Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Day in Freetown

Thanks to Jeff Bolster’s recommendation of Melatonin a few years back, I was finally able to get some sleep- that little herbal supplement does wonders for getting you on the right time zone! The bed was a bit hard and I was wrapped in mosquito netting, but I slept really well, and felt very refreshed in the morning. I lay in bed for awhile and watched South African soap operas- there may be even more drama in their soaps then ours and decided to get ready for the day. While the TV is nice, I think my favorite thing about this hotel room is the Italian language Top Gun poster on the mirror, Tom Cruise and Kelly McGinnis would be proud- or however you say proud in Italian.

Over my two cups of tea at breakfast I watched an older gentleman sweep up flowers and leaves that had fallen in the outdoor patio. The patio was made up of the usual red dirt and he bent over and used a hand held broom of sticks on the entire patio, it took him over an hour to do the whole thing. Once he got an area in a pile, he would bring over a big basket and put all the flowers and leaves in the basket and move on to the next section. It was tedious work, and I quite liked the look of plumerias dotting the patio, but understand the hotel’s desire to provide a clean atmosphere.

While watching the man work, I had a lovely chat with the waiter. I was the only customer for awhile, so we got to chat exclusively. Most of our conversation was about American music- he is a big fan of R&B and soul music- he was quite pleased when I introduced myself as Whitney, like Whitney Houston- one of his favorite singers. So, it is good to know that introduction works here as well as in the US. He told me a bit about the local music, although he does not really enjoy it, and also about how many of the children now that the music scene has taken off here, dream of being musicians, and in fact spend more time writing music and singing than on their assigned homework. The waiter didn’t seem to approve, and says that he does not want to be a musician, but that he would do it for fun maybe. Music has seem to have largely caught on, even more so than football- who would have thought?

The waiter has given me his e-mail address and phone numbers and promises that when I come back to Freetown in a few weeks he will give me the names of the best places to see local music, and what do on the beach- which is where he lives. He, like many of the Sierra Leoneans I meet, are very friendly, outgoing, and love to be helpful. He was also interested in my “project” here- I suspect that every Westerner that comes through is involved in some sort of project, as opposed to coming for tourism. I explain what I am doing and he says that he is sure I will find some good things to report upon during my time in the Provinces. I hope he is right, and eagerly look forward to my time there and to coming back to Freetown to do the work from the research I find. I thanked him for breakfast and the nice chat over tea, wander a bit around the grounds and take some photos and head back to my room to write a bit and wait to hear from Christiana for our tour around the town. I wonder if the goats I have just seen on the grounds have supplied the milk for my cereal, or might serve as my dinner tonight…

Christiana came to pick me up at around 11:30am and we got in the jeep and jostled our way into town. We made so many stops it is difficult to recall them all, but our first was at the Parliament. As it was Saturday, Parliament was not in session, but because I was with a semi-celebrity, we got a private tour given by a security guard and police man. We even got to see the minority and majority whip offices, a place even Christiana had not been before. The gentlemen were very nice and told me all the things of which I would want to take pictures, included the grave of the first prime minister and the blue topped buildings of the UN Special Court which took over part of the maximum security prison when the war ended. We also ran into a former FAWE employee who had started a new outreach program, and he very proudly showed Christiana his brand new offices.

Once back in the car, we took a drive to see Christiana’s new office building which is currently under construction, and going to be quite beautiful. We drove down the street and saw the President’s office and the Law Courts right across from the famous Cotton Tree that Christiana talked so much about when telling me of her childhood and her grandmother. I was sure to take a picture.

We wandered down the road past rows and rows of huts set up to sell all sorts of goods from backpacks, to suits, to shirts and trousers, to household items. The huts were largely of metal and some wood. People wandered throughout the streets in their brightly colored outfits carrying just about anything on their heads. We made our way past the huts to where the ships used to come in and bring slaves from the slave trade and up the stone steps where the slaves set free by the British under the Cotton Tree.

Next, we traveled to the market a two story lengthy building that had make-shift stalls where people would sell their goods. The first floor was lots of baskets and hand carvings and the second floor was half dresses, shirts, and fabrics and the other half jewelry and carved wood- very typical Africa- elephants and giraffes and other type goods. I will have to digest it all and think about my purchases. Luckily Christiana says some of my hosts are good shoppers, I think I will take them up on their assistance and advice.

Once we made it out of the market and got back in the car we drove through the slums of Freetown. This is where Christiana grew up and she says other than overcrowding not much has changed. The wooden and metal shacks were piled one next to the other and groups of people that you could not imagine even fitting into one of the houses were sitting in front trying to catch the breeze that is the only thing to help beat the heat. They mostly likely all lived in that little one room shack- generations from the young and the old all crammed in together. Our drive was quick, and I would have liked to spend a bit more time there and talk to the people… maybe when John comes we can go back. I remember from my time in South Africa that some of the friendliest people were in the townships, or slums. It went buy outside of the window in a flash, something I am not sure is fair for those people; I think their stories should be told too.

I have seen my first amputee victims- one missing one hand at the Heliport and one near the cotton tree today missing both hands. They had likely been chopped off by a machete during the war. I was glad that I had seen pictures and heard stories about such brutal activities so that I was not completely taken off guard- I am sure this is just the first of many such experiences.

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