Tag Archives: urban

My Neighbourhood

10 Apr

In a North American city, the neighborhood where I am staying would probably be described as ‘gritty.’ But for this city, I have been searching for the adjective to do it justice, and have to say that maybe ‘ugly’ is the first that comes to mind?
No, with every chipped, grimy wall, cluttered rooftop, and the hundreds of signs announcing all kinds of businesses, large and small, its aspect is hardly beautiful — in spite of the graceful green-and-white filigree of the mosque tower in the distance.
I think of it as being anchored at one end by nearby Place d’Oran — a traffice roundabout surrounded by the tidy, white main Post Office, a couple of clean, stream-lined bank buildings, a walled ziggurat-style building whose use is unknown to me, and the OiLibya gas station. This is also the location of my local cafe-bakery, Le Medine, (where insouciant girls in pink-striped aprons wander about, eventually delivering one a coffee or the bill.)
But soon there come at least a dozen autoparts and mechanics shops, motorcycles and bits of machinery and tools strewn over blackened sidewalks or in the dirt, as Blaise Diang Avenue heads south towards the utter chaos of Marche Sandaga. The actual market itself is an imposing African building, all sand-coloured walls, crennelations and smooth angles. But not even Fatou, my landlady, knows how to get inside it, blocked as it is by hundreds of stands permanently thrown together with rusty pieces of corrugated roofing, ancient pieces of grey wood and grimy tarpaulins. These and their wares have taken up so much space over time that the streets around the Marche Sandaga are barely passable for pedestrians, much less cars.

My avenue is an axis of commerce, of trade of all things useful to the poor and not so poor: tin trucks and light sockets, mattresses and electric fans. And in front of all these shops, dozens more small time pedlars move in and set up every day. They sell peanuts from little stoves, lunches or hardware on low tables, fresh fruit from carts or hand-made sandals hanging from strings. Men also sell oranges, like they do in Brazil, with the peel carefully shaved away to lie in nests of fragrant curls, a bit of an antidote to the diesel fumes in the air.  And joining them are the beggars who spend their days and probably their nights there as well, sitting on their mats on the footpath.

The street itelf is always busy, the brightly painted trucks that serves as buses and are called carapites are always stopping to let passengers on or off. Some times at night i can hear the tap-tap-tap of the boy hanging on the back door signalling to the driver to move on. The carapites are covered with slogans or exhortations about God, such as Alhamdoulilah! even as they emit lots of nasty fumes into the good lord’s air.

In between, there is the continual stream of pedestrians, the sidewalk presenting just too many obstacles to make taking it a good idea. And with both garbage containers and the notion of using them utterly absent from Sengalese life, there no square foot of the public space free of trash. Workers in lime green teeshrts come along with brooms and barrows, but like Sisyphus, they are no match for their compatirots’ generalized belief that pitching anything you don’t need or want out where ever you are is completely normal.
And yet within this maelstrom — although it can take a while –there are always other facets, other things that catch your eye. People over in a corner praying towards Mecca on their prayer mats, a little boy in plastic sandals and green socks skipping down the sdiewalk singing in Wolof, the clothing shop with its 1950s mannequins dressed in flowing robes, the damask pill box caps Scotch-taped to the heads to avoid the wind blowing them away. One hot still Sunday afternoon a dwarf beggar sound asleep where he sat against the wall on Rue Galandou Diouf; and one of my favourite sights, the name on the doors of certain buses: Transports Mboup.

And whether it is the shack-like corner store, fluorescent-lit and painted dark blue, or the tall modern apartment building on the side street, everything is waiting for the rains next July to wash away the streaks of clinging dust that coat their walls.