Strange morning

In March 1996, in the middle of Harmattan season, I was scheduled to make a trip to visit translation projects. I got up before dawn to the strong smell of dust. Then, instead of dawn, a sinister crimson radiance came through the windows, painting everything with the same tint. Outside, I felt like I was living in the aftermath of some nuclear disaster. I discovered that a gusty wind, saturated with particles of deep red laterite was the source of the strange morning colors. In short, it was a dust storm.

Banana tree covered in Harmattan dust

Banana tree covered in Harmattan dust

As I drove out of town, the headlights of other cars looked blue. The sky turned blood-red with the sun a mere disk of only slightly brighter red. At the checkpoint on the outskirts of town, the officials were troubled. They had never seen anything like it. Someone said that according to the radio news, the dust storm covered all of Burkina Faso, Mali and a large part of Algeria. One policeman, his eyebrows covered with a layer of the red dust, said: “Good, that way we won’t die alone.”

We traveled all morning and part of the afternoon to our destination, always in the grimy wind, marveling at the blue headlights of oncoming vehicles. Late in the morning, we went through a city; its streetlights still blazing as though they could dispel the gloom. It lasted 2 1/2 days. The grit got between our teeth, in our food and, well, everywhere. Ladies who like to keep a spotless house were propelled to the threshold of psychosis.

It was quite an experience. My only regret is that I did not take even one photo! The photos you see here were taken later under conditions which were not nearly as extreme.

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Ouagadougou Christmas

We are visiting in Burkina Faso; so I thought I would write my observations of Christmas celebrations here.

Daniel and Anne Kompaore with Dayle

Daniel and Anne Kompaore with Dayle

The in the two days before Christmas, our hosts, Daniel and Anne Kompaore, received numerous gifts, mostly food and most of that live animals, especially guinea fowl which is highly valued here.

Daniel’s church had a Christmas eve service from 8 to 10 PM. A good part of it was a program by the children. A local Christian TV station carried a local Christmas eve service in the afternoon. It was also dominated by a children’s program, including reciting of Bible verses in French in unison by a group of children of varying ages. Our friends,  the Tioyes, said that their church’s Christmas eve service lasted until 2 AM and was largely a children’s program including a nativity play and recitation of Bible verses. So it seems that Christmas eve services are the norm.

On Christmas day, we had our celebratory meal at about 1 PM. During the course of the afternoon, people dropped by to say Merry Christmas. Some brought gifts of food. In one case they had called the day before to say exactly what they were bringing. Most stayed only a few minutes. A few,  family I think, stayed long enough to eat part of the meal, even tough they arrived after we ate.Daniel received a number of brief phone calls and SMS messages wishing him Merry Christmas. Even though few here have our number, we got brief phone calls with Christmas greetings.

No hard knocks

“Knocking, knocking, knocking”. When I lived at the guesthouse I heard it every day. Ghanaians coming to our little apartment say it softly as they approach the front door. There was no doorbell, and they never knocked. If I am deep in thought, they might have to repeat their gentle “Knocking, knocking, knocking”. In Burkina Faso, instead of knocking people said, “Ko, ko, ko.”

Kassem village

Kassem village

A short visit to a village in Burkina Faso will explain why. The round houses sit inside a boundary wall of mud, straw, small rocks and sometimes animal dung. The entry is an opening without a gate or door, although the residents may block it at night with tree trunks or pieces of wood. This is where all visitors stop. Knock all you want, there is nothing here that will make a sound that will carry. If you knock on the mud wall you will get scraped knuckles, but no sound. Calling out “Ko, ko, ko”, on the other hand, makes a lot of sense.

When our two sons were 1 and 3, we took them out of Burkina Faso, the only place they had known, to the US with a stop to visit friends in Switzerland. It was January, so on our first day in Switzerland our boys got to know snow for the first time. Then I went for a walk with our older son around the small town. I realized how much they had adopted the culture of Burkina Faso when our oldest walked up to the door of a Swiss store, stopped and called, “Ko, ko, ko.” I had to tell him that the Swiss have a different way of life, and that they just walk through doorways of stores without calling. No one is listening for them.

In Burkina Faso, we learned that there is a specific kind of person who knocks on doors. That is the thief checking to see if anyone is home. So, how might you translate Revelation 3:20 into a language of Burkina Faso? If you translate it word for word, what will people understand about Jesus?

Village in Burkina Faso near Banfora

Village in Burkina Faso near the town of Banfora