Driving is insane. Hundreds of thousands of mobilettes (scooters) and
bikes, and almost no one wears a helmet (in cars, no one wears seat
belts). I see evidence of accidents every day. There are few street
signs; the people who live here know where everything is, and describe
how to get somewhere by describing landmarks and nearby residences. At
night, many vehicles drive without headlights, so being a pedestrian
calls for extra caution.
Then there are all the people walking
by the side of the road, most wearing their traditional, brightly
colored, and patterned, flowing clothing. Beautifully balanced on their
heads, people carry their groceries, or wood for fires, or the wares
they sell. This morning I saw three men on their way to work, each with
a sewing machine on top, as comfortable and casual as if they were
There are donkeys pulling small carts
filled with firewood, or stacks of melons, or the big barrels for water;
most people go to a community well for their daily needs. Then there's
all the trucks, and strange, seemingly home-made cars on the road, and
somehow, Issa, our driver, weaves in and out of all this fast moving
craziness in a complex weave of knowingness, daring and intuition, and
gets us all to the school where we teach every day.
The dust is so pervasive that many
people wear surgical masks when they drive. While driving on the dirt
roads, there's a perpetual wash of yellow haze, and everything in it
become shadowy and obscure. I have to wash my clothes every day, and
shower more than once because of "la poussiere"; I can write
my name on the dust covering my arm.
There are paved roads here, but only
the few major ones, and by the side of the road are dozens of street
vendors. Here's a woman cooking meat for sale over a fire on a grill
placed over two cinder blocks. Every time we stop at a traffic sign,
kids crowd around trying to sell us things.
All around us are cars and trucks of
every description. There are no vehicle safety laws, so if it's possible
to drive something, it will be driven. Ancient battered cars, trucks
with the front missing so you can see the laboring, steaming motor.
There are no pollution controls either, so all of these are spewing out
smoke and exhaust, which add to the haze produced by the dust and dirt
of the roads.
Suddenly a small group of goats (not
quite a herd) ambles across the road. Meanwhile, two guys are slowly
pushing a towering load of boxes mounted on a cart. Over here are
several donkey carts in a row, carrying loads of wood, straw or vases
bound for market. On both sides are stores, so small and crammed
together that five would easily fit in a small living room.
Now, add sights like this, which I see
-A car, piled precariously high with
packages tied to the roof , and mixed in with them, a resigned goat
peering through the ropes.
-A truck with dozens of bicycles tied
on top, and, two young boys holding on to them as it careens down the
road. If they lose their grip, if there's a sudden stop, or if a bike
-Suddenly the road is filled with army
personnel jogging around the block and all traffic stops. There is a car
with a windshield so cracked the driver leans out the side window to
see. On what would be the sidewalk (if there was a sidewalk), dozens of
men are laying their prayer mats out so they can prostrate themselves in
the direction of Mecca.
Everywhere are women carrying loads
perfectly balanced on their heads, dogs padding down the street, small
children carrying tinier children waiting to cross this busy maelstrom,
the bright, beautiful clothing of the pedestrians, and all the noise and
sounds of a busy, hectic, living, frenetic street
Classes: 6 mornings a week I get up very early and take a taxi at 7:10
to the office of the Jeunesse du Monde (World Youth), where I get in a
van with the students. (Pick up from various locations around the city,
so it can take over an hour before we get to the orphanage). All of us
then drive to the "Center Specialisee et de Formation", the
Centre for Specialized Education and Training, or C.E.S.F. for short.
This is a series of long, one story buildings where orphaned and
abandoned boys live (there is another facility for girls elsewhere.
These boys live here for 4-5 years, where they are housed, fed, taught
and learn a trade.
kids I'm working with are learning to become circus teachers and
performers. Every day Andre works with them on acrobatics, and I teach
them theatre exercises and juggling. We work from 8:00-12:30, then take
a break from 12:30-3:00 (everybody does; stores, banks, restaurants all
close down because it's too hot to do anything!). Then we work again for
another 2 hours.
going very, very well. Andre and I are a good team, and we have similar
backgrounds and approaches. The students are truly eager to learn, and
work hard, and I can see their progress from one day to another…
students are in their teens and early twenties, and all come from
difficult life situations. But, the first week has gone incredibly well
and they work very hard and want to learn all they can from us. Twice a
week they teach a group of the young boys at the school. It's amazing to
see some of these very small kids juggling 4 balls, or riding the
unicycle while juggling rings, or doing back flips across the mat.
program, Cirque du Monde, really works. It's amazing to see kids who
have really had hard lives enjoying themselves, and creating, working
with each other and beginning new lives with hope in them.