Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Top 10 Best Business Practices in Burkina Faso

  1. Relationships are essential! You must get to know the people you work and live with or you won't be able to get anything done. SO, greet everyone every day, spend a couple hours each week catching up on the latest news, ask advice on projects you want to tackle, invite people to events you're having, and call or bring small gifts back when you travel.
  2. Hierarchy is very important in this culture. There's always an order to who you address first, who's hand you shake first, etc. I rely heavily on my community counterparts to help me navigate the intricacies of this system because one wrong move could affect my working relationships. Fortunately, you can always play the "toubabou" card and write off mistakes as culture clashes. Note: As in most of Africa, men are dominant, so sometimes it's harder for a western woman to establish herself, especially if she isn't married and doesn't have children.
  3. Right is always right! We only use our right hands to pass items, point at something, or eat. Left hands are for the bathroom and are therefore considered unclean.
  4. If I'm wearing anything less than a full-length matching outfit in a crazy pattern that would be mocked anywhere else, then I'm under-dressed (see photo). SANY0217.JPG
  5. If a meeting starts an hour late, that means it started early! Two to three hours late is on time. And remember, no matter how late you arrive or if the meeting has already started, you need to greet everyone in the room. You might throw in a handshake and a "How's the family? And the wife? And the work?" for good measure.
  6. Sitting under a tree during a hot afternoon drinking hot sugary tea from a tiny glass while chatting with men is an essential part of the day. (Women are usually busy making lunch, taking care of kids, or resting). See #1 for more info.
  7. The more cell phones you have, the more important you are. If one of your phones rings, no matter if you're in a meeting or not, you better answer. It could be important!
  8. Everyone will say "Yes, no problem!" when asked to do something, but the rate of follow-through is about 25%. Finding creative ways to motivate is all in a day's work. Working with  the women, bargaining (i.e. I'll do a computer camp for you if you help me with this girls camp), and relying on pressure from the village elders are the best ways to get a project started. If all else fails, publicly shaming the responsible party is a highly effective and culturally appropriate way to get something done.
  9. My work colleagues range in age from 10 years to 70 years old. My best friend is five.
  10. Riding my bike (with helmet!) is the only way to get around. Who needs a car or moto?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


6 new kittens chez James and Julie. They're about the size of large mice and pretty cute. Nso (the cat) doesn't seem to know what to make of these little mewing things, but she's catching on. I'm already assigning kitties to villagers and volunteers who are designated (whether they want to be or not!) as future cat owners. For example, the kitty who loves to eat is going to our friend Emily, who also shares a passion for food and dairy.