Monday, June 4, 2012

Snapshot 3: Mainstreet

Main street never rests in the daylight hours.
It is a constant bustle of activity.
Traffic can stop you.
But not like any traffic you've ever seen.

Women carry heavy loads of firewood on their heads 8 feet long.
Young ladies chat in groups about the latest fashion, crossing the road ever so slowly.
Porters try to keep control of heavy carts loaded with stones or re-bar.
Couches line up in fancy velvet advertising themselves.
Vendors use cement steps to display their wares.
Pedestrians gather around shops with TV or music videos blasting into the street.

Motorcycle taxis zoom past at dangerous speeds.
They make things happen affordably here.
You might see them carry a pile of plastic chairs to a party.
Goat squealing his way to slaughter.
A basket of chickens to market.
10 foam mattresses for a friend hosting relatives.
A family of 5 to a wedding.
Businessmen in suits running late for an important meeting.
Middle-class housewives shopping for dinner.
A subwoofer needed 30 minutes ago in a church service.
All of these fit on a motorcycle.

The stray dog runs across your path.
And that woman learning to drive for the first time can't seem to let you pass.
Kids running home from school play frogger in groups,
their blue and white uniforms getting brown in the clouds of dust.
The wealthy new cars are mostly foreign organizations who ignore their shocks and drive over potholes at twice the posted speed limit.

There is no pavement.
Just clouds of dust.
The potholes change with each rain.
There are no crosswalks or traffic signals.
You're lucky if drivers stay on the correct side of the road.
You're driving English-system cars on French-system roads.
And socially, it's important to stop and shake hands with people you know.
And yet I like it.
You are never alone here.
I begin to take on the African fear of solitude.

It's been said, "People drive here like they're riding a horse in the Wild West."
I wouldn't know.
But maybe.
Maybe that helps explain this bustling chaos.
Daytime quiet?
Not here!

Just another day on [Congolese] Mainstreet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i so enjoy the picture you paint. i spent several months living in Addis Ababa years ago. your description rings familiar and takes me back. =)