GUÉDIAWAYE, Senegal — Aba Dione, 7 years old, met his end six weeks ago in the trash-filled corner of an abandoned dwelling here, as good a place to play as any, it seemed, when the other options were garbage and more garbage.
Except that in this case the thick carpet of crushed plastic bottles and bags, clothing shreds, old flip-flops and muck was deceptively floating on several feet of water; unknowing, Aba fell in and drowned.
Garbage might have seemed safe to the boy because it is everywhere in this forlorn, dun-colored slum abutting Dakar, the capital. Delivered on order for a few pennies a load by rickety horse-drawn carts speeding through the dirt streets of the Médina Gounass neighborhood of Guédiawaye, it is as pervasive as the hot midday sun in which it bakes. The people use it to shore up their flood-prone houses and streets in this low-lying area near the Atlantic coast; they have no choice.Garbage is a surrogate building material, a critical filler to deal with the stagnant water — cheap, instantly accessible and never diminishing. The plastic-laden spillover from these foul-smelling deliveries pokes up through the sandy lots, covers the ground between the crumbling cinder-block houses, becomes grazing ground for goats, playground for barefoot, runny-nosed children and breeding ground for swarms of flies. Disease flourishes here, aid groups say: cholera, malaria, yellow fever and tuberculosis.Médina Gounass was first settled in the early 1960s by rural people flocking to the city’s outskirts, people who were not “educated in the culture of trash disposal,” (so you literally have to teach them not to dump their trash wherever they are standing) said Fatou Sarr, a socioanthropologist at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, who has written about the area.
Well, I guess that building cities out of garbage is an improvement over the dung hut stage.