Where Paper Cement Bag Wallpaper is Considered Progress.

I remember the smile of a Malian man who became the proud owner of his first bicycle. Yes, the bicycle with smooth balding tires, torn seat, two broken pedals with only the steel spikes to pedal with, a frame welded back together in several places, and a set of Malian feet shod with worn flip-flops. But it is his bike.

Now, he will save considerable time and energy over walking the seven kilometers, each way,  to and from his field. With no cash output, he can now haul sacs of maze and millet home to fill his circular mud storage grainery for the long, and rapidly approaching drought season.
Maybe that worn out bike will save the family enough time and energy that he and his wife are able to pedal, while giggling,  that twenty three kilometers (one way) down a rough path through the hot Sahel, to see dear friends in another village they have not seen in over a year – both too busy with survival.

Even paper cement bags for wallpaper, or for wrapping some street side vendors treats they can rarely afford to buy, can be a thrill.
A bicycle,  well…….

“I stooped to go inside and noticed immediately that the sooty cobwebs were missing from the rafters. They had raked the garbage off the floor and the children were hauling crushed seashells from the beach and covering the kitchen floor with this granilla, making it fresh and white and clean. They had repaired the walls and were beginning to paper over the cracks in the bamboo with old cement bags supplied by the “Manta Peace Corps.” Raul came out of the bedroom with a machete in his hand. He grinned his eternal smile and, with a wave of his hand, invited me to see what he had been doing. The dirt floor was covered with freshly split and flattened bamboo. He looked at me proudly and I clapped him on his bare shoulder. “It’s beautiful, Raul!” I told him, and I meant it. His work did look beautiful to me and to his appreciative family. But I thought of how it would appear to an outsider coming from another culture. The lopsided walls, the roughly chopped flooring, the crude furniture, the sooty kitchen, the filth left by animals sharing the same living quarters, were anything but beautiful.” (Barrios Of Manta. Rhoda & Earle Brooks)

One Comment Add yours

  1. Crystal says:

    My sister had a bike with a spike for a pedal. I tore my leg on it one time when my foot slipped off. Talking about paper bags, when we bought the house next to the church, Victor showed us how to repair holes in the wall with paper bags and paste made with flour and water. The patches are still there. Many years have passed since these things happened. The story of Raul reminded me of these things that I have experienced.


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