La Marsa (Tunis), 14th December 2018. Popular wisdom sees rain as a blessing. So we are not complaining. On the contrary, the rain will inspire us all along the way to imagine these men, women, young people and children, many of whom live in precarious conditions, and to pray that they may find more and more dignity, peace and joy in their lives. The journey to Thibar will be long, very long: 170 kilometres, with traffic jams at the beginning and winding mountain roads afterwards.
But what a joy to arrive in Thibar, this high place in our history! Many of our elders would have been happy to accompany us. Jean Fontaine is a privileged man, too happy to share some information and memories with us. As the bus approached the former scholasticate, I saw myself, barely a week ago, going through the photos in the archives. Thus, this scholasticate still exists, practically as it did at the beginning, at least in its external structure.
As we got off the bus, we were greeted by a man with an abundant smile, flanked by several colleagues and at least one policeman, who will supervise us throughout our visit. After all, we are not just anyone. We are White Fathers and White Sisters, whose ancestors created everything in the region. Very soon, we will realize that the principal and his school of agriculture and livestock breeding see themselves as the proud heirs of all this heritage created by our ancestors for the highest glory of God and the dignity of every man and woman.
We are welcomed in a conference room with water and fruit juices. The principal presents his school and his future development projects to us through a “powerpoint” presentation. He slipped old photos here and there into the presentation as if to show his attachment and gratitude to those who started it all here. There is even a photo of White Father scholastics. Jean Fontaine no longer keeps into place, approaches, looks more closely and declares turning around: “it’s Kalilombe”… the only African in this promotion of 1957, the year of my birth!
He then takes us through the main building, we pass through the corridors and climb the stairs where so many of our elders hurried to arrive in time for prayer or for class. That’s very impressive! We only see the upper part of the large chapel which has been divided in two in height and in several classes also on the surface.
We go out, it still rains. We therefore board the bus that will take us a few hundred meters further to the place called “La Cave” to which the wine cellar – the “Cave à vin” – has given its name. We enter the antechamber of a reception room in the centre of which we see a carved table and its heavy chairs, undoubtedly from the prime times. In the antechamber, a bottle of Thibarine is on display, as well as two bottles of wine, and in front of the bottles, ready for tasting, glasses half full of these precious liquids that continue to be produced since the White Fathers planted the vine over a hundred years ago. We see the eyes of the school principal and the person in charge of the Cellar sparkling with pride, rightly so. I ask one of the escorts if he drinks wine. He makes me understand in approximate French that he doesn’t drink it… today. It is true that it is Friday, the day of Prayer at the Mosque. But in Tunisia, people work on Fridays and rest on Sundays!
The rain continues its work and soaks the ground. It will be impossible for us to reach the cemetery, as we would risk getting the bus stuck in the mud. We will pray for our brothers and sisters Missionaries who died in Thibar, during the evening mass, presided this time by Didier Sawadogo. The latter will reflect so well what we all feel. We had to leave Thibar, but the Mission of “putting Human Beings upright” continues within the walls of the former scholasticate through this man with an abundant smile, so proud of a school that gives young people the ability to develop and live in dignity.
Sister Cécile could not be with us today, but she had prepared a booklet for the guide which you will certainly read with pleasure and interest.
Philippe Docq, M.Afr.