Sunday, October 23, 2011

Taking a walk

One of the best ways to experience a country is by taking a walk. This past week I have gone on two walks to the Crown Bakery, and the week before we walked to the museum by the cotton tree. Both take about forty five minutes to get to on foot. In a car, it could take from fifteen minutes to two hours depending on traffic.

The streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone are both fascinating and over the top frustrating. To meander one’s way to the crown or to the museum, one must go through the street market. Think of a flee market on a busy street. Small shops under old west saloon type buildings with their dilapidated and artsy balconies line both sides of the street. Fruit, spices, shoes, and clothing stalls stand wooden and rickety right in front of those, almost completely blocking the small sidewalks. In front of both, on the street itself, is numerous venders selling soaps, spices, shoes, and diapers, in large bowls, old blankets, and right on the tarmac. There is a constant noise, a pushing, a shoving, and people pulling at the pedestrians to look at their product, hoping the foreigner will spend more than it is worth. All this, and I haven’t even added the traffic!

Most people in Africa just walk everywhere, so on the main thoroughfares there are huge crowds (especially on the street market) mobbing the whole place: a continuous stream of bodies weaving in and out of each other as mini busses, semi trucks and taxis stream through, pushing and squishing people to the side, and causing the vendors on the street to scramble up with their merchandise, breathing a sigh of relief as their toes are not squished. On these streets I have had people pulling on my sleeves, little kids taking my hands, my ears numbed, and a feeling of overwhelming come over me.

There is a reason Africans are so communal. They have no choice otherwise. As little children, many of them take naps on the sidewalk as their parents yell their wares out to the passing populace. When they grow old enough (about five), they get their own bowl to place on top of their head and wander up and down the street calling out for people to buy from them.

I almost paint a bad picture, but it is not. It is a communal picture. I hear laughter often as moms' joke about something that went on that day (not unusual for me to be the butt of the joke). Many of them lounge in their chairs and chat to one another and let a tape recorder do the calling out. There is even a street performer in one of the byways and people gather around to watch him much like in Paris or London.

People stay in basically the same place day in and out. I’m starting to recognize them. On one of the corners, close to the bakery is a coconut seller. He sells them, chops them open, and takes out their meat while you stand there, all from a wheelbarrow. One has to stand there while drinking the water and eating the meat because he takes the shell back. It’s the same idea with coke vendors. African coke, along with fanta and sprite, comes in a bottle. The vendors get money for bringing back the glass bottle to their supplier so one must drink the coke right there. In America this would never work. People are too busy moving, thus the reason for take away and fast food. Here people stand and chat to one another as they refresh themselves with the best tasting coke I have ever had.

Truly, I have grown to love Africa, and taking walks has done just that.

Note: The pictures taken were from a car, and are not in the places described, but they give a good depiction of what I mean. I rarely take pictures when walking.