Reporting live from Alepo

049 “The traffic is light, the air is chilly and acrid chocked with dust in this early morning rush. In Alepo, noise that rise to awaken the people is of a kind; hooting of horns and blaring of the church-keyboards. Across the river in Renka chirping birds in lullaby chorus nurse people to an easy start.”
“Cut.” The Production Manager of Town TV commands Tim.
“Tim I want this story to focus on the slum upgrade that has just happened here in Alepo.”The Manager says then he continues, “Thousands of new houses are ready and there is plan to decant people from shanties to new homes. Dig facts, spice it up with any juicy pieces you may come across. Look at all angles. The social upheavals from the culture shock of moving people from squalor to these high-end middle class houses. The new landlord lifestyles, the “sponsor” phenomenon here and any other emerging issues. You have a blank slate, be creative and enjoy.
“Action,” my boss says the final word that the team needs to spring out and explore the whole thing into a by-line story. It is a new frontier, we feel challenged, we have the choice to pursue our elusive slam life story into a lifestyle feature and air it live from here from Alepo.
I begin to file away.
“There are rows of cartons houses facing each other side by side with the tin shanties.” I punch into the keyboard with haste. I am enthusiastic, this the first story am doing in the ghetto. Thoughts stream unhindered as my journalistic creativity kicks in. It is early morning in the early part of October and the brightness of the morning adds to my happy start here.
I continue, “The earth-wall tin roof houses are tiny probably five square foot separated by narrow allays flowing with sewage. These houses are dilapidated but well ventilated. Square wooden windows and narrow tin doors with huge padlocks give the impression of an overkill in security. The average household has four adults minus the minors. The stay-home woman guard the dwellings like vigilantes on duty. Men toil in the capitalist factories not far from their homes. It is a dawn to dusk affair for measly salaries. These dwellings spread as far as the eye can see towards the river to make the Alepo slums. All this is about to change forever, thanks to the new skyscrapers that now hug the blue sky in Alepo East.”
Not far from where Tim is reporting there is an open area where many children playing. The ebullience in their faces is noticeable. They chase each other and roar with laughter. In the open drains the children race with white ducklings stained grey with dart. It is a remarkable array of unity of all races, Coloreds, blacks, half white and even yellow boys are represented in an apparent peaceful coexistence. Tim thinks this could form the social side of the story here in Alepo but he could be wrong.
Tim sees a child has a bandage on the left side of his head. He thinks this could have twist to a story so he approaches him for an interview. He baits him with a lollipop to smooth the path for talk. The boy opens up with ease to share his experience in Alepo
“So what’s your name,” Tim ventures. “I am James. I live here with my father in Alepo west. “And what can you say about the security of this place,” Tim asks further. The cameras are directed at the boy and his excitement escalates. “There is so much violence, you know? Last week three people were burnt here, this very spot”. “Why,” Tim ask to confirm the veracity of James story. “What happened?” Tim enquire further. “It was a small matter of mugging. A street urchin stabbed and mugged a woman early in the morning as she was going to work in industrial area. The woman screamed “Ai ai ai ai.” That is the stress call. It means alarm for danger here. The response is usually swift. The vigilante squad, boys from her community responded. They pursued the mugger, caught up with him and burnt him to death. The other boys from the other community heard about it and they mobilized and meted more violence. It has been a circle of ethnic violence. “The police they don’t come?” Tim ask fearing the worst.
“No, they only come when the circle spiral out of hand completely. They leave us to our own devices, to check mate each other, you know. The survival for the fittest kind of thing. People live on a pittance. Life is cheapened. Moreover, we have no money to pay so the police keep out of the way”. James says his eyes blood short with bravado. “And where do you live. You have not moved to the new houses, the recently upgraded storey houses,” Tim asks anxious to get to the story line. “No and we won’t but we had an allocation of a unit. My father says he has rented it out to people with money. We will eat meat often now. My father has promised.”
“What happened to your head”, Tim venture further trying to convince himself it could lead to a bigger story. “Here where we live is bad.” James says pointing at a tin made single room then continuous “I have seven brothers. That day was the last day of voter registration. The rival communities who live here had been fighting the whole day over the importation of voters. The politicians were here in big cars. They paid some goons to chase my community voter’s away. My father was in the factory so he did not get to know about the fights”. James stops the story and begins to weep. “Please don’t cry. Finish the story,” Tim urge him on his candor convincing him of the truth in his words.
“Ok let me tell you. It was a miscalculation. My father had sent me to buy paraffin to make dinner when he arrived from work at night fall. They get paid daily so we only buy items when he comes from work. On my way some youths from the other community stopped me. They greeted me in another dialect. When I did not reply they descended on me with sticks and kicks. As they beat me, I heard one of them say, “This will also grow to be a voter. We better finish him. A baby snake is also a snake”. I was down bleeding. I thought I would die. Suddenly some torch light I appeared from a far. They ran off and left me for dead. I was being punished for the sins of my father. For belonging to the other tribe in Alepo.” The boy puffs out air with a sigh as he concludes.
Tim let the boy go to allow him to file back the story to the headquarters. He punches away on his laptop. Then he strays of to look for a convenience. Later he penned it down.
“Wee…” It is a woman’s voice. It is directed to me I guess, so a turn around to face her. The woman is tall, slim and smart. We face each other eyeball to eyeball like angora goats do before a fight. She is smiling but her talking style is rather querulous.
“My name is Tim I work for the Weekly Times,” I say to break the ice. She looks at me confusedly. “How can you just pass? No greetings. Right in front of my house. What brings you here? You look mzuri you don’t live around. Do you?” the woman asks with a softer voice now.
“Toilet, I need a …”.The sentence is muted in my mouth as the neighbor cuts in. She says,”Neee,”I cannot decipher what she is saying. More curtains are drawn and more faces appear on the windows. “Let him pass he needs a loo. Please walk to the far end, you will find a place,” the other woman says. She is probably in her late teens. This woman has a bleached face with black dots the size of water melon seeds. Her slender frame is silhouetted in a tight flowery dress.
The other woman on the other door is smiling now. She turns to show her bosom which are threatening to burst out of a tiny short skirt she is wearing. The cleavage is squeezed into a ball bulge and hanged out to dry. I can almost see the whole thing but I withdraw my journalistic inquisitive eyes. Her big round white eyes stroll and roll up and down my frame. “Am I a suspect,” my head is jammed with thoughts that race in all directions.
This woman who has intercepted me is determined and deliberate. I make effort to evade locking horns with her risky eyes at any rate. Still I notice the lips brighten with a telling smile, her throat moves as if she is swallowing and her colored tongue glim over the glossed blood-red lips the way snakes smell a prey. She moves the fold of her brow up and down invitingly. I am stunned, this story is moving in a completely different direction. “Well the boss had said I cover all dimensions-social, economic and even political,” I say in my head consolingly.
“Thank you,” I tell this more aggressive host now standing in front of me demurely while still checkmating the tall woman at the entrance. I heed to the direction she has just pointed.
At the far end of the raw of houses I cannot see any semblance of a convenience, not even a latrine. Two black pots are boiling balanced on three stones that make the tripod. The wood blaze and spit yellow fire as the pots contents respond in a boiling tremor. Steam escape through a tiny hole in the torn plastic polythene cover, like geyser from underground. It must be ready this borne soup for sale. They have creative ways of earning some meager income here in Alepo. I tell myself. The economic side of the story begin to take shape but still the “socialites” angle take the gold.
As I trace my way back I notice another addition, another door is open, another woman is out. This one is overly friendly. “I could be lost. There is no semblance of a toilet,” I tell her meekly. “Yes blacky, do you know how handsome you are?” She ask smiling cheekily as she approaches. It is a contagious smile. Without a warning she slides her delicate fingers through the raged terrain on my chest. I had wanted to explore new angles to the story but this new move catches me off-guard. I protest but am surprised at how subdued I sound, “Playing weaklings can do the trick,” I reason. For a brief moment am tongue tied then I shudder with a filler.
“Ah..ah..ah, I think I am lost” I say finally finding my manly voice. “Go back and check well,” she says nudging on with her hands like a caring mother to a child. Still, I begin to sense danger. In my journalistic training “field detractors” was covered as a by-the way, in this situation I now wish “handling pest, stalkers and predators” should have been a core unit. The more I figure out the kind of services offered here, the more I realize how smooth I need to play my cards to avert any mishap. This new woman looks swerve, she could have some plans up her sleeves but the way she is doing it I think she has decorum or class or both in her demeanor above the others. So I listen to her and go back as per her instructions.
Eventually I see a hole in the ground, bawled up like the Chinese toilets in the open but nestled into a black polythene. It is full of waste. I wonder how I had missed it the first time round. It becomes apparent to me that it is the toilet I had read about in some newspaper “the flying toilets of Alepo” that was the headline. I estimate that it is “stationery by day but start to fly by night.” Flies are fully fed and are taking a break lined up on some string like blue beads of a golden necklace on the display window of a boutique. The long call that had bothered me performs a disappearing act and the short one reduce quickly to a trickle.
“Karibu mbuyu” the tall woman says trying to lure me to her den with arms stretched as I walk past from the convenience. “No thanks. I am in a bit of a hurry but I will be back. Here take this and share with your friends.” I say as I stuff a wad of notes in her hand to buy my escape. “Sheeee, don’t talk loudly. Those vultures may hear us,” she says as she stuffs the notes inside her bra and escorts me to the gate. “He is my client please. Stay away from him,” she says protectively as guards my path to the outside gate.
Tim Garimondo reporting live from Alepo


4 thoughts on “Reporting live from Alepo

  1. Hmm,left me wondering whether this job (reporter) can apply to people like me. Very very interesting though. Thumbs up.


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