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The Houses of Tiébélé and Greed

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I soon realize all the major roads in Burkina Faso lead to the capital, Quagadougo (pronounced waga-do-go and commonly called Quaga), in kind of a star pattern. I’m moving from West to East, which means I’m on much smaller roads through little villages. My planned route has me passing close to Nazinga National Park, where there is a chance of seeing elephants. While on a half-decent road I see a sign to the park, and a local enthusiastically points me in that direction, obviously working on the assumption that all white people in 4x4s in this area are looking for the park. Good assumption.

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Tiny tracks in Burkina

I make the turn, and soon find myself on a tiny track, barely big enough for the Jeep. Sunset is quickly approaching, so I pull off and camp for the night, and am treated to one of the best sunsets yet. In the morning I continue on the track which gets smaller and smaller, and after an hour or so I decide to bail on my plan and take a fork which should lead me back to a road. Another hour later I finally ask some boys on a motorbike for directions, and after still smaller tracks, sand patches, river crossings and lots and lots of pinstripes on the Jeep, I finally pop out on the road I turned off from the afternoon before.
After all that, I didn’t see any elephants!

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Sunsets are getting better by the day. I think it’s the dust in the air

I brace myself as I drive into Tiébélé – a major tourist spot in Burkina. I know what’s coming, and am not disappointed when a man almost throws himself under the tires of the Jeep on the main street in an attempt to flag me down. He’s an official guide, he says, and I must follow him. It’s mandatory.
Sigh. Here we go.

After driving over to a compound, Bernard introduces himself, and we go through the deal. He’s a local guide, and actually lives in the compound. The local association will charge me $3USD and his guiding fee is $8, which is very expensive for this part of the world. I’m too tired to haggle much because I spent two days on nasty roads specifically to get to this place, kind of expecting all this crap.
I confirm with Bernard three separate times that I will pay $11 dollars, and not a cent more, to enter and see everything. No extra fees, nothing hidden.
Each time he wholeheartedly agrees. “Rein Plus” (nothing more).

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Overview of the whole compound

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The town is surrounded by low mountains

Bernard explains he himself has 22 children to four different wives, and I note his two large touch-screen phones that he constantly talks on. I buy the “entry” ticket for $3, and Bernard shows me around the whole compound over about 20 minutes, which is fascinating and beautiful. It’s very old and traditional and I actually forget the details thanks to what happens next.
During the tour some men come up with a big visitors ledger for me to sign, and explain the money is “For The Children”. “For Schoolbooks and things”. Oh, how nice.
I sign and pay the extra $8, and all is said and done.

Nearby at the Jeep I say a big thanks to Bernard and am just about to eat some food when he asks for his money.
But I gave that money to the men with the ledger, I say.
Oh, that money was a donation “For The Children”.
It was not his guiding fee. I misunderstood.

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One of the many, many kids running around the compound

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The pots look 1000 years old

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Inside a hut, the place to grind flour by hand

OK, no problem, I say, we will get that money back, and I will give it to him. He protests that it’s not possible to get the money back, though it’s extremely obvious he wants his guiding fee, and he wants it now. Anything less will not do.

Bernard races off and eventually brings back the two men with the big ledger and explains the situation to them. Things get heated very, very fast, and Bernard is first yelling angrily at them, then at me. I’m doing all this in French, and quickly I’m yelling back too, totally out of character for me. Eventually I explain that this is a lot of money for me, and Bernard assured me on three separate occasions that I would pay $11 and not a cent more, so that’s what I want to stick to.

All of them simply stare at me and say “But it’s for The Children”. “For schoolbooks and things”. “For The Children”.

It occurs to me Bernard is earning $8USD for about 20 minutes of work, or around $24USD/hour – a HUGE sum of money in this part of the world, and in fact a lot more than many people earn in the US per hour.
I usually don’t bite, though this time I’m tired and sick of this BS that has been happening for months, so I do. I tell Bernard I can not personally afford to have two children, let alone 22. I also tell him my $20 phone cost at least ten times less than either of his, and it’s not my job to give him money to support all of his habits. If he doesn’t have enough money for 22 children, he should have less children, not corner people like me into giving him money after we have agreed on a price.

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The designs have meaning for the family

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Croc close up

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The crocodile and snake have special meaning

Bernard readily agrees he told me three times I would not pay more than $11. Then immediately again asks for more money – “For The Children”. We go around and around like this for at least ten minutes, each time with me getting Bernard and the guys everyone to agree I am not going to pay more, then them immediately asking for more “For The Children”. It’s maddening beyond words. They agree with me, then ask for more. I explain I can’t, and Bernard said I wouldn’t pay more, they agree, then ask for more. Round and round, agree and ask, round and round.

I really hate these scenarios, and they make me feel crap, so I finally agree to donate $3 “For The Children”, and the other money ($8) goes to Bernard.
I really just want this to be over.
I want to leave.
This really sucks.

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Artwork on the compound

After I hand over the money, and Bernard snatches his $8 from the men with the ledger, everyone nods and agrees when I say I was told I would only pay $11, and that I have now paid $14, and that this is not a good thing, and that it’s not right to pay more than I agreed to pay. It’s obvious I am angry and upset about this situation.

Yes, they say. It is not right.
“Give us more”. “For The Children”.

Now I’m completely fed up, shake hands all round, say thanks and turn to leave.
I can’t take this anymore. I need to leave – Now.

Just then Bernard says “Give me a present” and I spin around expecting a smile, thinking he is joking because of all the tension and raised voices.
No, he is completely serious.

After all the yelling and bad feelings and after him agreeing multiple times that I have already paid more than we agreed I would – after all of that – he STILL has the nerve to ask for a gift.

The man has 22 children, two large touch screen phones, and makes more money per hour than lots of people in the US, and here he is looking me in the face asking for a gift. “A pen or something”, he says.

Now I’m really close to losing it, so I get in the Jeep and drive away without another word.

I can not recommend a visit to Tiébélé. It’s not worth it.
I’m trying hard not to let this cloud my thoughts about people from Burkina Faso as a whole, who have been amazing, other than this one place. I have really enjoyed Burkina and highly recommend a visit.

This experience is very similar to those I have had since my first day in Morocco, though I have had a very hard time writing about them. It’s difficult to explain the tension and stress some people put me under, constantly hounding me to give more. It has not been bad in Burkina at all, I think I just finally hit my limit and so I am writing about it now.

Something is very, very wrong on this continent, and it’s taking me a long time to get to the bottom of it. Generations of white people giving things for free has had a very detrimental impact, and now in many places people hell out “White man, give me something”, as a greeting. It is funny for a while, but gets old very, very fast.

-Dan

NOTE 1: I bumped into another traveller soon after, who had an identical experience to mine, and also hates the place. What a shame.

NOTE 2: All prices were in the local currency of West African Francs (CFA), I converted it all to dollars to make it easier to read.

20 Responses

  1. Kelly Rosenberger says:

    Sorry for the bad experience. I feel bad that I recommended it to you. I went twice, but I had an interpetor and did not have same experience. It’s a tourist trap, but stand your ground. I hope you have better luck. I’m just really firm and it seemed to work. They will try to push you to the line. They are about bargaining and you stand your ground or just leave.

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hey Kelly,

      No worries, it’s not your fault at all!
      Also, this kind of thing has happened 50+ times to me now, this is just the first time I have found the words to write about it. It’s one of the things that really exhausting me on the road right now.

      -Dan

  2. gary says:

    Wondering: How often do you feel your safety is in Jeopardy? Are you ever nervous someone will jack your Jeep at gunpoint?

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hi Gary,

      I have never once felt like my safety is threatened. I am careful not to wander around in the dark alone, though I have done that more than once and felt safer than I do in big cities in North America.
      Absolutely not am I nervous of someone taking the Jeep at gunpoint. Guns are hard to get here, and even if someone stole it, what would they do with it? getting local plates is a pain, and they would be stopped in a heartbeat at the hundreds of checkpoints if they were seen driving a foreign car.
      Africa is not like what the movies have told you.

      -Dan

  3. james says:

    This is exhausting, I agree, but from my own experience is part and parcel of West African travel. The tourist places are obviously the worst. I found Dogon country up in Mali very bad – very aggressive gangs of children constantly demanding things. The negative side of tourism, I suppose. In Tiebele we camped at Auberge Kunkulo and had the manager find us a guide, as the place is overrun with “guides”. Herman our guide was great and we had a good experience visiting old Tiebele. The camp was deserted and in the evening a couple of children sneaked up and asked if they could put on a play for us. I guess half the village turned up to watch and it was a wonderful insight into Burkina Faso rural life. And there were no demands for any payment. This was the flip-side of those aggravating moments you describe in your report and a reminder of the rewards of travel. I assume you’ll head to Ghana next, where I think you’ll find the people very chilled. We found a nice place down on the coast and took a few days off the trail. You’ve certainly earned the break!! Safe travels.

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hi James,

      You are absolutely right, there are some bad apples, but on the whole, the experiences here are amazing and life changing!
      On wards to new adventures (and countries!)
      -Dan

  4. Ryan Tittsworth says:

    Dan,

    I’ve been following your story since I first read about it on JK Forum, when you blew that diesel. I’ve enjoyed reading every post, including this one. Every vacation doesn’t go as planned. Be it a weekend trip or extended travel there’s always mishaps. People aren’t just following a journey, they’re following YOU. And every now and then it’s nice to read a post like this, the human side. I certainly hope for better outcomes in your future travels. Anyways, keep your head up man and remember, a bad time is always a little less bad when you’re driving a Jeep.

    Ryan

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hey Ryan,

      Thanks for the thoughts and input, I really appreciate it! Cool to hear you have been following along!
      You are absolutely right, there are ups and downs to everything in life, and when I’m not tired I usually do well to look on the bright side.

      Funny you should mention about the Jeep – I have bumped into a few people driving Land Cruisers or Land Rovers and they always ask “Why the Jeep”, why I reply “Because you gotta look cool doing it” they stand opened mouthed, and then mumble some reply before dropping the subject.

      :) :) :)

      -Dan

  5. Miles says:

    “Because you gotta look cool doing it” I’m borrowing that… My J30 gets installed in 2 weeks, so it’ll come in handy this summer I’m sure.

    Did you experience this in Central or South America at all? I’ve heard that Nicaragua has a bit of this vibe ND I’ve had a few odd bait-and+switch moments in Mexico and Thailand where the price changed last minute… But never got heated.

    I really appreciate the honesty in this post and your willingness to be vulnerable and share.

    You are a great storyteller!

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hey Miles,

      Thanks for the great feedback! I am trying to be honest and tell the truth about my day-to-day.
      It’s the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and some days are ally tough.
      All in all though, it’s also the most rewarding and amazing experience of my life.

      Awesome news on the J30, you are going to love it!

      -Dan

  6. Jonchar says:

    Hi Dan,

    I been religiously following every single post this far. Gotta hand it to you and your guts to continue to hold fast on your $11 despite being in a sticky situation and in a totally foreign place. Please stay safe as that is the priority and should you feel threatened in any way, best to give a little more and move on.

    Take care and till your next post!

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hi Jonchar,

      Oh, I agree with you 100%, though in this case I did not feel threatened or unsafe even the tiniest bit.
      Staying safe is priority number 1!

      -Dan

  7. Dan says:

    Hey Dan, I’m glad the jeep is working good for you! I love coming on here to read the latest. This is as close as I’ll ever get to such a raw African adventure. Don’t let those money hungery buggers get to ya. I would like to pay for a tank of fuel for your jeep. Is there a way to do that?

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hey Dan,

      Thanks for the kind words!
      Wow, that is extremely generous of you. Right now there is no great way to do that… I will eventually be releasing a new book, about my Alaska-Argentina drive. Maybe if you are interested you can buy that :)

      Thanks again, I really appreciate it!

      -Dan

  8. Dustin O says:

    Hi Dan,

    I am enjoying reading about your adventures through Africa. I was curious how much of this behavior you were going to encounter while travelling through West Africa. I personally lived in the region for about 9 months including Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. This behavior I found was horrible to the point where I refused to visit any location that was intended for tourism. Even marketplaces with local art crafts I often found myself swarmed with children looking for handouts, and begging adults. Outside of the tourist traps was much less apparent, so I stuck to the locals areas.

    I completely feel for your experience, as the individuals can become quite aggressive, and make you feel totally uncomfortable, even to the point where you regret giving anything to them whatsoever. I hope this behavior does not ruin your time in Africa, I fell in love with the continent, and learned that is only one side of it, you will learn during your travels to turn off your sympathy, (I know it sounds horrible), but you would go broke giving to every person looking for a handout from the white tourist.

    I look forward to following your adventure!!

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hi Dustin,

      Thanks very much for the thoughtful comment – you make me feel a little more sane (sometimes I worry I am the problem!)

      I fell in love with the continent, and learned that is only one side of it, you will learn during your travels to turn off your sympathy, (I know it sounds horrible), but you would go broke giving to every person looking for a handout from the white tourist.

      Wow, I could not have said it better myself, and I have been thinking about it for almost a year now!!

      Thanks again, I hope you will return to this beautiful place one day – I still think the positives far outweigh the negatives.

      -Dan

  9. Oskar Wojciechowski says:

    Hey Dan, just found your blog and I just wanted to say that you have an awesome build, and I wish I was more mechanically inclined so that i could do some of this stuff by myself! Im trying to build a platform where the rear seats are in my JKU so i could sleep in the car and have some space for storage, and im pretty sure that will be as big of an adventure as yours lol! all the best from Salt Lake City!

  1. April 23, 2017

    […] had more than I can handle. Read more about one of the major downsides to travel in West Africa: http://theroadchoseme.com/tiebele-and-greed On that note, it's time for another country! -Dan Around Africa in a Jeep Wrangler JK @ […]

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