Every time I walk down the sidewalk I feel like I’m walking through people’s homes . . . let me explain.
Julianne and I live in an apartment building that sits with two other buildings inside a walled compound with a security gate and guard house. When I walk outside the gate made of heavy steel that rolls on wheels, and step onto the sidewalk outside, it’s like moving from lower-upper class living space to lower class space.
The sidewalk opposite the compound is lined with low sitting one-story (some blocks have two levels) buildings that appear to be connected, or just one long building that runs for blocks, with small twelve to fifteen foot wide shops and stalls which can be as shallow as 10 feet running from front to back, or as big as 20-30 feet (usually the trade shops are deeper). Inside these shops are a wide variety of businesses, and it would appear that the people also live there with their families. I think there must be more rooms, or likely just one room, behind the business space but I could be wrong about that.
When I walk down the sidewalk I will often see many of the people sitting or standing outside on the small bit of concrete that is in front of their shop that is right beside the sidewalk. They often look like they are in their ‘living room’ and I feel strangely like I’m invading their private space when I walk down the ‘public’ sidewalk.
Every time I walk down the sidewalk I see children being given a wash with a large bucket on the concrete space in front of the shop/stall, and sometimes even on the edge of the sidewalk where the curb lies so that the water and soapy runoff can flow onto the street away from the shop-living space of the people. Sometimes the younger children are naked as they are washed by their parents, and other times not. While walking home yesterday from a nearby park Julianne and I saw a woman in her forties washing her extremely long hair on the sidewalk with a large bucket by her feet full of water. Wow.
I still find it fascinating to glance into each shop as I walk down the sidewalk. Some shops are actually gambling dens and have small octagonal-shaped felt-lined tables with men playing cards or majong. Other shops are lined with bits of metal junk and machine parts with a man welding away at whatever he’s working on (and when he’s actually welding it freaks me out cause he’s only 10 feet or so away and there’s nothing shielding passersby). Some shops are for getting your haircut and a manicure, and the women in these shops look like they’re just getting by. Other shops have red and pink colored window coverings that obscure the interior and suggest that ‘special services’ are offered to men inside.
Some shops are fruit and vegetable stands, and there’s a duck meat shop too. And then, of course, there are the mom and pop independent variety stores piled wall to wall with snacks and drinks and toilet paper and all other things one might need while walking by.
Whatever the shop’s purpose and product or service, it usually has an ‘old world,’ or maybe to coin that term from my university history courses “pre-modern,” feel to it for me. If the shop is for fixing things or doing metal work, I see machines and tools that look like they’re WW II-era, and haven’t been cleaned since then too. And I have yet to see a modern style broom–all brooms are wooden with straw bundled together for the sweeping part.
So as I walk down the street and pass by families, and friends, sitting together chatting or watching a small TV, I feel like I’m walking right through their living rooms. I try to keep a polite and friendly smile on my face as they stare at me passing through their living space, and usually the stares are friendly and curious.
It’s just a very strange feeling to have . . . walking down the sidewalk feeling like I’m walking through people’s homes.