Water and Culture
by Anne Hong, Bassan, Burkina Faso
When visitors arrive in someone's house, they are immediately offered a place to sit down and a cup of water to drink. These two actions are considered the most basic to polite behavior.
Women in Bassan help each other pump water. Those who are younger or stronger will help the elderly or infirm. And every time I show up, someone tries to pump water for me. The villagers will not allow anyone to struggle alone. Pumping water is a cooperative effort
In Bassan, the women are often amused by me. Most have very little understanding of the work I do here. They find my habits strange, and the fact that I don't speak their language except for the most basic of phrases makes me even more of a mystery. But my need for water and my willingness to pump it myself makes me seem a little less strange. When we are helping each other at the pump, I'm helping them to live their lives as they are helping me to live mine.
by Jenelle Norin, Safane, Burkina Faso
One day, I was cooking dinner, spaghetti. As I was draining the hot boiling water, I heard a loud noise. My neighbor, Tene, was running toward me, yelling, "No! No! Don't do that!" in the local language, Dafing. Since I don't understand Dafing very well, I continued draining my pasta. But when Tene came near me, she grabbed the pot out of my hands and then dumped a bucket of water over the spot where I had just drained the boiling water. "Hey! Stop wasting water!" I thought but I didn't know how to say that in Dafing. I gave her a look that said, "Hey! What's your problem?" Tene explained in broken French and Dafing that by draining my spaghetti water on the soil, I was burning the ancestors, a serious offense. Oops! Tene then showed me how to dispose of boiling water. I had to wait until it cooled to dump it, or if I couldn't, dilute it with cold water as I dump it. From them on, I didn't dump boiling water. After all, I don't want to offend the ancestors.
by Shana Miller, Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
In Burkina Faso, it is customary to offer a cup of water to visitors. The first time my neighbor Fanta visited me, I forgot to offer her water. As we talked, she kept saying, "It's so hot!" Finally, she asked, " Can I have a drink of water?" I realized then that I had forgotten the custom, and that she had been trying to politely remind me.
by Bruce Karhoff, Loumbri, Burkina Faso
Islam is the most prominent religion in Burkina. One of its five pillars, or tenets, is that Muslims must pray five times daily. Before these prayers, Muslims must wash their faces, hands, and feet.
by Jonathan Coleman, Pensa, Burkina Faso
In my village, Pensa, which lies on the southern tip of the Sahara, we offer water to all visitors, strangers, foreigners, and elders. While this is partially because water is symbolic of life, it is also due to the fact that water is a precious commodity.
Giving water is an ancient tradition, a sign that you respect and care for people even though you might not know them and have never met before. This also makes water a symbol of friendship and hospitality. So much can be said by offering a calabash bowl of water!
Because I'm new in Pensa, I have many visitors. Everyone wants to meet the Nassara (white person or foreigner) and see what he looks like. Although my French isn't perfect and I don't speak Moore (the local language of the Mossi people in Burkina Faso), I offer each visitor water that is safe to drink. The villagers are learning that I will always welcome them into my home and that I wish to learn their language. All that information, all those messages of friendship and interest and cooperation…all inspired by a cup of water.