Burkina Faso: A Lesson in African Philosophy; Kate Eshelby, an Experienced Western Traveller in Africa, Was Bowled over by the Lessons in African Philosophy That the So-Called Poor Pastoralists in Northern Burkina Faso Taught Her

Article excerpt

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I hugged Daouda goodbye at the airport. "Why are you crying?' he asked. "I am not dead. We will meet again," he said, a statement which tells so much of the African philosophy.

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Daouda was my translator for one month, we became extremely close and shared a lot during that time. In the course of my numerous trips to Africa, I have frequently noticed their positive view on life. Whatever hurdles are put before them, Africans always believe the future will be better and strive forwards. Hope is an integral part of their culture, after all tomorrow is another day.

I worked with Daouda while photographing the numerous groups of pastoralists in the north of Burkina Faso, an arid, landlocked country in West Africa. The scenery is stupefyingly beautiful, ranging from miles of blooming white cotton fields to endless expanses of desert.

This part of Africa was frequently in the news last year, because of the severe drought and locust invasion that ravaged both crops and grassland. Certainly press coverage of the aftermath of suffering was essential, but why are the positive stories of Africa, and there are many, never covered?

"The last rains were good. I am confident about the future," Issa says. Dressed in an embroidered boubou and vibrant yellow plastic shoes, Issa is from the Bella ethnic group. Last year, before the rains finally came, he lost at least 100 cows, a devastating blow to someone whose life revolves around his cattle.

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Following behind him, Daouda and I took Issa's surviving cows through the soft sands, to the closest watering hole. Backed by sand dunes, the water stretched out, covered in water lilies. I have never seen such big, healthy cows with shining hide and towering curved horns.

The majority of people living in the Sahel of North Burkina Faso are pastoralists. There has been hardship but for now they are on the path of recovery, rebuilding their herds. The arrival of the much-needed rains mean the grass has grown for the animals to feed on. The pastoralists now have hope for a promising year ahead. Pastoralism is a way of life suited to this environment, carried out and developed for thousands of years.

Like our attraction to bad press, Westerners also dwell on the aid we give to Africa. If we are, however, lucky enough to visit Africa, it offers us as individuals, an enormous amount--and what it gives lasts forever--which is more than can be said for many development projects (but that's another story!).

The generosity and warmth shown to me in Burkina Faso was a lesson in humanity, we have lost this in many parts of the West. Sharing is part of the African tradition--one Burkinabe proverb says: "If there is enough for two, then there is enough for three." I saw countless examples of this.

I was invited to stay in the homes of those I met. People ask whether I am afraid, a blonde female alone in Africa. I would be more scared on my own in a European city than the deserts of Burkina Faso.

I know that while I stay with any Burkinabe community, they have a strong sense of duty to protect me. Receiving guests, and offering hospitality, marks their culture. As I left one desert village, Guingani, the traditional doctor gave me a chicken. This gift touched me: I had spent only a short time in his village and yet a man who does not have a lot, chose to share whatever he had with me, his visitor. …