On Africa time

It’s a hot, hot day here in Sweet Salone. I write from the back porch, with my 1.5 L bottle of water close at hand. I managed to eat a real breakfast today for the first time (!), since so far I haven’t felt much like food in the morning because of my “running belly” as the Jamaicans call it, according to housemate Adam. I’ve kept eating street food because there’s no way I’m going to stick to ex-pat supermarkets for a month when the fry-fry is absolutely delicious.

Last night for dinner Adam and I headed up to the main road that goes past our house – about a five-minute walk away (probably shorter if you’re not a lazy white person who gets slowed down by the heat) where young men stand on the street corner selling small baguette-shaped white bread for 500 leones apiece (about 15 cents). You take your bread and do a 180 – right beside the bread vendors are a couple women selling fillings for what is about to become your dinner sandwich. They dab in some peppery-oniony sauce and then remove the plastic draped over their large round platters to reveal all sorts of goodies, all fried. A favourite of mine is the omelette – it’s fried up with onions and a hint of sweetness. They also have battered and deep-fried hard-boiled eggs, fish that have been breaded and deep-fried whole (heads, tails, bones and all – not sure how you’re supposed to eat them), pieces of chicken, deep-fried (sensing a trend here?) banana balls, etc. Last night I had omelette (500 leones) and two
beef-and-onion skewers bought up the street for 1000 leones – a big dinner sandwich for 2000 leones… less than a dollar. So delicious, and makes it so hard to justify cooking for myself… although a dinner at an ex-pat place – where you get a waitress and a table – runs you more like $10-15 for food and beer. I did go to a Lebanese supermarket yesterday to get some staples to have around if I get sicker – rice, tea, orange juice, sugar, powdered milk. They’re all neatly stacked in our roach-infested kitchen, waiting to be needed.

Spending time on the streets really drives home the enormity of underemployment here. As Adam and I sat and ate our sandwiches on a wooden crate near the man who sold us the beef skewers, I don’t think one other customer approached him for food. It’s the same with the Leoneans out during the day hawking food and goods (everything from face cream to Corn Flakes)… they barely make any sales. But as Malem (a local man who had guided us around a few times) says, the people would rather sit all day and make a little money than make no money at all. Underemployment beats the alternative. What makes it worse is that most of these underemployed people are not trying to feed only themselves, but many others, too.

The point is driven home here at our house, too. We have three guards… one who just sweeps and washes the yard all day (it’s tile, not grass, with large garden beds of tropical trees… but it gets covered in chicken and pidgeon poo), one who is by the door to the front gate 24 hours a day (seriously) to open and close it when we come and go, and one older man just to oversee the other two. (Yesterday, the older guard was trying to potty-train the goat, so I assume he doesn’t have a lot to do.) They probably get paid a meal a day and a pittance paycheque by our landlord (a big,fat Lebanese man who won’t share his generator with us when the power goes out because he needs its entire capacity to run his three air conditioners. That’s right, he needs his three A/C units which means we can’t run our FANS). But, it’s a safe place for the guards to pass the time and little money is better than none.

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