Monday, April 6, 2009

Lunch with Aristide

I drove downtown the other day to meet my friend, Aristide. He’d called me on the weekend to say that he had a favour to ask of me. Normally when I drop by to see him downtown at PhotoLuxe, his family business, we go just around the corner to a place where we can buy a cold drink and talk in relative peace and quiet. This time, however, this place was closed, so we drove to a place he knew near the airport, about 5 minutes away, called “Cantine de l’Aéroport”.

Like many spots where people go to get drinks and food of various kinds, this was an outdoor place. I parked the truck and we went and grabbed a table and couple of chairs in one of the several gazebo-type structures there. They consist of a raised concrete floor and a low cement wall on which are several concrete pillars to hold up a round roof frame with clay tiles for covering. The table and chairs are local fabrications of painted metal and each wobbled to some degree, whether due to an unevenness in the floor or some warping of the metal they were made of, I don’t know.

After ordering cold drinks, we walked over to where some fellows were busy grilling various kinds of meat on a large piece of wire mesh sitting on low cement sides. Fed by a wood fire underneath, the roasting meat gave off a delectable aroma, mixed with the smell of wood smoke. Aristide ordered something in Mooré (the local language) and we went to sit back down.

Pretty soon our drinks arrived and they were ice cold. Never was a drink more welcome! Although it wasn’t even noon yet, it was already a hot day and we were plenty thirsty. With the drinks came the bill. In most such places, those serving the food and those serving the drinks represent different businesses and must be paid separately.

Then came the food, a plate of meat & onions, cut into small pieces, with a local spice mix on the side. One kind of meat I recognized as beef. The other I didn’t. Aristide told me with grin that it was stomach. He speared a piece with a toothpick (also provided), dipped it liberally in the spice mix, and popped it in his mouth. Selecting a small piece, I did the same. Ugh! It was like chewing on a piece of soft rubber! I much preferred the regular beef, but tried to eat my fair share of the other too, something I could only manage by concentrating with unusual intensity on our conversation and not thinking about what I was eating at all. Even so, I ended up swallowing most of those pieces whole. You could chew on them forever without ever getting anywhere! I sure was glad for the regular beef, onions, and spice. They were delicious.

And the favour he asked me? If I could lend a friend of his $30 to help him start a small business. He actually needed $50, but Aristide was kicking in the remaining $20. And how did I respond? Well, unlike in Canada or the US, friendship in Burkina includes a certain access to each other’s resources, including money, so I forked it over. I know I’ll get it back, but that’s not the point. It strengthened our friendship, and who knows when I’ll need a favour that only Aristide can provide?

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