, we kind of collectively shrugged and agreed that why not? If he thought he knew a good place, it couldn’t do us much harm to check it out. In the worst case, we could always decide to look elsewhere if we didn’t like it.
However, Patrick’s open and pretty unusual insistence to keep us company didn’t fail to rouse mild suspicion in Paul. Certainly, all of us had been around the block a few times and had a few miles under our belts. So nobody was really alarmed. But western mind apparently works differently. Paul said:
„These guys obviously have an angle.“
And we all seemed to agree.
But we followed him. He led us out of the centre, past one of the most prominent mosques in town, and some distance away from the bustle of the market, he brought us to a restaurant called „le Kawar“. With a sand-covered, shady courtyard, the place looked very attractive. A big lady popped up out of somewhere. Patrick asked her on our behalf if they served lunches. She confirmed, rattled off a few dishes they could prepare for us and we decided there was no need to look any further.
In short order we made ourselves comfortable at one of the tables, six of us in all, while the big lady collected our orders more or less along the lines of „a little bit of everything“
Naturally, we were all thirsty. Patrick heard out everyone’s drinking wishes and disappeared. No one paid the whole thing too much attention after he’d left.
We already knew that lunch was going to take some time to arrive, so at first we basically just relaxed and chatted. Edmond didn’t take much part in our conversation which was also understandable. He hardly spoke any English. And none of us spoke any French worth mentioning. But also, he seemed to simply be a reclusive guy by his natural disposition.
And so amid the talk and stories that travellers usually share, Patrick reappeared, carrying an armful of assorted bottles. The moment he deposited them on the table, we swooped on them like vultures.
Anyway, he was an amiable guy who, even if he had „an angle“, as Paul put it, didn’t bother to disclose it yet
Needless to say, his camera failed to function as he was speaking, even if he was eager to take pictures of the whole company. Paul assumed the problem could be in batteries, so he lent him some of his. And then miraculously, it worked. Well, Patrick was happy to know that it was only batteries. He decided to buy a new pack at the market once we got back out. In the meantime, I promised to send him all the pictures he might wish to have from my own camera.
And so while we chatted, the lunch arrived. We invited both Patrick and Edmond to join us. They initially declined the invitation, but we insisted. So they gave in and we asked for plates for them, as well.
At one point Patrick turned to me and said:
„May I ask you a question?“
„Of course,“ I said, wondering what he was going to ask.“ „Go ahead.“
Was it now the time for the angle we’d all been kind of waiting for? It seemed that Paul, Lois and Arno sort of expected the same
But Patrick had different thoughts in mind:
„Why do you have long hair?“
„Well, you know,“ I said. „It’s very simple. I’ve got no money for scissors.“
For some inexplicable reason, this inane – and not particularly funny - statement worked and everybody laughed. I guess there are moments like that when for no reason utter stupidities occasionally sound graceful. This had to be one.
„Then it probably means I have no money for razor to shave myself,“ added Paul who sported a trimmed, but thick beard.
All in all, everyone was in a good cheer. Edmond was the only one who didn’t say much. But Patrick was communicative enough for both of them even if his English was only slightly better than our French.
When we decided that it was time to go, we asked for the bill. The big lady came up with something very paltry like 1200 CFA francs per person.
„And drinks?“ Lois asked.
„No drinks,“ the lady explained.
Well, we were a bit confused. How come no drinks when everyone had drunk during lunch? And then it turned out that when Patrick had gone somewhere out, he had bought drinks from his own pocket. A silence fell over all of us for a moment. Not a word was said, but all four of us knew what the other ones thought. The good Patrick not only didn’t have an angle, but he had given his hard-earned money to treat four foreigners he would probably never see again. I would bet all of us were ashamed of our thoughts. I was.
OK, it is true that those thoughts had been just a reflex reaction to what we’d been experiencing all across West Africa. But still. Patrick had put us all to shame.
Our saving grace was at least in the fact that we had insisted that he and Edmond eat with us. At least something.
On our way back to the market and the spot where we would look for the transport back to Dori, Arno and I decided to split from the group, take a different route and meet them again where we had got off the pick-up truck in the morning. We just wanted to see a bit more of the town and possibly find a few more motives for pictures. The most memorable one we came upon was a muddy multi-purpose water hole around which they shaped and dried those clay bricks, domestic animals gathered to drink and where kids took their dip to find relief from the heat of the day. All in one
As much as those kids were an attraction to us, Arno and I must have been an attraction to them. When they noticed us with our cameras, they started shouting, splashing the water like it was going out of style, jumping up and down like on a springboard and generally putting up a noisy show for both ourselves and themselves. They obviously had a very good time, particularly with the two of us in audience.
A short time later we rejoined the rest of the guys. Patrick had in the meantime bought himself new batteries for his camera and for a while it worked, to his utter excitement. The kids swarmed around us looking for „cadeaux.“ When we declined to give them anything, they often left with comments murmured into their own chins, clearly expressing unhappiness.
„They call us 'les blancs’“, Paul remarked at one point. I had never noticed that before.
„I wonder if that’s got any hidden meanings,“ I said. But we came to a conclusion that it probably hadn’t
Patrick and Edmond kept us company until it was time to leave. Patrick gave me his mail address, so I could send him pictures once I returned home. While we were at it, Paul located the same guy who’d brought us to Gorom-Gorom this morning from Dori. We got the cabin seats again. And some time around four o’clock, or a bit later, or excursion to Gorom-Gorom came to an end.