Stories from a frontier market
By: Federico Bianchi
Potential Energy Summer Research Fellow
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
June 10, 2014
“Bon, on y va!” – “Ok, let’s go!” This is what my collaborator tells me on a Wednesday at 2pm. It is my first Wednesday in Ouagadougou and I have been asking for the whole day to leave the office and go “on the field” (“sur le terrain”, people would say here). I am eager to meet the families that live in the outskirts of Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou and to start interviewing them about their cooking habits.
Some minutes later we leave the office. We jump on a motorbike and find our way through the traffic of the city – hard to imagine something more chaotic and scary, at least the first time you find yourself surrounded by a chaos of cars and motorbikes. Motorbikes, in particular, are everywhere. Cars are a bit less but they are not afraid of almost bumping into other vehicles to find their way. It will take me some more time to get used to this way of driving: today, I am just hoping that we will safely reach our destination.
Against all the odds, we arrive at our destination in only 30 minutes and with limited risks for our safety. We are in the so-called “Non-Loti” now. This is the suburb of the city and it keeps growing at an exponential rate. Unfortunately, it has not yet been connected to the electrical and hydraulic network. Families in this area live in conditions similar to rural zones but men and women can find jobs in the central areas of Ouagadougou.
My collaborator quickly identifies the first family that we can interview. Today we are working on defining a “baseline” of the local population in terms of health and cooking habits. We hope to understand whether our cookstoves could be interesting for these customers and if it could bring a meaningful improvement to their life conditions.
I am glad my collaborator is here with me. His name is Hanro and he works for the organization, Entrepreneurs du Monde (EDM). He is part of the “Nafa Naana” project, specialized in selling improved cookstoves and solar lighting devices to families. This organization has been incredibly supportive since I arrived: the fact that I could rely on Hanro for my interviews is only one of the many ways “Nafa Naana” has been helpful over the last days.
Hanro is probably the best person I could have met to get things done. He has experience in interviewing households in the Ouagadougou area and has worked before in the cookstove field. He speaks fluent French and Mooré (the local language). If I had to prepare a wish list for this project in Burkina Faso, meeting somebody like him would have been the top choice.
I follow him while we approach a group of women sitting in a small yard outside a house. The women are talking and laughing but, the moment they see us, they first shut up and then start laughing again: probably they are joking about me. The only word in Mooré they say that I can understand is “Nassarà”, the “White Guy”. Hanro starts answering to their jokes and, in less than 5 minutes, we are ready to start our interview. Some of the women leave the yard and the house owner starts answering our questions.
Hanro facilitating a stove demonstration with Summer Fellow, Federico Bianchi in Burkina Faso.
While Hanro goes through our questionnaire, I walk around the yard and start looking at the house. The yard is approximately a square, 10 meters per side. Two small constructions are located at the opposite corners of the yard; each construction is 3 meters large, 4 meters long and a little less than 4 meters tall. The walls are made of mud bricks while the roof is covered with a corrugated metal sheet and more bricks. The yard is mostly empty; some plastic bottles are piled in a corner.
I hear Hanro and the woman laughing and talking, he is doing a great job completing our questionnaire. I take some time to check the fireplace. The family uses a typical 3-stone fire and cooks in the yard, apart from when it’s raining and they are forced to move inside.
We finish our questionnaire and complete all the household measurement. The family spends a little less than 1 euro a day on food and fuel. They mainly eat rice and “tô”, a local dish made with millet flour. Almost all the members of the family suffer from sicknesses related to smoke exposure.
Hanro and I stand up and thank the woman for her time. Her friends come back and start talking about the “Nassarà” again; some kids come running and smiling, shouting the same word. They want to shake my hands and then run away again.
The first day in the “Non-Loti” around Ouagadougou is over. Hanro and I go back to our motorbike and get ready to come back to the city. I already know tomorrow I will keep asking Hanro again to explore more of this amazing city.