Hell could possibly be dying and coming back as a female street sweeper in Sikasso. These women sweep the grungy streets after Sikasso’s huge Sunday market day. I can’t imagine anything more disgusting, dirty and unsanitary than having to sweep this street early on Monday morning. They are probably thankful for the job, but I am not certain I could ever become that thankful. A divine intervention might have to take place. All over this earth, there are jobs we should count ourselves lucky to avoid. But each of these tasks requires doing, people do them, and all I can do is thank them for this difficult community service.
Sometimes, we like to idealize Africa, as if the simplicity of the place, free from too many material trappings some how makes people and life better here. Life is wonderful in Africa in many ways. However, life is hard for most in Africa, period. People are still people. One thing I’ll never get accustomed to is the presence of simple plain filth. Why should any human get accustomed to it, even in Africa?
Sunday was a delightful refreshing down day for us. We did little or nothing all day, then watched a few videos on the computer for the afternoon.
Sunday is the huge market day in Sikasso. Sikasso has a busy market any day of the week, but on Sunday, people arrive from a hundred kilometers in every direction. Otherwise passable streets are closed to traffic, as vendors set up elbow to elbow sales zones, until there is only a narrow walking path left on the streets.
By six pm, people begin to tear down their makeshift stalls. However, the streets are not fully cleared out until after 7:30 PM.
Around 6:45 pm, I mistakenly assumed the congestion would have cleared out enough for me to easily pass through the market to a watering hole called ‘Le Nid”. I was wanting to score two huge sharwarma sandwiches for two bucks each. One is all I can eat, and they are not bad. We are thankful this place opened.
I have only walked through the market on Sunday evening a few times, and vowed each time I would take the motorcycle after that. It’s been a while, and I obviously forgot the “Why” I had come to the conclusion to avoid walking in sandals there.
I exited my nice building on to the back alley of the main market. The walk was nasty. The streets look like a war zone after the Sunday market. The streets were still packed, and push-push carts were going every direction as vendors cleared out their street stock and whisked it away.
The street from my place in the main market, all the way to “Le Nid” across from the post office at the main traffic circle, was plastered with garbage. Slimy wet plastic bags, half eaten fruit, rotten things, discarded crap, putrid water puddles, sand, grit and other numerous unidentifiable things all over the road.
I’m not joking; it is a very disgusting walk, especially in sandals. No matter how cautiously I walk, I ALWAYS get something slimy and gritty in my sandals and between my toes. It makes you want to wash your feet as soon as you get home, and I do. If I posted a video of the Sunday evening aftermath, every one of you would be asking me if it’s safe to even walk here. It looks like a slum amplified by a nuclear fallout.
Anyway, I navigated my way through the market vowing I would take the moto next time, as I enjoyed the grit grinding between toes and the slick slime thing that rolled up over the side of one sandal, smearing something under one of my heels, making my sandal slippery as I walked.
I placed my order and the young man said, “The Cook is out, actually.” I asked when he thought the guy would be back, and he gave me this stunned and totally puzzled look. Like, was that really a silly question to ask a restaurant with an open door selling meals? So I said fine, “A la prochaine” I really did not have time to come back again… Meaning, I really did not have the desire to pass through the Sikasso Sunday ight market twice. I had to go home and wash my slippery, slimy feet.
The thousands of street vendors at the Sunday market have to pay a fee of anywhere from 25 – 100 cfa for selling in the market (5 to 25 cents). This pays for clean up.
I was told that the women begin to sweep about one in the morning. I know that in front of my house they arrive to hand sweep this street between five and six am. They are bent over using grass brooms in one hand. Back-breaking work. Dirty work too, They are stooped over and working in a cloud of dust and dirt. They sweep it all up in to piles, then at some point on Monday a tractor with a high sides dumpster wagon arrives, and men shovel it up.
Sometimes they don’t get to it, due to tractor problems, And on the main meat-and-vegetable run, I have seen us driving through and over the piles all day Monday, and on into Tuesday. Yes, it all gets spread back over the road with all the foot and moto traffic.
So hygienic for the meat tables just feet away from the piles. But hey, it’s Africa, and we all seem to live. It is amazing how often we DON’T get sick here. We do pretty good, considering we do a lot of cheap local dives and dishes. We like the food, and it’s been generally good.
Unless you live here in the Main Market of Sikasso like we do, and have to go in and out through the market at night, you probably have not seen a scene like this. Frankly, it’s exactly the kind of scene people and travel guides warn you to avoid after dark. But it is our home, and to date I have never felt threatened here. I recommend you give walking the market loop a try, the front and back alley (We live on the back alley), about 7:30 Sunday night. If you have the guts to walk through this Market fallout scene at night, you have the courage to do anything, anywhere in the world.
But it looks worse than it is. It is actually the opposite of what it seems. We know these people, and they have been good to us.