Sunday, October 5, 2008

Traffic Accidents, Bandits and Armed Robberies

Today I was in my hometown of about 10,000 people, near the Pennsylvanian capital of Harrisburg. I was a bit surprised to hear that someone was recently robbed at gunpoint just a few blocks from my parents' home. Earlier in the week, similar events were taking place in Alexandria, VA a city of over 120,000 people just across the river from Washington DC. Twice in this past week armed men robbed (or attempted to rob) our local pharmacy in our Del Ray neighborhood with a small-town feel, where it is said that "Main Street still exists." I feel like the bandits followed me home.

Last week I was working in Benin, a country which is about the same size as Pennsylvania. We spent the night in a nice hotel called Les Routiers in Parakou, the largest town in northern Benin, but we worked about a 2-hour drive away in a smaller village. Our long daily commute had to be done during daylight for optimum safety. The thin layer of asphalt on the two-lane road had eroded away in many places, leaving great potholes to swallow up small vehicles and cause many flat tires. And traffic accidents. So between the potholes, cars and trucks passing on your left even when there wasn't sufficient room, and drivers who like to conserve energy by not using headlights at night in the dark, we certainly had enough incentive to travel by day.

For me though, the best reason to be back at the hotel at the end of the day had to do with the local bandits. We noticed some men working on the side of the road, attempting to shovel dirt in to the potholes. The men were really shabby-looking, dirty, and were looking for money from every car that drove past, to pay them for their efforts. At night, this road apparently became a haven for machete-wielding bandits, thus solidifying our desire to commute during the daylight hours. I imagine these shady impromptu road-workers were the bandits of the night.

It just seems very odd that all this banditry in the Benin countryside, in my small Pennsylvania hometown, and here at home in Alexandria should happen in the period of a week. I know the financial crisis has world-wide implications, but should we all prepare for more crime and theft as a result? For now, I'll stick to daytime commutes through the African countryside, and won't frequent the pharmacy in the middle of the night. (I'd prefer to be sleeping at nighttime anyhow!)

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