Sunday, June 5, 2011

"That's the Reality of Poverty..."

The other day I was travelling from Velingara (larger city 60 km north of Pakour where I pick up my mail) to Kounkane (30 km north of Pakour where I get on the national highway) when we picked up an unusual passenger.

My mode of transport was what PCVs call an "Alhum," a short-distance city-to-city bus always packed to the brim with people (pictured). While travelling from large city to large city, the Alhum makes stops at smaller villages in between to drop people off and pick up people waiting on the side of the road. About 20 mins from my destination of Kounkane we stopped at a small village and a man approached the driver, they talked for a minute, and the man walked back to the nearby compound. At the compound he picked up a wrapped up plastic mat and sheet and approached the back of the Alhum accompanied by four other men. As he approached the Alhum I kept staring at the wrapped up bundle in his arms unable to come up with what possibly could be inside. As he climbed into the back I thought, "no, you've got to be kidding me...No...."

Women and children started bounding toward the front of the bus to fill in the seats further away from the new passengers. Some started sobbing, but everyone went quiet. The music that was playing from a stereo in the front of the bus was immediately cut out. After staring at the bundle for a few more seconds, I finally came to terms with what had just boarded the bus. There was a body wrapped up in that clothe and plastic mat lying across the lap of one of the new passengers....

I overheard their destination - Marawe - immediately after mine. For just over 20 minutes the bus would be riding with a body in the back of the seating area...

When I finally got home to Pakour, I recounted the story to the teachers that live in my compound with varying reactions. None of them had ever heard of this happening, and said it was very abnormal. One teacher, Mr. Seck, was angry that this was disrespectful to the dead person, and also that "women and children would be afraid of the body. Shouldn't they have had a special car to take the body?!" Mr. Gaye, an English teacher I hang around and work with quite a bit, was shocked but not surprised. Very solemnly he looked at me and said, "that's the reality of poverty..."

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