On a sunny, and particular boring, summer morning in July I decided to take a scenic bike ride through the not so immediate but beautiful environment around my village. I left my house with nearly nothing. Just me, my bike, and my wallet.
It started with me turning off the main dirt road onto a dirt side road that lead off into the bush. The route was smooth and underpopulated. The trees arched up over my head creating a tunnel of green reminiscent of the tunnel leading to the large oak tree in My Neighbor Totoro, before it lost its grip, and I burst forth onto farm land being tended entirely by women, and grasses being grazed by cows herded entirely by men.
I keep to my straight narrow path, greeting passer-by, stopping for cows ambling into my path, and taking only lefts in the forks to keep myself from getting lost on the way back.
Courtyards circled by mud brick houses were few and far between. I felt truly out into the countryside of Burkina.
On a whim I took a right instead of a left, and crested a hill. I brought myself to a stop at the crest, and looked down into the sloping valley. Untended farm land, a dozen or so cows grazing the over growth, and four boys roughhousing together instead of moving the cows along fell prey to my eyes. I wished I’d had my phone so I could snap a picture, but I’d left it behind.
I watched it all for a time before taking the dirt path down at speed, hoping I’d find that the path cut through or went around the forest that rose out of the valley.
No luck. At the bottom of the hill the path ended.
I stopped, popped off my bike, waved to the children (who waved back stiltedly) and lowered myself onto outcropping that was unnaturally built up to divide up the plots. I sat for a while, watching the boys slowly decide to herd the cattle, before getting up again and making my own decision to walk just a short way into the forest behind me.
Go straight, and only take lefts. I didn’t go far but when I turned to go back from whence I came I made a wrong turn nonetheless. Wait, back track, it was this way. Wait, no this way.
Crap. I’m lost.
I decide to just get out of the forest first, then find my bike where I left it at the entrance to this little nature hike.
It’s taking a bit too long to find an exit, I admit I panicked and ran a bit till I stumbled from the tree line. Nope, this isn’t where I started but it seems silly to go back in to the house of mirrors. So I follow the tree line till I happen upon five girls pulling water from a well. I approach them, and greet them in a local language before hastily asking the tallest, and presumably the eldest, if she speaks French.
She laughs and I gather up two distinct words in her sentence that amount to, “No French. I don’t go to school.”
“Ok uh, no bike. Is there a village?” Yup. That’s basically what my local language skills amounted to.
“Village? yes. Take the path. Go right, right, right.” That’s all I could understand from her string of words and her pointing off into the distance because she’s speaking more local language than French.
“Ok. Right, right. But, no bike. Bike finished.” I’m speaking more French than local language.
*Shrug* “Right, right.”
“Ok, right right. Thank you.”
So, the plan? Walk all the way back to my village and then come all the way back the same way I came. That’ll take forever but that’s what I get.
Oh wait, this hill looks familiar and so do the kids! Oh goodness, I’m stupid lucky there’s my bike at the bottom of the hill.
So I retrieve my bike from the bottom of the hill, waving at the children as I go, until I get to a flat enough surface to pop on the bike and start peddling.
I keep straight on the path that I came in on, taking rights at forks in roads, greeting no passers-by, and not stopping for any cows in my path because there’s no one in the area.
Things are starting to look a little unfamiliar. I didn’t see that giant ant hill on the way down, nor was there such a steep and rocky drop on this road leading to a valley.
I’m lost again.
How did I manage to get lost while going straight? What am I even supposed to do if I can’t find my way back? I don’t have my phone on me, and clearly this whole asking people for directions isn’t really working out for me.
I resolve to keep going straight and go right when needed, like the girl at the well said.
Eventually I find myself rolling up onto the back of some houses. I’ve found civilization.
I pop off my bike again and decide that I should try my hand at asking for directions again. I roll my bike around for a bit trying to find some people when I find myself rolling my bike right up to a large dirt road. Is this the main road that I was on before I decided to go on this little adventure?
I find another group of women and ask for my village in a local language.
“Hello, how are you? The village, it’s where?”
She laughs a bit, turns to the girl next to here and says something I don’t understand before turning back to me,”It’s here.”
“Here, here?” I respond incredulously.
“Yes, here here.”
“Um, ok. Is there are police station?” The station is in the center of my village. If I can find that then I’m golden.
She points down the road I’m on and says something that I don’t catch.
“So, go straight?” I ask entirely in French.
“Yes, yes straight,” She insist, jabbing her finger in the same direction.
I thank her and get back on my bike, hoping I won’t wind up getting lost again.
Five minutes into the ride I feel like I’m starting to see some familiar territory, I’ve been down this road before on the way to give my respects to a family who’s son passed away- he was a student at my school.
Ten minutes into the ride I know I’m going the right away. How the heck did I did up all the way over this way? This road isn’t even parallel to where I was before…maybe…what do I know, I did get lost after all.
Fifteen minutes into the ride I’m pulling my bike up to my house, my neighbors kids are sitting around outside their house as a pull up. The three of them are scrambling around, sliding into fresh pressed clothes, “Ericka, we are going to an Uncles birthday party!”
No questions about where I’ve been, and no worry over my disappearance. Kinda like it didn’t even happen.
“Get dressed, you’re coming too!” says the only girl.
I can’t help but oblige. So I go and slide into fresh clothes to, and check my phone that I left charging on my solar battery when I left.
I’d only been up a creek for two hours.