Saturday, December 23
The build up and the walk to the cinema was certainly more entertaining than the movie itself which was a standard conspiracy flick with corruption going to the highest levels of government. Ivory Keenan Wayans was the fall guy and fought back and won only because of his commando training. Oh yeah, and he got the girl.
The atmosphere was much more subdued and less entertaining than at the afternoon Indian film. The audience was small and made up mostly of men sitting by themselves. The promised drug deals and crime never materialized and I walked home in peace, feeling rather silly in the face of the neighbourly, rather friendly atmosphere on the street. Groups of old men sat around low benches talking and eating, fortifying themselves for the next day’s fasting. A few market women remained at their stalls flipping through the day’s take of dirty 100- and 500-franc notes, holding on to the last minute in hopes of clearing out their stock. The ground around them gave every appearance of a garbage dump.
Sundar explained something to me about the garbage the other day. I’ve gotten into the habit of buying one or two yoghurts a day at his shop. I sit in a plastic chair, pet the cat, and talk with Sundar. When I finished my yoghurt Sundar would instantly take the empty container and throw it into a corner on the other side of the fence that separates his shop from the street. I let him do that a few times then felt I should and could put my own garbage away. Sundar, however, asked me not to. That corner he explained was his garbage area. He paid a small daily fee for a man to come along and empty it. As the shop owner he was allowed to put garbage there on the street. But if a policeman saw me doing it I would be “fined” for littering. A Guinean can throw garbage practically anywhere. Sundar having a stake in the country can throw garbage into his corner, but I as a visitor cannot. It would be taken as an insult to Guinea and they are very sensitive to such things. (Conde continues to threaten through Bob that he will come with the police and tear up my notebooks, convinced I’m writing bad things.) A foreigner at Sundar’s shop had once thrown orange peels onto the street and had to pay 100,000 francs to the local policeman.
This was a fate I was glad to avoid especially since I took an instant dislike to the weaselly little policeman who haunts Sundar’s life. He appears as if by magic within seconds of any vehicle parking outside Sundar’s shop and starts hassling them.
There is a new presence at Sundar’s shop, a new arrival from India, Sundar’s cousin, Ram. He arrived after much anticipation a couple of days ago. He’d had trouble leaving India because the New Delhi immigration authorities doubted the validity of his Guinean visa. They didn’t like it because it was in French and they couldn’t read it. All of this was of course just pretext and $100 US suddenly made all these linguistic problems disappear.
I get angry on Sundar and Ram’s behalf when I hear these stories but they take it in stride. It’s the way the real world works. They probably look on me with a pitying smile, a child from the playland of Canada out here in the real world where real men have to survive.
This morning I found Ram sitting in the dark on a bench way in the back of the shop. I jokingly asked him why he was hiding way back there and learned that he was in fact hiding, keeping a low profile. His official work permit won’t be ready for two to three months and in the meantime he is still technically a tourist. He’s been helping around the shop since he arrived and already the Guineans in neighbouring shops have been watching carefully and Sundar had gotten some friendly advice that the police might be contacted. Of course no one cares that Ram might clean a few shelves without a work permit but it is technically a transgression and therefore fertile ground for extortion.