Of chickens and caterpillars - and the incredible hospitality of Burkinabe people

October 2016.
Three people, one car, and a long day ahead. For the first time of my fellowship here, I will be out of Ouagadougou, for the first time I will be meeting borrowers’ groups. And no less than 4 are scheduled today! I feel so excited to finally be out there meeting Kiva’s and Microstart’s borrowers!

First borrowers' visit out in the field!

Fast forward… October 2016, at the end of a very long day. Three people. One car. 3 chickens.

MY chickens.

Because I’m Nassara (the local word for “white person”), because I’m the foreigner visiting the village, because it’s what you do here.

Tradition of hospitality is strong here. Wherever you go, people first give you water. They will get it from the well or buy it for you, – anyway they can, they’ll get you water. Before you introduce yourself, you get water. After all, Burkina Faso is so close to the desert, and water is life here. So you get water.

And then, you’re a guest. And if you were staying the night, they’d kill a chicken for you. Since I wasn’t staying the night… I got take-away chicken. 3 of them. Alive and kicking – as much as their restraint allowed them to.

How did I get chickens before I could even say no? My colleague was busy buying chickens for her son – so seeing chicken tied up was perfectly reasonable. Until the group presented a chicken and said I would make my own chicken soup with it. Me? A chicken soup with this lovely chicken there? I was so stunned that I just uttered “Barka”, local word for thanks. Second chicken, second barka, and the matter was done.

How can I explain the level of discomfort I felt there and then? I had all those thoughts going through my mind: why didn’t I say no? Could I even have said no without offending anyone (answer is: no). Why would they give me a chicken that they need a lot more than I do? Why are they all so generous? OMG will I really have to kill a chicken?

The matter got even worse at another group’s visit, when we opened the trunk to avoid chicken’s suffocation. You would think that seeing those chickens, people would get that I was all set for dinner – but not, it gave them the same idea!

Latest news? One chicken got cooked the same day. 2 chickens are alive and kicking and waking me up every day at 4:30am. I’ve warned them – they should stop waking me up or they’ll be cooked soon as well. As of now, I curse them every morning but can’t sum up the courage to send them to their death.

I'm bringing back my chicken at home... local style!

You would think this is a once-in-a-lifetime story? Not in Burkina Faso! Since then, I got an enormous 5-kg bag of peanuts and another one of sesame seeds. All this from people who got loans to buy said chickens, peanut and sesame seeds.

Even my colleagues are incredibly warm and hospitable! Last time I brought back lunch for my 3 colleagues at my field partner ACFIME.
What a cultural mistake! I made them ashamed that I was the guest and they should treat me, not the other way around. So the next day, they prepared a huge meal of caterpillars for me – a very expensive and tasty local delicacy!

Amazing dish of caterpillar soup - it was surprisingly good!

My guidebook says that Burkinabe people are really incredibly welcoming and kind, and I can’t help agreeing with that. There are my lovely colleagues welcoming me into their homes. There’s the lady who always put one more meat skewer than what I paid for. The company driver who is buying me lunch. The smiles of people at the market. The young guy at the bakery spending so much time finding the perfect baguette for me. The teenager who taught me how to ride a motorbike. My colleague coming to visit me at home when I’m sick with malaria. Everyone is trying so hard to make my stay unforgettable – and you know what? It’s working!

Burkina Faso ranked 183 out of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index in 2014. Microstart and ACFIME are two microfinance organisations that are working here every day to provide more opportunities for borrowers. Follow the link here and discover how to support a Burkinabe borrower !

About the author

Florence Lepelletier

Florence grew up in Lyon, France and trained as an engineer. She spent 8 years specializing in supply chain and logistics, helping companies improve their operational processes and later managing operations in warehousing. A first job in Singapore led her to visit Southeast Asia and revealed her passion for travelling, from the Chilean deserts to the jungle of Borneo. Discovering the world outside of her home country also fueled her growing interest for social impact. She spent 2 months volunteering in Bangladesh in 2012 where she discovered microcredit. Last year, she pursued her MBA at INSEAD, graduating in 2016, to gain a broader perspective and expand her knowledge of strategy and finance. In her free time, she loves snowboarding and kitesurfing.