COMPETITION: LITERALLY LOST NUMBER 56
Sunday 15 November 1998
The houses had to be built shoulder to shoulder, forming a labyrinth of tower-blocks reached from the rear by tortuous alleys. Some fanciful observers had called it the "Manhattan of Arabia", though for me it resembled far more a scaled-down version of the old city of Kowloon in Hong Kong - a monstrous warren of tenements supposed to house more than 100,000 people. Kowloon was built of cement and steel, but considering that **** was constructed entirely of mud fortified with straw and dung, it was a very formidable accomplishment indeed.
Shukri parked the car in a side-street and we walked through the arched gateway into a small square dominated by the cigar-shaped minaret of a mosque. We wandered through the cool alleys beneath leathery walls in which shallow fluting acted as conduits for the human refuse that dribbled down from on high. The alleys were cluttered with rubble and carpeted with goat droppings. Swarms of children followed us, yelling, "Where are you from, mister?" Women's faces appeared momentarily at high windows. Donkey-carts laden with clover creaked past. Every nook and broken corner was a roosting-place for scraggly goats, sheep or hobbled donkeys. Chickens and roosters chased each other in clucking confusion. On mastabas - raised step-buttresses - men in futas and headclothes were clattering out dice on backgammon boards, and old women in black sat silently, taking in the evening savours of goat-musk, animal dung, urine and human sweat. Some of the alleys were shaded with sacking and housed one-room shops where robust men in white dishdashas presided over sacks of grain, and tables heavy with biscuit-tins full of rice, onions, garlic, salt, cumin and red pepper. Flaps of dried shark-meat and tuna were piled up like shards of firewood, the high odours of the fish adding to the matrix of smells. One old greybeard sat contentedly cutting a well-bucket from a section of truck-tyre, the walls of his tiny shop decorated with crafted leather water skins.
Literally Lost 55: The action took place in Leon, Spain, and the book was Spanish Journeys by Adam Hopkins. The winner is Sue Donnelly of Ealing.
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