These City Streets

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January 30th 2012
Published: January 30th 2012
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My BamakoMy BamakoMy Bamako

I spend a bit too much time with Google Map Maker. If you get directions from Pharmacie Djigueya and CARE International au Mali, you too can see my work route.
Every morning I walk a little over a mile (~2 km) to work. Between dodging traffic, stopping to greet people, and picking up some breakfast along the way this can take me almost 30 minutes. This combined with the walk home in the afternoon is by far the most stressful part of my day. It can at times be the most fulfilling, but this morning was not one of those experiences.

Today as I was walking it was impossible to ignore the rancid smell that filled the portion of my walk that takes me along a paved road. There is normally a mix of smells in the air, and admittedly most of them are unpleasant: burning trash, exhaust from all the vehicles, and occasionally urine and feces. I’ve become more or less accustomed to all of this and hardly even notice it all. But today that wasn’t an option. Along the sides of most paved roads in Bamako there are large, concrete ditches/gutters. The main purpose of these is to mitigate street flooding during the rainy season. However, they’ve also become the receptacle of all the dirt, dust, and trash that accumulates on the streets. It is safe to say
For the PortugueseFor the PortugueseFor the Portuguese

As I was in the middle of another harrowing walk in a town called Sevare in the center of Mali when I came across this sign that summed up my feelings perfectly (even made them feminine!) FODESA is apparently an NGO here ... guessing they don't work in Lusophone countries.
that everyone is afraid of falling into these gutters, not because it might be painful, but because you would be immersed in the black sludge that has developed there. Everyone quickly steps over these ditches; no one lingers or stares in.

I once saw a woman who had to fish out her child’s shoe from the dark matter. Using a long stick to reach the bright green sandal covered in lord-knows-what, she and her friends looked like they were about to vomit. And today, everyone in my neighborhood was able to share in this woman’s horror.

Over the weekend, some public service agency apparently decided that the gutters needed to be cleaned out. So today as I walked to work, on the path that I would normally walk on were large piles of black sludge littered with bottles, pieces of buckets, discarded shoes, and the occasional bicycle tire. I avoided them as best I could but it was either walk right on the edge of it all or be hit by a speeding van. It was difficult to be too upset or disgusted with the fact that the mush was left on the open road as I realized that someone had had to go through the effort of getting it out of the gutters in the first place, most likely with just a shovel to help them. Someone probably had been in the ditch for hours, scooping out the mess. So, as I was more at risk than usual of vomitting and being hit by motos and sotramas today, I tried to put things in perspective and be thankful that at least that wasn’t my job. So much respect for the street cleaners of West Africa.


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