methow grist 2011-2014 archive
  Ouagadougou, West Africa
An excerpt from Bill Hottell's unpublished memoir
Sunset over the mosque in Ouagadougou along the upper Volta.

When we arrived in Ouagadougou (pronounced Wah gah doo goo) I never would have guessed that this ragged town was the capital city of a country, Upper Volta, nor that I would soon have a life-altering experience.

Garbage and vultures in the streets of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, a land-locked country in west Africa.

Most of the streets in Ouagadougou were unpaved and dirt. There were head-high piles of garbage right in the streets where black vultures were picking through the trash and garbage. Rows of vultures also lined the tops of buildings. In an unguarded moment I was standing beside a building when a roof-top vulture defecated and a gob of feces landed right on top of my hat. That was a wake-up call to be alert at all times to the perils of adventure traveling.

As I was walking down the dirt street through a gauntlet of buzzards I suddenly spotted a large tree covered with bright orange tropical flowers. A mild shock ran through my entire nervous system as I stopped dead in my tracks.

For three months in the Sahara I had seen only one color, the yellow-tan of desert sand. Three months of almost no color. I had been deprived of bright colors for three months. Now all of a sudden the dazzling orange of the blossoms tinged with yellow struck me with such a blow I just stood there in disbelief. It was as if I were seeing COLOR for the first time. I stared long and hungrily at the tropical blossoms. The richness of the yellow-orange flowers burned itself into my mind so intensely that I have never been the same since.

Mosques in Burkina Faso are made of timber-reinforced mud, typical of other mosques of West Africa.

From that moment I have looked at color in a different way. My visual sense was permanently effected. Sometimes now my skin has actually tingled with excitement when I look upon a pink rhododendron blossom or a lavender cosmos bloom. My heart has actually pounded faster when I’ve looked upon a scarlet red geranium or a sky blue lobelia.

That unexpected sight, the huge tree of orange blossoms, was one of the greatest gifts from the god of travel. That was a life-altering moment strolling down the dirt street in Ouagadougou on the edge of the Sahara Desert. I have never seen color in the same way since.

Autumn 1982