Babies don’t cry?!

5 weeks became 6 months. When I first arrived
I was mesmerized, by all the colors, the smells, the smiles. I found joy during
the day and magic in the night. Hypnotized by the orange light of the street
lanterns, the bright stars and the earthy smell just after the rain. I was
amazed by the babies on the back of their moms, sleeping so sweetly and quietly
in the middle of the night, while their moms were frying fries in front of a
‘boit de nuit’ (‘nightbox’) with ghetto blasters screaming.

For a couple of months I was thinking that Burkinabe babies don’t cry. That being so close to their mother’s body day and
night, made them so sweet and silent. The more time I spent here, the more
illusions I lose. A few days ago I heard that many mothers give their babies a
little pill to keep them so quiet. Because when they are washing clothes of
people from the neighborhood, for even less than 0,05 eurocent a t-shirt, they
don’t have time to occupy themselves with their babies, while trying to earn
that day’s meal for their families.

While asking some more women about this
‘sleeping potion’ I found out that it is also very useful when the little ones
get a coiffure. They sleep instead of cry, when someone is tearing their hair
to make braids. After hearing this I could imagine how strong these tablets
actually are. A young girl wanted to braid my hair once and it did not let her
longer than five minutes because it was ex-treme-ly painful to me.

When I walked into the pharmacy, the woman
recognised me from last time and she asked me how my ‘bébé’ was doing. I don’t
know if she confused me with another woman or got confused with the age of the
girl I had been consulting her before. To keep it simple I answered her: ‘Yes
the baby is alright but I heard that there is a good medicament against
crying.’ Now leaning over the counter, she was looking very seriously with
hopelessness in her eyes. I was wondering what she was thinking. ‘It’s called
Chlor or something like that? I heard it works really good. Your baby stops
crying and can have a good sleep, isn’t it?’ ‘Madame, it is absolutely not for
babies, not even for children.’ ‘But can I take a look at it?’ Her colleague, another women a few meters away started to interfere. Sitting in
her high chair behind the caisse: ‘Madame s’il vous plaît, c’est pas pour ton

The two women started to look very
concerned. I told her that it was not for my bébé and not for someone else’s,
but that I wanted to verify that it was really true what I heard, that women
sometimes drug their babies so they are able to work. She gave me the leaflet
and I read ‘Chlorephenamine Maleate’. 

This seemingly innocent ‘medicament’ is a sedating antihistamine, that enters
the brain and causes drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision and psychomotor
impairment in some patients, which may seriously affect ability to drive and
use machinery. It cost only 100 cent (0,15 eurocent) for a package with at
least 12 tablets. I did not count, I was too shocked to hear that the pharmacy
women confirmed that there are too many mothers who give this to their babies
to sedate them to have their hands free to work. They are compromising the future of their
child’s brains in order to sort out the problems of today.

Although my heart breaks a few times a week
finding out about the harsh realities for most people here, I have almost never
felt more joy and ease in my own experience of life than ever before. It’s the
children that come running at me, waving and smiling, calling me ‘Babu’ and
when I wave back and ask them how they are doing, shyly look down. It is the
wind trough my hair when driving my p50, the freedom to go left or right
depending on the nicest view. It’s the butterfly that decides to die on my
hand, it is the rainbow that appears out of the dark-grey voluptuous clouds.
It’s the sudden scent of ‘fleur d’orange’, that I only knew from macarons from
La Durée, on an evening walk under the full moon.

But under that same romantic moon that I have been photographing so fondly, young girls are circumcised and promised to men way older then them sometimes only at the age of seven. More than half of the daughters of Burkina marry before they turn 18. Families securing the futures of their ‘filles’, not by teaching them how to read and write, but by arranging a monetary matrimony, where they end up as one of the four wives that a man is allowed to have. Real love as I consider it to be, is a very luxurious and rare good, as well for the rich as the poor, for women and men, especially in a society like this. Many girls can’t marry the guy they love because of family arrangements. Marriage with a man seems a necessity, which is actually strange because most of the women do the work and earn the money (and some need to sedate their babies). This sounds very harsh, but it is. Not all the women I spoke to use have used ‘Chlor’ to put their babies to sleep and not all the women in this country can’t write or read, it is only 1 on 3 above age 15 who can read the prescription. And not all men have four wives.

Every day raises more questions than it gives me answers. Wondering every time, how do I take my responsibility as a photographer? Where do I find the balance between being a big romantic adventurer, naïf but with a great eye for beauty and magic and being a compassionate human? Well.. that I can manage I think. But how do I put it in photographs? What do I show you?! When I first came here I thought I arrived in a dream world and for me it was (and still kind of is). But little by little I wake up to their world. And their world can be very harsh and very unromantic. Do I show the magic that I experience? Or do I show the barefoot children begging on the street? What is the ‘reality’? It seems I haven’t found a good solution for this..well.. while writing this I got an idea! So it seems absolutely necessary to stay a little longer….. ;)

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