Doesn’t that name just say it all? Ouagadougou (which I had to practice spelling), pronounced Waga-Doo-Goo or more affectionately known as Ouaga, is the greatest city name is history and capital and largest city in Burkina Faso, formerly Upper Volta. Ouaga is at the crossroads of a lot of different places and most people, me included, use it as a jumping off point for overland travel to another country like Mali, Niger or Ghana as it borders several countries and isn’t generally known as a hotbed of activity-which I can confirm. I was driven here by a Malian guy who was illiterate, spoke no English and couldn’t count by the way so that made for interesting communication once we got into Ouaga. Additionally, when I paid him, he had to ask someone else to count it for him because he couldn’t do it-sadly once again, this is Africa and you just have to be patient and roll with it. However, Ouaga is not without its charm, god awful air pollution and as I found out last night, a poker game game with the French expats.
Ouaga is similar to an Asian city like Saigon or Phnom Penh because it is a sprawling kind of city and is the first African city I have seen that is overwhelmed by the motorbike phenomenon. These vespas just whisk through the streets, polluting with their exhaust blaring out and paying no attention to traffic laws-per the usual in Africa of course but nonetheless, you have to be on the lookout crossing the street.
I am staying right in the center of town at a place called Hotel Relax, aptly named, and it happens to be next to a random casino that I checked out last night. They had a poker table and the game of French expats was about to start, so I jumped in as I have been dying for a game. The game was played in the local currency, called CFA or the West African Franc, which is a kind of Euro common currency for most of West Africa. The only problem was there was no English spoken at the table, I don’t speak French, and the players were the worst I’ve ever seen in my life and yes that includes some of the tourists who play in my home game!
My friends who I play cards with can just picture me at this table when terrible players call all ins with absolutely nothing and get lucky…man is that irritating. Additionally, the players were speaking to each other and looking at me knowing I don’t speak French and showing each other cards and touching each others chips. All of these things are unacceptable in the States or anywhere else, but this is Africa and Ouagadougou is not exactly a poker capital of the world so I had to deal with it to play. I did and eventually I ended up losing a little bit but aside from what I described it was a lot of fun and gave me something to do as Monday nights are the worst in Africa because nothing is open-restaurants included, so you pretty much end up reading or something normally so this was a welcomed change.
I am up very early right now as the bed in Hotel Relax wasn’t exactly comfortable and about to take another LONG overland journey to Niamey, Niger. My friend Charlie, who did Peace Corps there for two years, has highly recommended some places to seek out and visit so I have high hopes for Niamey, where I am also hoping to score a Gabon visa if I can talk them into waiving their 24 hour rule on processing-we’ll see, as they are issued by the French Embassy and who knows with the French and their legendary beaurocracy.
BTW…I still can’t believe the Giants lost and Arizona is in the NFC Championship Game and I have to cheer for them because I hate the Eagles. I imagine the Steelers are certainly the favorites to win it all at this point.