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Sierra Leone News: Small sidewalks

When I was younger, I would often sing an old rhyme to myself, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back”, as I walked down sidewalks on the island where I grew up. There, I used to step between the slabs of concrete that alternated in size as the sidewalk meandered on, making sure to dodge the cracks in between them. Not only did I want to keep my mother healthy, but I also enjoyed testing my agility as I walked around town. On the sparsely populated island, I had plenty of time to look out for cracks and space to move around as I needed.
Freetown, a crowded, bustling city, is different. Homes are built just about anywhere—on a hillside, below another house, or right above the coastline—and the quick-growing urban population is only making the city more compact. More people are driving on the roads, walking around the streets, and setting up shops anywhere in between.
The streets in some of the downtown areas are so crowded that the sidewalks, if there were any to begin with, have practically been erased. Of course, the physical area is still there, but for the majority of the day, many sidewalks are overtaken by street vendors attempting to sell whatever goods they have to offer. When these people set up their stands and tables, they occupy most of the available walking space. Instead, pedestrians are often pushed to the busy roads to dodge vehicle traffic, wheelbarrows carrying various objects, walking street traders and the masses of other humans that have been forced to the streets to get to where they need to go.
Not only am I moved away from the sidewalk, typically the safest space to walk, but I’m moved away from any cracks on the sidewalk that I would have enjoyed avoiding as a child. In Freetown, if I even tried to sustain a downward gaze to stay alert for cracks, I’m sure that some horrible incident would occur. With so many busy streets, pausing to carefully consider where and how I should step could mean that I get in someone’s way, get rammed into with a wheelbarrow, or, at worst, get hit by a vehicle. As I attempt to step over and around the spaces where missing concrete blocks should be covering up sewage drains, the risk of an accident transpiring is only increased.
Of course, I still walk around plenty. If I were to take transportation everywhere I went, it would not only be expensive but it would also waste a lot of time. Walking is the most precise way of getting somewhere in Freetown provided you know how to get there. The heavy traffic and tight streets ensure that traffic is a constant issue.
When I do walk around the city, I no longer look for cracks in the sidewalk—I’ve long since out-grown that habit. Instead, I have to focus my attention to the countless obstacles that are in my path. Kissy Road is a particularly crowded part of the city that I’ve had to pass through on multiple occasions recently and venturing through that part of town sometimes becomes a game of sorts, trying to dodge as many people as possible while still making efficient time and minimizing any disturbances for those around me. Nothing disastrous has happened to me and I have yet to witness any incident there since I’ve been here, but I’d be very surprised if Kissy Road has been an accident-free area for long. The occupation of sidewalks provides ample space for people to conduct important business and share in the city’s commerce, but I doubt that it has been a harmless pattern.
Cracks in the sidewalk might not have broken someone’s back, but the congested traffic stemming from the lack of sidewalks might contribute to other injuries, if not a general increase in chaos.
By Jack Russillo
Wednesday August 29, 2018.

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