African times: Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

The street stalls' guinea fowl with alloco is fresh. But the aroma is not
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The Independent Online

With stalls offering delicacies from goats' testicles to aphrodisiac fruit juices, the 6th arrondissement of Ouagadougou prides itself on its status as the street-food capital of Burkina Faso.

With stalls offering delicacies from goats' testicles to aphrodisiac fruit juices, the 6th arrondissement of Ouagadougou prides itself on its status as the street-food capital of Burkina Faso.

Stretching along dusty streets to form a giant open air restaurant, the neighbourhood is a teeming larder of west African cuisine stocked with rows of hot barbecues staffed by sweating, shouting chefs.

For 200CFA (about 20p) a diner can feast on guinea fowl with alloco – Burkina's universal side dish of fried plantain – served in a plastic bowl and eaten on a wooden bench alongside other customers.

Such is its popularity that the arrondissement is also a favourite pick-up spot for attracting members of the opposite sex over a bowl of rice and a beer.

Or at least it was until a bad smell descended on the quarter recently.

Those maintaining the dawn-till-dusk food operation are increasingly agitated by a mischief maker they say is driving customers away – an overgrown rubbish skip that serves as the communal bin.

Such is the pernicious odour emanating from the overflowing, rusting eight-metre (26ft) container, that the fameuse poubelle has even hit the headlines, with one of Burkina's newspapers calling it a "national disgrace".

Every day, the bin on the corner of Avenue Ouezzin-Coulibaly and Rue de la Mosquée is used by both diners and restaurateurs to dispose of waste.

The resulting slick of festering innards, discarded scraps and other detritus of an inner city is supposed to be collected at least once every two days by public workers. But with daytime temperatures reaching up to 36C (97F), stall owners – and their customers – complain that appearances by the poorly paid binmen and women have become unacceptably rare.

An editorial in L'Observateur, one of Burkina's main daily papers, said: "What pleasure remains when you eat your veal kebab or oven-roasted pork and drink a beer while surrounded by such nauseating and repugnant odours? Here, in the northern corner of the 6th arrondissement, you can be sure that your dining companions will consist only of vultures and the stray cats and dogs and buzzing flies of the capital."

A quick tour of the stalls by The Independent revealed similar opinions among the cosmopolitan population of gourmands gathered from Burkina, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and further afield.

Celestin, a Togan furiously attending to a boiling vat of soup, said: "I have to go around with a clothes peg on my nose it has got so bad.

"You expect to have your senses assaulted when you are in a place like this but it should be pleasant. At the moment, you just want to throw up," he said.

Sitting on a bench fashioned from wooden pallets, Emanuel Nikiema, 35, was tucking into a evil-smelling red stew containing, among other bits of viscera, the area's famous gonads. Chewing thoughtfully, the truck driver said: "It doesn't bother me too much, but I have certainly noticed fewer people around in recent weeks. This area is important to Ouagadougou – it's like the hearth is the heart of the African home, so these streets are the heart of the African city."

The more established stallholders in the quarter said they had approached the city authorities to demand more regular visits by the bin lorry – a flatbed truck which hoists the rubbish skip away.

Jean-Baptiste Nanema, 41, a Burkinan who has run his stall for 15 years, said: "We have a responsibility to keep the area clean but the city has to accept its responsibilities as well. At the moment they are just waving us away, saying they are doing all they can. Well, a man has to eat and if they drive us out of business then I will hold them personally to account."

Asked what he meant, Mr Nanema pointed towards the cloud of flies buzzing over the offending bin. "I'll put the dirty b*****ds in there," he said. "I think in Europe you call it recycling."