The morning silence was broken by the squeals and oinks of pigs as they rolled down the street in the back of farm trucks, passing women carrying bags of guinea pigs and men walking their cows to the market. At the side of the road, an old man squatted, milking a goat as a young thirsty boy waited patiently clutching his fifty cents in anticipation. Down the road, behind a small stadium, an open field filled with men and women selling their cows and pigs and chickens and turkeys and kittens. The men paraded their cows in front of gathering crowds of potential buyers carefully pondering their opening bids.
Enclosing the market, raised from the crowd below, stood a hill lined with old men in rubber boots sitting at tables served with soup and rice. The men ate quietly, sipping purposefully, observing the pace of activities below. Between the food stalls, young laughing children dashed, chasing small chickens. The old men considered their options as they descended into the market, stooping to pick up the reins of their cows before inviting a crowd to consider their offerings.
Offset from the field and separated by a row of farm trucks, women called out the prices of their wares. In cages at their feet, chickens and roosters fussed about. In others, ducks and guinea pigs and kittens sat, awaiting their fate. Under arms of young girls hung chickens and roosters, their feet tied with string. The protests of one guinea pig drew attention as its owner held it above her head, turning it from side to side before stuffing it into a squirming cotton bag. The crowd ebbed and flowed between the cows and pigs and the women selling chickens and ducks like an ocean, opening pockets of space before crashing down to fill the void.
Up the cobblestone street leading away from the market, ponchos of green and blue and red hung from temporary market stalls full of leather belts and cotton t-shirts bearing all varieties of slogans and images of Jesus. Hats and gloves sold equally as underwear and socks while foreigners meandered, squeezing past, stopping to take a photograph then moving onward. Where vendors failed to extract money from buyers, silent pickpockets, razor blades in hand, deftly plied their trade, moving quietly from one target to the next.
As the market thinned out along the rising street, one woman stood hunched over while her baby clung with all it’s might lying face down on her back. The woman folded, wrapped and rolled a large beige cloth into a hammock for the infant, tying it in a knot over her right shoulder and securing the infant on her back as she climbed up towards the railway track above and beyond to her home on the hill.
The railway track stumbled drunkenly, arching and buckling as it crawled through the town, past the deserted playground before wandering south beside the river bed below. At some points the two rails were but a foot from kissing and at others, they separated at arms length like a fighting couple. It rose above the ground at parts and dove beneath the grassy surface at others. At one point there was but only a hint a railway track lay under foot. But lay it did, unused as it had been for decades.
The railway station was shuttered, it’s windows long ago smashed and now boarded up haphazardly. Parked in front of the station, sitting on the rounding rail line was a makeshift market of men selling metal sheets and power tools from the back of their trucks. The men drove old rusted trucks that barfed black smoke when they started and struggled to climb the hill. The men sat and shuffled their tools and materials, occasionally calling out to a passerby to enquire about one thing or the other.
The sky was full of dust. It swirled about, bouncing from one hilltop to the next. Occasionally it descended and blinded the eyes. It rose like spirits from the empty squares and old soccer fields. It was everywhere.
Along the railway tracks, stray dogs wandered and horses grazed on short green and yellow grass. They watched a laborer in one house assemble and cut a metal rod frame for a window, carefully measuring, cutting and welding as he worked. Along the cobblestone road that ran parallel to the tracks bounced the occasional car, zooming past the man and his tools and stray dogs and grazing horses.
As the rail tracks neared the edge of the town, a paved road forked north, climbing as it went past a large empty play field before terminating at a park entrance. The entrance was a large section of wall some 20 feet high and perhaps 10 feet deep and a hundred feet long. A sign hung above the archway: “This is the remains of the work of a few hundred slaves”.
A path lead through the park, past an old man standing at the entrance station, buttressed on both sides by soaring pine trees, before reaching a small waterfall. Many came to visit the waterfall and their attention overstated the grandness of the spectacle which smelt a bit of rotting fish. The water leapt some twenty meters to a small river below which ran under two foot bridges. Occasionally garbage would flow from the waterfall and flush down the river. It was a popular spot.