If you were to judge a city by its outskirts you would have turned round a long time before getting even half way into Conakry. If it were within your power, you'd probably call in a tactical nuclear strike. Lurching at crawling speed over the 4×4 test track that masquerades as the main road into the city, along with far too many road users than it was designed for, you are surrounded by the clanking of improvised industry amongst clouds of dust and smouldering heaps of plastic and rubbish, adding their noxious fumes to the hellish glow of the day’s fading light.
Every driver, as inconsiderate as the next, barges into any spare centimetre in the eternal traffic jam, with moped riders, oblivious to their vulnerability, attempting to compete with gear crunching, fume vomiting trucks and demented, dented taxis. The occasional crunch of cheap Chinese metal and plastic testimony to their utter folly and a scream testimony to its consequences.
An hour passes and you still seem no closer to the centre.
Should you ever reach the centre you may well still be convinced to choose the nuclear strike option. But aside from the niggling ethical issues of such action I urge you to at least hold off til Sunday, because it’s only then that the soul of the city reveals itself.
On Sunday the traffic thins right down and the streets fill with people. Some of the rubbish is swept up. Mini goal posts are set up and dozens of games of football go on throughout the day: from kids in flip-flops somehow performing fancy footwork in a knockabout with their mates, to fully formed league matches with players in complete kit. Boundary definitions would appear to be open to interpretation, though no one seems to quibble if the ball is out of play or not. Certain random elements have to be allowed for, such as livestock wandering onto the pitch or pick ups full of soldiers deciding they needed to zoom through the game, unannounced. Given the tendency for balls to roll through the copious quantities of sewage found on many streets, the prospect of American football or rugby taking off look decidedly remote.
Soundsystems are wheeled out onto the street, some to celebrate weddings, others just for the hell of it. But always an opportunity for the women to get their boogie shoes on. I joined in on one occasion and as you can imagine the ladies were mightily impressed by my booty-bumping dance moves. Alas my performance was videoed, which means that someone probably made money selling the clip to Guinea TV. Right now a load of Africans are huddled around their TV sets or Youtube screens wetting themselves with laughter.
Against all the odds, Conakry can still put a smile on your face.
Graham is a former builder who has decided that traipsing around squalid third world dictatorships, tourist black spots and unpopular places around the world is a more fulfilling lifestyle and hopes to offer a glimpse into life in “other places”.
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