Where the Streets Have No Names, pt. 3

water tank guy

After school yesterday morning, I went on a bike ride about 10 kilometers north of town, to a restaurant operated by the sisters of St. Therèse. On the way, I passed this guy, who certainly deserves to be an Ingress portal.

The sisters operate an orphanage and a restaurant; a very nice restaurant where I had a meal of a steak and fried plantains. The plantains you usually get here are pretty dry and resemble sweet potato fries back home, but these were more juicy and were similar to what Kadija, my wife, makes, in the style more common in Guinea. An explosion of flavor and gooey scrumptiousness, though it would have gone better with roast pork than with beef. A real taste of home, so to speak. Here’s the entrance to the restaurant:

Sisters restaurant

To show you how connected our world is, while I was eating, my brother in law Ibrahima called on Skype. I spoke with him and with my mother for about half an hour. I was sitting 10 or 15 km outside of town, alongside a major highway, granted, but really and truly out in the bush. And yet, I was able to have an uninterrupted, clear phone conversation on a cell phone with somebody in Maryland. This contrasts sharply with the way things were when I was living in Africa 30 years ago. Then, a phone call home was a matter of getting up in the middle of the night when there might, possibly, be a circuit available, going downstairs to the Peace Corps office, and using the only phone that was actually connected to the international network, an ancient rotary-dial model, and dialing the number over and over again until you, maybe, got a ring sound in the US. And even then, your calls were subject to being cut off randomly.

There are dropped calls here, of course, in fact, Skype is notorious for them (other VoIP protocol apps such as Viber and Imo sometimes work better on cell phones than Skype). I even had a video call with Kadija the other day using Imo, though it dropped a couple of times and used a heck of a lot of metered bandwidth. But she was able to see my house and my guardien, and get some idea of what the neighborhood looks like.

On the way out of the restaurant, I saw this alongside the road in front of the orphanage gate:


I don’t imagine they are delivering too many pizzas in that Mercedes.

Interesting that there is an orphanage, by the way. Mostly, the African extended family provides a living for all of its members, though children whose parents are dead might not get treated very well by the uncles or cousins they are sent to live with. I believe the sisters have been here for quite some time, and this is probably an old ministry dating from the early days of missionary activity in this country. In Things Fall Apart, the classic novel of pre-colonial Africa by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, one of the characters is a child raised by Christian missionaries after he was abandoned in the forest as a newborn. Traditional spiritual beliefs required that multiple births be abandoned, perhaps as a result of the difficulty of caring for more than one child at a time for semi-nomadic people. Anyway, the Christian missionaries made a habit of taking in the abandoned babies. Today’s abandoned children are the underserved urban street kids – they have homes, sort of, but have to scrape a living by begging, washing car windows, selling kleenex or chewing gum, etc. There are also a lot of refugees, both in camps up by the Mali border and generally roaming about the streets of Ouaga. The role of the sisters has evolved over time to caring for these victims of our post-modern world.

There are a good number of sisters, too. There were at least four working in the restaurant while I was there, and more in the back cooking and so on. They also had a guy guarding the gate and a bunch of young people moving about in the back. This contrasts sharply with the experience of women religious in America, where new young recruits are few and far between. I have two colleagues at Mt. Angel who are Benedictine sisters, both in their 30s. They are the only two members or among a very few of their community under 50. The Orphelinat Ste. Therese, though, is quite a lively place. I’m going back to try their pizza sometime.

Oh, and when I mentioned to my friends at the local pub that I had ridden my bicycle out there, they were amazed. It was only about 10 km, but for them it was a heck of a journey on a bike.


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