My house and the world’s worst Internet

1 September 2015

In my house in Ouaga, breakfasting on half a baguette, some butter, some (expired) baobab jam, and coffee I made with the coffee filter thing I brought from America. Here, people drink Nescafé. I did manage to get some ground coffee in an expat-style grocery store, pretty expensive but worth it. I also got a box of cereal but I’m saving that for tomorrow morning.

For those who know the city, the house is in the quartier called Wemtenga. Wemtenga is a little bit to the northeast of the airport, and about two miles east of the university. The quartier is middle-class, lots of houses with gates and walls, and then on the main streets small shops selling all sorts of things. The usual wandering sellers of whatever. I don’t think too many expats live here – the local kids were quite interested to see me. The house is quite large, three bedrooms, and very nice. Probably way more than I would have rented for myself if I had had the choice. But the university is providing, so I’m fine with that. Yesterday was spent moving in. The landlord’s son and the administrator from the university were there. There is quite a bit of work to be done, but all that was actually completed yesterday was to change the locks (so I have the only keys right now – better not lock myself out) and fix window screens that had become detached or torn. The workers were at it all day. One door had to be welded back in place because it would not shut. I think the walls might have subsided a bit. I hope they don’t have earthquakes here (I think not). Here are some pictures of the house:

Brenda Soya my living room

That’s Brenda Soya, the embassy person who took care of me when I arrived, on the couch in the living room.

My bedroom

My bedroom, with the entirety of the bed linen and towel that were left for me.

My front yard 1

The front yard and gate, very pretty though not entirely quiet – my next-door neighbor over that wall to the right, is an auto-repair place. They seem to do a lot of hammering. There is a swing hanging from that tree to the right, and a few little boys stopped by yesterday for the pleasure of swinging on it.

Yesterday morning, I went out with Leila, an embassy worker, and we went to get me a mobile phone. After a good bit of messing about and an investment of 15000 CFA (about 30 bucks), my old Samsung phone worked both with cell phone and mobile data. Joy! Then, first thing I did as soon as I came home was knock the darn thing off the table to the tile floor and break the screen. Depression! I carried this phone for two years. I dropped it plenty of times and never had a problem. I guess it was just its time. Anyway, I was pretty floored by this. I had no way to get in touch with anyone, no food in the house, I just sat on the couch and felt terrible for half an hour or so. Then, I got out Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods (where he loses and/or breaks all sorts of things and survives) and by the third page I was laughing heartily. I guess if this is the stupidest thing I do while I’m here I’m ahead of the game.

The university had sent a gardener, who was cleaning up the exterior, and he helped me find a little shop that sold me the expired jam, bread, and two boxes of sardines, on which I dined. About 5:00 pm, my friend Djibi showed up and he was quite optimistic about the possibilities of finding a replacement part for the phone here in Ouaga.

So, we sortied forth into the gathering dusk, me mounted (somewhat less timidly this time) on the back of his moto, and cruised downtown to the big market. We stopped in several little stands with cell phone parts hanging up here and there, and the response each time was “come back tomorrow and I will have the part for you”. In addition, it seemed like they needed money up front, which appeared a poor idea to both of us. Young men gathered around each time wanting to sell me rugs, post cards, and the like. Finally, he called somebody he knew, who claimed that he would have the part tomorrow (no money up front this time) and we agreed to leave it until then. Afterwards, we stopped at the expat grocery store, where I bought the coffee, the cereal, some milk, and a few other things for the house. A couple of sacks of groceries were 16500 CFA – of course imported goods cost more. I would have gotten more but I didn’t want to burden Djibi with a bunch of stuff to haul on his moto. He insisted on carrying my grocery basket around the store.

I’m used to this from other places in the developing world, but it still has the power to make me feel weird. Djibi is very helpful and friendly. He is a relative of Maty, and obviously my friendship with Maty has led the family to feel like they should help me get settled in, and Djibi is the designated assistant. I’m overjoyed to have him help me. It would feel better if he would act like a helpful friend and let me carry my own stuff after he’s taken his time and gas to haul me around the city. They are acting like I’m old and feeble. Maybe I do seem old and feeble to them, or perhaps like I am a child who might do something dangerously stupid if not watched carefully. They may be right.

Anyway, after the grocery store, Djibi did let me take him to a Senegalese restaurant. It was quite nice. I had roast lamb over riz gras with a Coke for about four bucks, and he had couscous with chicken, about the same, no coke. Nice courtyard environment, watching soccer on big TVs. I should have put on some Deet before I went, though. Lots of bugs everywhere.

It’s the rainy season. It is raining right now. When it rains, water flows down into my hallway toilet and the two spare bedrooms on that side. When I first came into the house, there was a nasty moldy smell coming from those rooms, though when they aired out, not so bad. The landlord says he’s on it though I’m not too sure when it will actually get fixed. It’s his problem, though, if the ceiling starts falling in because it is soaked.

Just went to look outside my gate to see if Djibi had come and there is a car with Indiana plates parked out there. No sign of the Hoosier, though. In Haiti, we used to see cars with US plates all the time, and the legend was that they were often stolen in the US, principally in Florida, and sold to tramp steamer ships that would haul them down to Haiti. I never knew the truth of it but often thought it would be good to take down the tag numbers and run them through some database. Most likely in this case it is somebody who bought the car in America and shipped it. Kadija and I were talking about doing that with our old Saab. Cars are expensive here like all other imported goods. Problem is, Saab parts would be even harder to find here than in Oregon.

Also yesterday morning, we drove by the university, and saw the building where presumably I will be teaching in due course. There were a variety of students hanging around, but nobody in the offices. They start work today after the summer break, so perhaps this afternoon I will be able to go and see them. Here are some pictures:

Universite fac sciences humaines   Universite fac de lettres

Since it’s the rainy season, that green mold is everywhere, including in my house. Nice buildings nonetheless, what we could see of them.

So since Djibi has not yet arrived, I have the time to add a few pictures to this post that relate to previous posts in this series:

Big honking plane dulles

De plane, massa, de plane! My big honking Airbus 380 loading at Dulles. I was in row 94, upper rear. The upper seats load a lot faster.

Brahima car

My mom’s house and my brother-in-law Brahima with his PT Cruiser, getting ready to leave for the airport. Sniff!

Chez Soya externe

View from the Soya house. The concertina wire is something the American security people no doubt thought of. I didn’t see much apart from embassy houses. The building in the distance is sort of half-constructed, I believe a hotel. There is a lot of construction work going on, especially in that neighborhood, called Ouaga 2000. The presidential palace is there, as is the American embassy and lots of other embassies and government buildings. The main military camp and the Presidential Guard barracks are out there too, so if there is trouble that is where it is going to be. I guess concertina isn’t such a bad idea in those parts…

Soya guinea fowl  Soya chickens

The Soya family chickens and guinea fowl.

Penguin Coolee stand

The Penguin Coolee ice cream stand, not far from the embassy. For my Ingress-playing friends, this has got to be a portal.

Now, about the world’s slowest internet. I finally got the internet in my home, and am now sitting at my dining room table typing on my tablet. So far so good. I have a little device plugged into the USB port on the tablet that purports to connect me to mobile data at 3G speeds. I started uploading the preceding photos last night, a task that would have taken about ten seconds on normal mobile data (maybe ten seconds each, max). It took long enough that I went to bed with the upload not finished and came down to breakfast this morning to find them all uploaded. This bodes ill for the other things I was going to do with the Internet.

I also skyped with Phillip and Abraham for about ten minutes yesterday. They said I was choppy but understandable, but the connection cut after five minutes or so and I wasn’t able to reestablish. This is going to be a problem as there are (as always) issues to resolve with the kids.

While preparing this post, I realized that last night I neglected to upload one of the pictures. These are 4MB photos from my little portable camera. So, I set it to upload and was able to make coffee, pour a bowl of cereal (into a cooking pot, since the kind person who left some plates and such for me neglected anything in the way of a bowl), eat it, and read a few pages of Bryson before the picture got done uploading. I’m afraid this means, dear friends, that anything in the nature of online gaming – Minecraft, VASSAL, etc. – is right out for me. As Aaron said, I have left the Internet as we know it.

I don’t know if the problem lies in the connection between my house and the network or in the connection between Burkina and the larger world. I suspect the latter – I went outside at one point and things did not seem to improve. However, I will try to see if I can get a signal booster or antenna for a reasonable price. I have established a relationship with a young fellow who sells wireless products – he already has more than a hundred bucks of my money – and we will see later today if he has any ideas. But for now, I will close this already-too-long post and try to get some actual work done.

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One thought on “My house and the world’s worst Internet

  1. This is delightful to read. My advice–after my having adjusted to many different lifestyles—just enjoy what you have there and do not attempt to recreate your Stateside life. You’ve had that and will have it again. Just use the delights you find there–including the inconveniences. Find another thing to do rather than playing computer games. What’s wrong with preparing a good scrapbook version–pictures, pressed leaves from trees, ads, funny jokes. Your hilarious view of trying to access the internet is a start. I’m doing the same thing with Skype. I got the messages from you and see that you did contact me while I wa doing something else and had the computer off
    I am studying the Skype instructions–we should have practiced before you left. Maybe one of my savvy friends can help–though most of them are more internet- shy than I.
    I was reading over something I wrote on Italy to give to Mary Stevenson–who is going there in a day or two. I always preferred a slapdash tourism–without elaborate plans or expectations–You went on some of these trips so you know my style. You seem to be starting out right, though your diet sounds grim! You don’t have the become ‘native’ but find parts you enjoy and don’t yearn after cornflakes.
    I’ll try to save all your communications.
    Love, Mama

    Like

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