Last night my landlord got a call at 18h30, and said he had to go out immediately to deal with an emergency. He started backing his car out of the compound, and then thought better of it, parked, and asked if he could take my motorcycle instead. At night people build roadblocks of cinderblocks and burning tires to keep the RSP patrols from proceeding easily along major roads, and a motorcycle can get through the streets much more quickly and inconspicuously than a car can. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of giving up my transport half an hour before curfew fell, but I know how emergencies work, so I went and got the keys and he rode off into the night.
It was the tensest night I’ve had in Ouaga 2000. I had seen the columns of smoke coming up from the roadblocks as dusk fell, and at night I heard staccato gunfire coming from the intersections a few kilometers away from me. My neighbors run a small store across the street that the neighborhood guys gather around at night, and as I made dinner I could hear the crinkle of static and muffled voices from their radios as they remotely followed the movements in town. At around 19h30 I heard automatic fire from Pascal Zagré, the boulevard that runs 200 yards north of my house, and all of the men across the street scattered instantly—radios squawking, chairs tipped over. I turned off the gas on the stove and turned off all the lights in the apartment. After ten minutes the dogs began barking again and the guys came back to the boutique, and I went back to business. My building has thick walls, I was far from the road, I’ve never had any indication that RSP patrols turned off the main roads, and even if I had the motorcycle I wouldn’t have left, but still, I was shook.
My landlord came back at around 23h, exhausted. He told me that he got a call from a rich cousin who lives in the northern part of Ouaga, who said that a mob was gathering in front of his home and preparing to burn it. My landlord made moves through the city calling people to his cousin’s house, and eventually the group left the house unsinged. I told him about the shots on Zagré, and he speculated that it was an RSP patrol firing in the air to move young hooligans out of the road.
This morning I decided to make a move. I was running out of canned food in my apartment, I didn’t have friends in my neighborhood, roadblocks made it increasingly difficult to plot good routes to move through the city, and I didn’t like hearing shots that close to the house. I packed a backpack with clothes for three days, or a week if it comes to that, cash, passport, and other essentials. The rest I locked in my apartment, gave the food in my fridge to the gardien, and got on the motorcycle to head to another neighborhood. I rode the 10 kilometers to Zone du Bois on high alert, but the streets were mostly empty. You could see traces of last night—scorches on the pavement and broken glass—but I had no trouble making it up here. A fellow at an NGO that I know very generously lent me his apartment while he stays with friends, so I’m now temporarily installed in a new place in a much calmer neighborhood. I’ll be here until I figure out my next move. My office is still closed and although the land and air borders are open, the airport workers are all on strike until Thursday and scheduled flights didn’t arrive today.
I have a dangerous habit of not fully appreciating the consequences of my decisions, particularly when I do risky things and I end up fine. It’s hard to imagine the counterfactual to your actual life. This week I left my apartment, and as I drove through the city I felt like I left at the right moment. The roadblocks weren’t too tight or numerous to get past, but I can see how they could be tomorrow. I’m going to think about my next move carefully, and be ready to adapt to any obstacles that come my way. My new location is much less of a hotspot than my normal apartment. I’m grateful to have a network of friends and contacts in the city who can help me when I need it, and I think it would be safe to stay here for another week. If you like looking at maps, you can find me on Google Maps in an area south of the Bangr Weeogo forest.
I don’t post these updates to make people worry about me. The thing about maintaining a blog is that it’s only the most fascinating, unusual, and extreme moments that I write about. For the most part a coup d’état is dull: I might spend 22 hours a day in my compound reading news, watching badly dubbed movies, sleeping, working, and exercising. I spent 25 minutes riding a motorcycle from my apartment to a new neighborhood, and since then my day has been tranquil and easy. Other people have been struggling and suffering much more than I have over the last week. I don’t want to give a false impression of how dangerous things are here, just a realistic one. I’m calm and thinking carefully about the safest and smartest thing to do. I’m still secure, happy, well fed, and ready to take the next step.