the cost of living… in the dust

Last Thursday, a massive dust storm rolled down off the Sahara and covered the region in a blanket of pore-penetrating grime.  For a while it made us feel like we had been transported to a yellow planet.  Visibility at its worse was about 100 metres.  People covered their noses and mouths with head scarves when venturing outside.  We had to wipe down every table, chair and surface ever few hours.  The blizzard of dirt gradually dissipated by Sunday.  What an experience.

One of the most memorable sights was that of the “grayed” moto-taxi drivers.  Although they covered their faces as best they could with scarves, tuques and face masks, their eyelashes and eyebrows couldn’t escape the dust that added years to their appearance.  They went gray within hours.

Despite the inclement weather, the moto-taxi drivers were still out in force – moving Maroua’s residents along weaving tracks cut into the dust-covered streets.  That’s because they can ill afford to go without income – even at the cost of  burning their lungs and eyes.

Here’s a little Maroua economics lesson:

$1 CAN = 480 CFA

$1 US = 490 CFA

1 kilo of really good parboil rice = 600 CFA

1 kilo of not as good looking rice = 300 CFA

1 pile of about 5 roma tomatoes = 200 CFA

4 bananas = 200 CFA

1 baguette of bread = 100 CFA

1 croissant = 250 CFA

1 kilo of little red beans = 700 CFA

1 package of cookies = 1200 CFA

1 small jar of jam = 1250 CFA

½ pound (about) of cooked meat from a street stand = 500 CFA

1 large bottle of coke = 600 CFA

1 roll of pink toilet paper = 250 CFA

1 block of all-purpose brown soap = 350 CFA

Here’s what these prices mean to a mototaxi driver.  After shelling out 2 000 CFA each morning to rent his moto (if he’s not lucky enough to already own one), he still needs to put 400 CFA in gas (smuggled in from Nigeria).  He likely will require more later.

Each ride within the centre of Maroua earns him 100 CFA.  This means that he needs to have at least 24 customers during the day to break even and to have enough funds to rent the moto the next day.

He hasn’t even made any money yet.

He’ll need 3 other rides just to get “TP” and a banana.

Now, if he wants to bring home a nice dinner for the family …  you do the math.  It’s no wonder they are out come rain or shine … or dust storms.

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~ by Caroline Spira on March 24, 2010.

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