I was transferred to West Africa in November 1982 and we had a short layover in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (old Upper Volta) so Larry Jr. and I went into the airport to check it out. Neither of us spoke French (local language) and while we were in the airport it became very tense with soldiers carrying AK-47s all over the place. I decided it was time to board the plane and the soldiers stopped us from leaving. Oh, Oh! It got a little intense, but finally we boarded the plane for Abidjan and flew out of there. I think Gerry was happy to see us since they were preparing to take off without us. Welcome to Africa.
We learned later that they had a coup that night and everyone was nervous. Thankfully, we were able to depart before it became really dangerous.
The 1982 Upper Voltan coup d'état took place in the Republic of Upper Volta (today Burkina Faso)
on 7 November 1982. The coup, led by the little-known Colonel Gabriel
Yoryan Somé and a slew of other junior officers within the military, many of them political radicals, overthrew the regime of Colonel Save Zerbo. Zerbo had previously taken power just under two years prior to his own downfall.
That was my first time in Ouagadougou and I traveled there a number of times after that. It was an interesting place to visit but the poverty was unbelievable and the heat unbearable. All in all, they had a coup about 4 times around the time I had to work there. Of course, some of the coups were just means to get rid of anyone who may have threatened the leaders. Dead enemies are much easier to control.
Well, they had another coup in Burkina Faso a day or so ago and it brought back some memories of the place. I remember one trip when they had a 10pm curefew and they announced it by firing a machine gun down the road. They did take their curfews seriously.
On another visit I ran into Yassar Arafat at the hotel where he and I were staying. Of course, he didn't remember me, but I do remember he had a lot of bodyguards around him who looked ready to shoot on a moments notice. I didn't test them. I moved on from Burkina Faso to Niamey and who did I run into there, but the same Yassar Arafat. His guards did remember me and gave me the evil eye.
The best restaurant in town, Restaurant l'Eau Vive (or Water of Life) was run by Nuns and you had to stand for the blessing before the meal was served. In typical French fashion, the restaurant didn't open until 8PM and I was the first person there. After the meal the nuns sang a couple versions of Ave Maria and it was quite a memorable experience. An added bonus was the real cold beer served during and after meal.
Flying into Ouagadougou was an interesting experience since you would expect more out of the capital of a country in the way of building and infrastructure. This is what it looked like as you landed at the airport on the edge of the city.
It was one of the hottest places I've ever traveled and it was almost impossible to drink enough water to keep hydrated. Temps exceeding 117 F were the norm on my trips there and I don't think I could have survived without a/c. The locals didn't have a/c and surely were a hardy group. My hat is off to them for living and working in a climate like that.
There wasn't a lot to see there, so it was usually a trip during the week and back home on the weekend. They did fabricate some nice statues out of bronze and other metals. I took a liking to them and brought back a couple each trip and wound up with 5-6 of them. Thank God for diplomatic passports at the customs office in Abidjan.
Bronze statues video ( Burkina Faso)
That was my experience in Burkina Faso and for the most part I loved it. Maybe it is what prepared me for the desert out here in the Southwest, USA.