There is a remarkable absence of barriers between you and anything you come across. The hypnotic, breathtaking dances and frantic contortions of a mask festival, for example, are not put on for the benefit of visitors – they exist for the village, and the ancestors.
We arrived in Burkina Faso with enough French to order a sandwich but not much else, and somehow found a place to stay within three days. Within no time, we made friends with some guys from the area – which was at one time legendary for its skilled horseback riders (Burkina Faso is obsessed with stallions) – who helped us spruce the place up, devour delicious grilled garlic chicken, and swing tea with hot coals at full arm’s length in the empty living room.
But the best was yet to come. Living in the capital Ouagadougou (Ouaga) was a wonderworld of open-air cinema, live music in late-night bars and the thrill of pleasanterie – teasing banter that makes immediate friends of strangers. Leaving the capital took us deep into the unknown – tracking lions in the east, watching bronzemakers and leatherworkers at work in the central belt, and disappearing into thousand-year-old ruins in the far northern sands of Bani, where blues guitar mingled with the starry night. The lush green habitat of elephants and brightly painted, booby-trapped homes in the south was the final revelation.
And then of course there were the festivals in this richly cultured country, which seemed to take place every other week. Highlights included watching synchronised equine dancing in the northeastern land of historic warrior horsemen, and walking down the red carpet to Africa’s premier film gala, flush with having learned the French for 35mm film (pelicule).