Archive for May, 2013

City Life

May 10, 2013

As I was looking for scenes from Guinea, I rummaged through my computer files and came across something I wrote in January. I am not sure whether it will find its way into another publication and so I have found the perfect place for it. Here. 

It had already happened when I walked past. A little girl in a dirty light blue dress was standing between two carelessly parked cars and weeping. A boy who had been pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair was standing next to the girl. He was wiping her tears and cleaning her face with water; then he went back to pushing the chair. The traffic on the Corniche raged on right next to that little scene. Anarchic, stop-start movement, angry car horns, shouts, exhaust fumes. Just like yesterday and exactly like tomorrow. He kept pushing the wheelchair, passing the cars, begging for money.

The girl stayed where she was, dabbing her eyes with the hem of her dress. But the tears kept coming. She pulled herself together in the end and started walking, cheap plastic slippers on her feet, spindly legs, on her way…home I was hoping. Would be difficult to imagine this little bundle of fragility sleeping rough. But this is Conakry, a city that has been allowed to fall to abnormal levels of dysfunctionality.

But then I saw her walking past the boy who had been wiping her tears and realized that in a place where pretty much nothing works for you a tiny sign of human kindness is in fact the only thing that will probably keep you going. Repeat a hundred times all over town, every day, and you get something approaching a bearable life.

Well, no. You need other things. Light in your house, light on your street, bureaucrats who respect your rights as a citizen, police officers who catch criminals and don’t steal your money, water in your home, a judiciary where you get justice even when you don’t have friends there, a boss who regards his workers as people. This city has very little of any of those.

So here’s a tribute to the more than two million Conakryka who have to live with the consequences of half a century of catastrophic governance…and still find it possible to offer consolation to a sad little girl in a dirty blue dress.


(Another example of non-protection: manual boat dismantling next to the port. The men working here will not geld old.)