B is for Bigamy - most men in the villages, when they can afford to, take a second wife. Islamic tradition here permits up to four wives.
C is for Caterpillars - this is why I’m here! C is also for ‘Chitoumou’, the name used across Burkina for the edible caterpillar Cirinabutryospermi.
D is for Dolo - the millet beer brewed in large terracotta pots by several families in the village, each of whom serve it in their courtyard as soon as it is ready to drink, in large dried gourd-halves for 100F per litre. It is drunk by men, women and children alike.
E is for Elephants - Burkina has one of the largest remaining elephant populations. They don’t often come to this part of the country often, although I saw them here in April.
F is for Fieldwork - I’m spending my days collecting data, and this includes collecting, measuring and weighing caterpillars, collecting samples of other insects, measuring trees and the defoliation caused by the caterpillars, doing bird surveys in fields and forests, and also conducting interviews with men and women in the village.
G is for Garden - I have some land outside my house that I’m allowed to cultivate. Rain is scarce, insects are abundant, and it’s late in the season, but I’ve planted some okra and aubergine.
H is for Herding - when a person buys a cow, goat or sheep, s/he (probably he) can lease it to a person who is essentially a wandering shepherd (and of a distinct ethnicity). The shepherd is responsible for grazing and caring for the animals, and in return is entitled to one of every two newborn calves/lambs/kids. Most of the people shepherding the animals are young boys, in groups of two or three.
I is for Immigrants - there are many economic/climate immigrants living here, most of whom were born in the northern, dry, Sahelian regions of Burkina Faso and travelled here in the past few decades in search of fertile land. They speak a different language and are of a different ethnicity, but (partly also because of female exogamy - women often marry outside their village) many ethnicities live here, speaking many languages, and there is no animosity evident along ethnic lines.
J is for Jula - the main local language, although Moore and Dagara are also spoken commonly, and those who have been to school (most of the men, few of the women, especially older women) speak some French.
K is for Karite - the French name for shea, the tree that dominates the landscape and yields sweet fruits, which contain a seed that is roasted and cracked to reveal a nut, which is then process to make shea butter. Shea butter is used locally as a cooking oil and as an ointment, and is sold to an international market for use in both confectionary and cosmetics. It is a major export crop for Burkina.
L is for Liana - found in the small remaining patches of forest, with one very common species bearing a sweetly sour orange fruit. During my first two months here, I often came back after forest surveys with pockets filled with this fruit!
M is for Moto - in the quiet of my house, which is surrounded by trees, scrub and fields with my nearest neighbour over half a kilometreaway, the only sound other than birdsong and thunder is the occasional motorbike passing by.
P is for Palm - there are many palm trees in one of my field sites, and they are tapped to make palm wine.
Q is for Quarrel - I’ve not yet seen any real disputes, unless you count an argument between husband and wife one day when he accused her of not preparing any food for him that evening and she retorted by pointing out that he hadn’t brought any food home with him for her to prepare. It was 10pm and they were drinking locally-distilled cane spirit.
R is for Religion - The village is a mix of Muslims (slightly in the majority) and Christians (a significant minority). They mix socially, and again, I’ve not seen or heard any animosity along religious lines.
S is for Spirits - of the otherworldly kind. There are at least two people in the village who communicate with spirits from the forest, on behalf of others. I’ve only just encountered it and am not sure how common it is. But there is one elderly man here who is allegedly so renowned that people travel all the way from Ouagadougou (the capital city, which is 6-7 hours away by road) to see him.
T is for Tailor - for clothes, most people purchase lengths of cloth known as ‘fani’, which are typically colourful and patterned, in batik, print or tie-dye, and are also worn without adjustment as a wrap-around skirt - and pay one of the village tailors to make their trousers, skirts, dresses, shirts. This is a far cheaper option than the few second-hand clothes that are sold for high prices on market day.
U is for Umami - the savoury taste, which here is achieved using fermented locust beans known as ‘soumbala’. Coincidentally, the fermentation is similar to that of Japanese natto.
V is for Velo - the most common form of transport here is the bicycle, and I now have one of my own!
W is for Water, Well, Wheelbarrow - Like many households here, I walk to the nearest groundwater well to get my water. But unlike the women and children who balance their 20 or 30 litre jerrycans on their heads or cycle with them strapped precariously on their bikes, I use a wheelbarrow.
X is for XX - women (and girls) here collect the water, work in the fields (hoeing, planting, harvesting), gather wood for the fire, buy and sell the produce at the village market, prepare the food, make and sell the beer - and all this with their babies strapped to their backs.
Y is if for YX - men (and boys) here do some of the work in the fields - they plough using hired cattle, and those who can afford to spray their crops with agrochemicals. Some men own businesses - they are mechanics, fixing bikes and motorbikes, or they have small shops selling soap, sardines, tea, sugar, etc. There are exceptions to every rule and tasks are divided along lines of both wealth and gender - but for the most part, men seem to have control of most of the wealth while women seem to do most of the physical labour required by everyday life.
Z is for Zebra-donkey