Nowadays, travelling within the Sahel region of Burkina Faso isn’t a pleasant task. The journey has been so long. The risks of being arrested by armed groups are so high and the chances to be rescued on time are closed to zero. I got used to those so-called red zone roads that my confidence level increased naturally. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t stressed. Inside the car, I was trying to find a comfortable position that will enable me to enjoy the view. I have to say it again ‘’the landscape in the Sahel region is simply wonderful’’.
My friends, travelling with me, were so quiet. I can see the anxiety on their faces. Every time we had eye contact, I will smile and say: look at these features of the landscape, it’s so beautiful and unique. Unfortunately, it doesn’t excite anyone. They will just silently look away and remain calm.
This road trip inside the Sahel was very particular. Why? I got to see the ‘’Barkhane Forces’’ and the G5 Sahel coordination coming back from their missions in the region. It was a very long escort. I saw every kind of giant “war machines” I have never seen in my life. Also for the first time, I was personally seeing some of the armed groups. I saw in the back of one of the escort’ pick up, two guys that were captured and their eyes were tied with black tissue. I was amazed to see that. I remained speechless. I got emotionally shaken up by what I just saw. These are things we used to hear about on the radio, and that day, I was there in the Sahel, witnessing that it is real. Some of the French soldiers were smiling and waving at us. My friends and I were timidly waving back. My friends were petrified. I, my eyes were wide open… my mouth too. Lol! I looked at the escorts until they disappear in the dust.
My friends asked if I was scared. I replied “No”. And honestly, I wasn’t scared. I told them that in another life, I would like to be a Soldier. The danger is real and present, we can even feel it. The roads were empty. We drove more than 40 km going toward the northern part and nobody could be seen. The villages around were empty, only a few inhabitants could be seen from time to time. The road was bad and sandy, giving the driver a hard time. Fortunately, our driver was skilled and was used to driving in such a complex and risky road. I knew our lives were at risk, but I was telling myself that this is not the appropriate moment to have such thoughts in my mind. I believed my faith is what’s driving me. I surrender all to the Almighty and I continually kept telling myself that everything is going to be alright. Also, as an African, I deeply believe that the spirits of our lovely ancestors are with us and they guide us throughout our journey.
After long hours of driving, we finally reached Oursi. A small village constructed around a huge Lake. The village is mainly occupied by the Songhai, a group of Fulani people. They all speak one language, the “Songhai” and are living from agriculture and animal husbandry. Some of them developed fishing activities as the lake is accessible.
Oursi is a tiny village. I didn’t know about the village before, nor heard about it. Today, the village is quite empty. From what I heard from the local dwellers, many left their houses for more secured villages around. At Oursi, the nights were so cold and so long. Days were so hot and so long too. However, Oursi is home for thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled threats, conflicts, and insecurity in their villages. They live in very harsh conditions as they lack all the basic needs. Currently, they share basic resources such as water, food, and land making the resources more scarce than ever before. Humanitarian assistance in Oursi is more than ever, vital and essential for the survival of thousands and thousands of IDPs in the village. This got me thinking a lot. I’ve been feeling emotionally embarrassed by all these events. Simply because I felt powerless. How I wish I can do more than what I am supposed to do.
I had to adapt to my new environment. People from the Sahel regions are so kind and welcoming. They provided us with everything we need: water, food, shelter, translators, kindness, respect, and, consideration. I got the opportunity to see “sand dunes”. It was wonderful!
After our journey in Oursi, we were supposed to travel in another small village, 17 Km farther, called Tin Ediar. It is a Touareg village. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make that trip due to security issues. I badly wished to make that trip.
We spent approximately two weeks in Oursi. There was no internet, no communication network, no clean water, no decent housing, and the list is still long. However, people there are used to this kind of lifestyle. They are happy and quite satisfied, all they seek is good health and peace.
Every Sunday, it is lively and noisy in Oursi. It is the market day where people come from all over the neighbourhood to sell and buy goods. It is very different from regular days. It is colourful and very busy. Items we can’t find every day, are found during the market day. I was surprised about the diversity. People in that area use donkeys, camels and old model cars as a mean of transportation.
I turned 25 the same week and I was super grateful to spend it in what is for me the most beautiful place on earth. Yes! Life is good in the Sahel Region. I was sad because I wished I could spend time with my family and friends… Last year has been very hectic and we are still going through a lot right now. But I believe we have a lot to be thankful for instead of being dramatic about things that went wrong in our lives. Today, I think being alive, healthy, and motivated is more than an accomplishment. When I see people who lack everything but still find the courage and enthusiasm to live and enjoy their simple lives without complaining daily like the way we do, I simply feel ashamed. Honestly, those repeated trips into vulnerable communities have made me more humble as a person and, I am working on myself, to be less demanding in terms of comfort and easy life. I’m ready to give myself more to serve our community. We are one, and we can all undertake simple and meaningful actions to positively impact lives.
I have to shorten my trip due to personal reasons. During our journey in Oursi, I travelled to another small town to handle a matter. Another driver was sent to pick me up. I was amazed by the skills and courage of that driver. We had approximately the same age. When he came to pick me up, he told me he was told that some armed groups were spotted on that road earlier that day. As he was talking to me, I was telling him that he wasn’t supposed to tell me those things because right now, it is not appropriate. He was amused and told me that it is going to be alright. I became confident and relaxed.
Three days after our round trip with that driver, a friend called and told us that the same driver has been arrested by the armed groups when he was travelling for business in another town. We met earlier that same day. Luckily the armed groups did not harm him, they only took his car and released him. We thanked God for his life, but we are now anxious since we have to travel back home through those roads.