Saturday, April 9, 2011


"Un billet pour Kumasi pour demain, s'il vous plaît," I said painstakingly to the young woman at the TCV bus ticket counter in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

She shook her head. Was I wrong about the schedule? Did I screw up my French? I'd looked it up on Google Translate and written it down.

I showed her my handwritten cheat sheet of the phrase I'd just uttered.

"Finis," she said. She motioned at a roster of names and numbers. At the top? Kumasi. Ah, the bus was sold out.

Shit. This wasn't in my plan.

"Ou est la..." Ah, hell, German? Why did I take five years of German? "...autre bus pour Ghana?"

She thought a minute and then shook her head. She showed me the roster for the next bus to Ghana, leaving on Thursday.

Eep! Today was Saturday. I wanted to be on the Sunday bus. I wanted to cross into Nigeria on a Sunday, a week from today. Because I'm scared of Lagos and I figure it'll be least terrifying on a Sunday morning. Sitting in Ouagadougou from Saturday to Thursday wasn't going to work for me. I'd end up in Lagos on a weekday. Probably at rush hour.

I'd just have to go on a bus to the border, cross on foot, then find another bus south. I'd known this would be a risk, that the bus would be sold out, but I didn't think I could buy the ticket from another town. And the problem with doing the trip in legs was the wait-until-full problem. The trip would take a lot longer. Plus, I really liked TCV bus.

I backed away from the counter—I do a lot of backing away from things when wearing a large backpack—and went outside to get a taxi to the guesthouse. Regroup, that's the plan.

The taxi driver had never heard of the guesthouse but I had enough info to get us there. A French man and his half-Burkinabe little girl lived there. My room was across the hall from my bathroom, which was for sole use of the occupant of my room. Though from the training potty I spotted on the toilet later, I don't think that policy was strictly enforced. And like the last guesthouse I'd been in, the location was odd and hard to get to. And like the last guesthouse, the wi-fi was broken.

Now I was depressed. I didn't really want to go running all over town in a taxi, trying to find bus companies in the hot afternoon. I wanted to use google to find buses from the comfort of my room.

I went to the French man. He had a USB stick hooked into his desktop computer. He had internet. I tried to explain to him about my bus situation.

"Wait," he said. He led me to the PC, loaded up Google Translate, and told me to type my question.


He opened up a scrapbook he'd made, full of info on tourism in Ouagadougou. He picked up the phone and started making calls.

And that's how he learned what I already knew. There is no other reputable company going to Kumasi, Ghana.

But maybe there are some disreputable ones. That's what I was hoping he'd find by making his phone calls.

He didn't find one, but he did want to make sure I had my facts straight. He called TCV and asked about tomorrow's bus. He paused, listened, talked quickly, and got excited.

He hung up and turned to me.

"Un billet! You must hurry! Go back to TCV!"

Baffled, I agreed. The French man had to walk me out to the taxi-catching spot. I didn't have any idea where we were yet. He hailed a taxi, told me the exact fare, and sent me off.

Getting to TCV bus took forever. Ouagadougou, it turns out, has some bad traffic.

At the bus terminal, I went back to the ticket window, to the same woman I'd spoken to earlier. She had one ticket set aside, with someone else's name on it.

"It was returned," she explained.

Delighted, I paid for the ticket. Now what? I walked out of the bus terminal in the direction I thought we'd come in the taxi. I wanted to go to the supermarket that I'd seen on the way over.

I took a wrong turn and ended up in the back alleys of Ouagadougou, in the brutal afternoon sun, walking down sandy lanes full of playing children.

"Bonjour! Ca va?" The kids were delightful.

But I couldn't walk here forever. Eventually, I asked directions to Marina Market. I had to ask three separate times but I ended up where I hoped to be. I bought three yogurts and some dried mango, and caught a taxi back to the guesthouse. This time I didn't end up where I needed to be. The taxi driver and a woman in the backseat both pointed me down a dirt road.

Okay. I started walking. At the end of the block, I asked someone else, a twenty-something man in jeans standing by a motorbike. And this man escorted me to the door of the guesthouse, where the French owner had prepared a delicious meal of fresh beef and hot fondue-style dipping oil. Yum.

He asked me a question, this time through a real-live translator, a Burkina-employed French nurse who was staying at the guesthouse with her visiting father.

"How will you get to the bus terminal in the morning?" I had to be there ridiculously early.

I shrugged. I figured that as a guesthouse owner, he must have a few taxi drivers he relied on. At least, that's how it usually works.

After a short silence, the French guy laughed.

"You are too cool."

What? I wasn't being cool. It wasn't that I didn't care how I got to the bus station. I genuinely figured he had a driver he used.

"The only option is to call an airport taxi. This is much more expensive."

Oh well, fine. Call the airport taxi then.

The guesthouse owner had sorted out my bus ticket, fed me well, found me a taxi, and he even had my breakfast wrapped up and waiting for me at 5 in the morning. Suddenly, being on the outskirts of town seemed a minor inconvenience.

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