Bliss on a bike


After turning off the paved road, the first kilometer or two of my bike ride around the barrage were unadulterated bliss. The path rolled up and down country hills, occasionally allowing a snapshot of the sparkling blue lake to be viewed in the distance, its shore growing nearer and nearer.

During this initial leg of the journey, I was charged with frenetic anticipation of the day that lay before me, ignorant of the challenges and discoveries ahead but eager to meet both head-on.

I pedaled hard, attacking the inclines with gusto and relishing the wind in my hair as I raced downhill. Curves I took with verve and bravado, letting my back wheel swing out to kick up a spray of pebbles and dust as I passed. Life was sweet and good and simple, and I was unafraid.

This part of the trip was pretty well-trafficked, too. The landscape was dominated by cultivated fields, alternating between sorghum, corn, millet and (especially as I approached the shore of the barrage) peanuts.

Since it was late September and the heart of the harvest, families were out in force gathering the fruits of their labor, and I greeted everyone I encountered.

That’s pretty much mandatory in Dagarra culture, and most West African cultures in general. The formal salutation goes (in Dagarra) “How are you doing?” (like America, you’re pretty much always “good”). Then: “How is your family (if addressing a man, work can be substituted here). The family is pretty much always good, too. After those two or three formal questions have been asked, conversation can continue or both parties can get along with their business.

Speaking of business ... on with the story! Many times, after the greeting protocol had been attended to, the farmers would ask me, “Mwinna fu kyiena?” or “Where are you going?”

The expression on their faces, however, suggested that the inferential translator would decipher their true question somewhere along the lines of: “What in God’s name is a white dude doing out HERE?”

Fair question.

When I told them I was heading to Moutuori, all the farmers earnestly tried to get me to backtrack to the highway and take the moto path on the other side of the lake. After explaining, in a mix of Dagarra and French (with plenty of hand-gestures thrown in, too), that I wanted to go AROUND the lake to Moutuori, they laughed and laughed.

Having only an imperfect grasp of Dagarra at the time (it would get better with time and practice), I didn’t make out much of what they said after that point. I did manage to pick out “you can’t” several times, and “Nipla fou” (crazy white person/foreigner) once. It would be the standard reaction during the course of the day.

After about two kilometers, the path had taken me within maybe 250 meters of the lake–but that was too far inland for my tastes. It seemed that in order to avoid the marshy floodplains close to the shore of the barrage, the main route was going to largely avoid the coast.

Luckily, for my purposes, there was a network of zig-zagging skid trails that veered much closer to the shoreline, and I soon peeled off in this direction.

Like so many gambits, it started out as a controlled and very much chosen adventure. In opting for the marshlands, I could exercise my navigational inclinations, see a wilder, less-populated landscape and still be comfortably close to a quick exit if things somehow got hairy.

Needless to say, this was not a decision borne of desire for maximal speed, and my progress slowed considerably. Often the trail would branch off in two or three directions and I would have decide which route would: A) provide interesting things to see; B) hew closest to the lake and; C) not end in chest-high swamp water.

Given the odds involved, I think I did pretty well overall, but I was obliged to turn back several times, and biking through the muck and reeds was a challenge compared to the dirt path I’d been on.

Thus passed the morning, and by around 11:30, I found myself at the first bridge.

WARNING! More lengthy sidebar ahead.

When I say “bridge,” don’t picture girders, or cement or dimensional lumber.

Very beautiful in their own right, Burkinabe country bridges typically involve none of these things. They are crude and makeshift in the extreme: perhaps improvised elevation of the earth would be a more fitting (if somewhat awkward) handle.

A Burkinabe bridge, organically in-synch with its environment, typically uses earthen mounds constructed during the dry season as support pillars for two logs. Sticks and smaller logs laid between the two beams form the deck of the bridge, then mud is packed in around the sticks and smaller logs so from the perspective of a biker or walker the trail just seems to lift effortlessly over the water. The effect is even more pronounced when the crossing is seldom used and grass and shrubs start growing on its surface.

Next episode I will take you to the other side of the bridge to wilder lands, more adventure and fewer bloviating sidebars. Until the Dec. 28 edition of the Saratoga Sun though, I bid you Bilf bilfu from Dagarra country!


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