Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (wtf?)


Today’s Pontificate –  The title above is actually a place on this planet.  Just when you thought you knew all there is to know in life, something like this pops up to humble one’s self.


Gort and Klaatu

At first glance I was reminded of the sci-fi movie, “The Day The Earth Stood Still” (the 1951 version with Michael Rennie).  A popular trivia question with classic sci-fi fanatics is quoting what Rennie’s alien character, Klaatu, commands to the robot, Gort, to not destroy Earth…  “KLAATU BARADA NIKTO”.

About six years ago was the first time I saw the title of this post  on CNN.  There was a graphic showing what looked like an outline of a country and a blurb about recent civil unrest there.  I turned to my girlfriend and spouted, “Where the hell is THAT place??”

Now, for a basically educated guy like myself who likes to think at this age in life he has a fair grasp on the world around him… well, this was a loud reality check.  Just proves you are never too old to learn something new and you damn well don’t know as much as you think you do.  I tend to pride myself on a better-than-average grasp of history and geography so when this country (and its capitol city) popped on the TV I was certainly humbled.

Print is dead?

Thank God for the internet!  I recall many years ago as I was looking toward my future I thought about what that encyclopedia salesman said to me, “This is the perfect tool to purchase now that will last well past your children getting married.”  Yep.  My kids would have a great resource for reference and each year I’d get the big yearbook so as to keep the entire set up to date with current information.  It was well worth the $495 (with easy-to-make payments, of course).  That was about 1973.  I had my first kid in 1989.  By time he was early elementary school age the internet was booming.  I think that encyclopedia set ended up in a box in the basement that ultimately became a victim of one of the Chicago metro area summer rainfall basement sewer backups.  Anyway, I did immediately jump on the net to read up on this place, mumbling to myself about how this got by me.  Well, it turns out that Burkina Faso is an African nation.  Obviously the only explanation for my ignorance was that I knew this place under another name.  African nations are always name changing so I felt somewhat comforted that I did in fact know of this place… at some other point in my life and political world history.

It’s in Africa!

As it turns out, Burkina Faso used to be called The Republic of Upper Volta, a name which describes more the geographical location.. the upper portion of the Volta River… back during the French colonial days.  After independence from the French in 1960 the country, in typical African nation fashion, had a number of military coups.  Here’s what Wiki says…

Formerly called the Republic of Upper Volta, the country was renamed “Burkina Faso” on 4 August 1984 by then-President Thomas Sankara, using a word from each of the country’s two major native languages, Mòoré and Dioula.Burkina, from Mòoré, may be translated as “men of integrity”, while Faso means “fatherland” in Dioula. “Burkina Faso” is understood as “Land of upright people” or “Land of honest people”. Residents of Burkina Faso are known as Burkinabè (/bərˈknəb/ bər-kee-nə-bay). French is an official language of government and business in the country.

In straining my memory back to my early school years I recall seeing maps showing a number of those west African nations belonging to French West Africa.  This would have included the Volta region.  Again, Wiki says…

French West Africa (FrenchAfrique occidentale française, AOF) was a federation of eight French colonialterritories in AfricaMauritaniaSenegalFrench Sudan (now Mali), French GuineaCôte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast),Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Dahomey (now Benin) and Niger. The capital of the federation was Dakar. The federation existed from 1895 until 1960.

Bottom line, we all know that public education tends to lag real world by about ten years or so.  So a young child in school in the late 1950’s may have encountered maps from varying historical times in school (old drop down classroom maps, etc.) and the local libraries.  In any event, learning specifics about Africa was not all that important in those days likely because many were European colonies.  It was literally The Dark Continent for more reasons than one.  Europe and Asia were the primary focus.   I don’t feel SO badly now reading those familiar OLD names in the Wiki brief above.

An important lesson to all this… sometimes what we learn in school and even in college does have an expiration date.  Things don’t stay static.. other than maybe math.  Geography can change, climate can change, political geography, borders, always change, and so do names of countries.  Science can change, of course technology is constantly changing.  Life evolves constantly as we get older, and the things we used to hold value on regarding our knowledge may not necessarily hold true forever.  That old set of Encyclopedia Britannica had year books to update content and keep value of the set… if you bothered to read it, of course.  We now have the internet… but what the internet does not have, as the encyclopedia had, is the ability to tell us what’s changed in the world in the last year.  With the internet we have to be specific and ask, and the impossibility is we can’t ask about it all.  Although there are some sites, a couple under their old encyclopedia names, that do have a kind of year book reference for each year.  But no one has the time or focused brain capacity to digest all that in a single sitting.  In the end, education, no matter what formal it is or what subject, is only relevant to the times it was taught.  The secret is to keep at least one area of interest and focus on staying up to date.  Your past education retains some value.. and continues through life.  YOU become the year book to what’s around you.

Now I have to figure out how to pronounce the city of Ouagadougou.  History suggests we may have to send troops there someday for some reason or another.

Oh, by the way, the nice scene at the top is a location in Burkina Faso.  Pretty place.

Now What?



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