Even with a wide-brimmed, straw hat, the sun shows no mercy. The heat from its rays mixes with the pungent smell of poverty. Muddy potholes design the three mile stretch from the Compound to the hub of the city. On each side of the road, misery has left its mark. Children scamper about, some scantily dressed and some not at all, their potbelly stomachs and copper hair medically incorrect.
In a rare moment, a dog, equally impoverished, lumbers slowly along with nose to the ground, seeking what its owners could not supply. Rumor has it that his days are numbered. For a brief moment, I try to imagine the taste of dog meat, and then let it go. Where I come from dogs were groomed and pampered, never an item on the menu.
Women squat along the roadside in front of a bucket of water with questionable origin, vigorously scrubbing items from a small mound of clothes. I wonder if she’s scrubbing more dirt in than out. A young girl sways past me, deftly balancing on her head a basket full of what eventually could turn into today's wages. As she passes, a whiff of deodorant depravation invades my space, and I resist the urge to pinch my nose – a hold-over from my childhood days.
Behind me, I can hear the deep baritone voices of men drawing closer. I turn to see three men, one a human “beast of burden,” struggling to push and pull (depending on their position)a wheelbarrow laden with some sort of building material. Their muscles ripple with each effort, and their skin glistens with perspiration as they make their way towards a partially constructed house. Surely destined, I muse,to mock the shanties that surround it.
I forge ahead, focused on my mission, defying the rising temperature, and trying desperately to ignore the urgency of thirst. Finally, the end of the road opens up to a main thoroughfare, the city’s Main Street, except there are no skyscrapers, fancy shops, finely paved roads with yellow lines, or traffic lights.
TapTaps, a euphemism for a bus, overladened with passengers, plow down the street with little regard for speed or safety.
Checking twice, and then again, I scurry across to the pink building. The only place I’m told where I can make a phone call. Inside, there’s no one around.
Hmm, I contemplate, as I dig for the right change, why am I the only one here? I’d expected to have to wait on line to get a phone line. I was wrong on both counts.
Sorry, the sign says, this phone is out of order. If you need a phone, please go to the main post office.
Forget it. I check my watch and know it’s useless. By the time I took the thirty minute ride on the Tap Tap to the post office, it would be closed for the two hour afternoon break. With visions of phone booths on every corner, telephone poles lining the landscape, and someone breaking the silence in private conversation, I dart across the street to begin my tedious trek back to the Compound, barely beating an
Now, the sun really releases its fury. Heat rages. Before I begin my long journey, I stop at the one place I know sells “safe” water.
After ten minutes on the road, I notice an open field, sandwiched between two rows of thatched roof huts where a familiar scene greets me. Malnourished children stand around an outdoor stove, anxiously waiting for the one and only meal of the day.
Right there, I speculate, in that open field would be a great place for a telephone line.
No. I rein in my culture of convenience mindset where Ipods, and Blackberrys tickle my fancy.
Somehow, the idea of a food pantry makes more sense.
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