A walk to work-2

Once I pass the morgue I am nearly there. There is the School of Public Health and then a sharp left to the hospital. At the morgue, a bit before and after, I have to dodge cars and motorcycles parked pell-mell and seemingly in haste.  The crowd is thick. It consists mostly of men. Maybe women aren’t supposed to pay their respect in a public place.

But women are allowed other things that men are not, such as wearing gold and silk. Men wear silver and, presumably cotton and manmade materials.  I think of the fashionable young men promenading the Corniche in Beirut with their silk shirts and ties and their gold chains.

The side road that leads into the hospital is lined by women who must have gotten up very early to get here with their baskets full of food. And then there are the shoe shiners, the hawkers and the infirmed: people with all sorts of deformations and the mentally ill, unkempt and either looking resigned or saying things I don’t understand. I am the only white woman and thus stand out amidst the sea of mostly very dark skinned people.

There is a separate entry way for pedestrians, with a long line of people waving their pieces of paper to get through the gate that is opened just enough to let one person through at a time. The uniformed man at the entrance scans all these pieces of paper and then determines whether the person is allowed in or not. There is no discipline in the line. Some people are waiting patiently and others push their way through, innocently I believe, not knowing the system, if there is one at all. No one gets upset. This is a country, I am told, with very friendly, patient and polite people. The marauders who shatter the peace that make this country unsafe are not from here say people. They are Boko Haram in the southeast, the traffickers in the north and the Malians who recently ambushed and killed the American troops in the northwest.

It is 35 or sometimes even 40 degrees Celsius as I make my way to the hospital in the early morning hours, or home in the late afternoon. And so I stood there this morning, sweating, and shielding my eyes from the fierce sunlight. I wait patiently like everyone else while people hustle and bustle around me. I tightly cover the entrance to my purse. I have been warned about ‘petits voleurs’ (pickpockets) for whom I am an easy target, but so far no one has tried.

My entry ticket is my passport. It is of course an alien document. Sometimes it prompts a hesitant English word (Good, good, how are you), pronounced with the proud smile of someone who can say a few words in another language. I respond enthusiastically, if not entirely honest, saying, in French, congratulations, you know English. It is a bit like me greeting or returning a greeting in Haussa, two words that Hawa taught me on my first day here. People clap, and say, kind of the same, wow, you speak Haussa. I don’t, but everything starts with a greeting. This is one wonderful thing in this part of the world, something we sometimes forget in the US, as we impatiently move on with our day and our thousand to-dos.

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