Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps


3/20/09 Berberville's Highways and Byways

I've mentioned before that Berberville has two (and only two) paved roads. Neither has a name, that I'm aware of, though there may be one on a map somewhere. It's just the Road To Souqtown (or the Road To [Insert name of village between here and Souqtown]) and the Road To That One Village North Of Us.

Everything else is known as a znqt, or alleyway.

In the nine months I've lived in Berberville, it's been interesting to observe how these different roadways are used. Probably 80% of the income-generating enterprises (hotels, cafes, shops) and of the government buildings are on one of the two paved roads. But about 95% of the citizens live on a znqt.

I happen to live on the Road To SouqTown. I have exactly one neighbor, my uncle the moqaddim, though I can see many families' houses from my roof - they live in other directions, or are set one building back from the road.

I've always taken the paved roads when walking through town. They're wide, smooth, amenable to brisk walking (I still walk like a New Yorker), and filled with people I say hi to. Plus, the 10 streetlights that Berberville can lay claim to are nearly all along these streets, so when I'm walking home from dinner at my host family's house or my sitemate's house, I use my LED flashlight much less. The only time I took the znqts were when I was walking with my host mom. Since she rarely goes out - we went to the hammam a couple times, and she walked me home from her house maybe twice, but those are the only times we've crossed town together - I didn't think much about the fact that she stuck to the back paths.

I never really thought about my habit of using the paved streets until the night of my cousin's wedding. A group of ladies walked me home around 1am, not because the party was over, but because I kept dozing off. :)

None of us were carrying a flashlight, so I tried to get the group to walk along the lighted no avail. I talked about the lighting, the unevenness of the dirt path, the safety of avoiding dark alleys in the middle of the night...nothing. So I stumbled over rocks and hillocks until we got to the intersection with the main road that's just a few steps from my front door, and there they left me.

That was the first time I realized just how dedicated the women and girls of Berberville are to avoiding the main streets.

There are some who will stride along the pavement, wrapped in their sheets and shawls and capes, but the majority - the vast majority - stick to the znqts.

I know many reasons: avoiding the crowds at The Intersection, aka Downtown Berberville; avoiding the stares of the men who loiter in the cafes lining the streets; staying out of traffic (of every variety - trucks, bikes, mules - though mules and sheep take both the paved streets and the back ways); plus, the znqt paths are often shortcuts.

But I stuck to the main roads, mostly out of habit. I'd also gotten slightly lost, the few times I'd tried some of the back paths. OK, true, you can't get too lost in a village this small, but I did end up at a dead end and have to back track a few dozen yards. :)

I've lately begun to rethink my habits. There has been an uptick in the level of violent crime in my formerly sleepy village, and suddenly it makes more sense to stay out of the main roads - out of the sight of the loitering and shopping and coffee-drinking men.

Plus, these paths really are shortcuts, once you learn them. Or so I tell myself whenever I step off the pavement to slip down a znqt...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps