10 August 2007

In Asia or Africa, rickshaw guilt

[7/31/07 Dear John, My rickshaw runner wore yellow flip-flops that cost about $1 at the local market. He was speedy. Wearing my $80 Sauchony running shoes, I probably could have kept pace with him – assuming I didn’t have to tug a rickshaw behind me. His wooden rickshaw is painted in primary colors (red, blue, yellow and some green) and has streamers that blow in the wind. He calls it a “pousse-pousse,” not a rickshaw, because, in French, pousse-pousse means push-push. And that’s what he does, all day long. He pushes people around the city of Mahajanga -- up its gentle hills, around the craters in its aging, rocky roads, and, in my case, home from lunch at a restaurant on the bay, down a touristy boardwalk, past a 700-year-old tree. My meal – fish, noodles and vegetables – cost $2.50. My ride home cost about 50 cents, a price that included the driver’s grunts as he charged up a hill. When he dropped me off, near an ATM machine, he was dripping in sweat. I was dripping in guilt and embarrassment. I rode the rickshaw to have a unique experience here, but on the ride, under a searing winter sun, all I thought about was how difficult it must be to run around the city all day for work, making almost no money, and then waking up the next day having to do it again. Yeah, it’s a job. Many here don’t have one. But it is a rather abusive form of employment. Some of my friends wanted to pay two rickshaw drivers to race. Like that’d be funny or something. It would be a fun game for them, my friends said. I doubt it. Love you, John]

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