Sunday, October 12, 2008

from Betty:Taxi drivers are our friends

Taxi drivers are our friends
We get around here by hiring taxi drivers. We have about 3 names of good, reliable drivers and whenever we need to do something we book them for several hours. They are more than taxi drivers; they are the ones who inform us about the town, teach us some Krio and are ready to help solve any problem we might have. Almost like a personal assistant in the US but doesn’t cost as much. Today I booked Farah and my goal was to check out the apt and decide what else we needed in the way of furniture. We plan to live with very little but one necessary thing, so Bob could do his work, was a desk. Farah took me to the carpenter who made some furniture for him but the guy was not at his workshop if you could call it that. All I saw was a very crudely built worktable and some rough wood stacked in a corner. Somehow that did not give me a lot of confidence though Farah assured me that he made very good, and cheap, furniture and I would not be disappointed. I decided I wanted to look further. There are lots of local carpenters and so it wasn’t hard to find someone else. And I realized again how basic these workshops are and it’s a wonder how they turn out anything decent at all. I am sure these guys could have made me something nice but I still wanted to look further.
So we drove to another place where they were supposed to be some carpenters. The first place we saw was too hard to park at. The next place we saw was a commercial place, owned probably by a Lebanese, with some imported and locally made desks…nice stuff but too expensive. And I really wanted to support the local crafts people so we drove on. I was not expecting to see a desk because most carpenters if they have any things on display, its usually beds, tables and chairs, not desks. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a DESK on the side of the road. I told Farah to stop but there was nowhere for him to park. So I just got out and told Farah to find me, as I wanted to see this desk. Later Farah did manage to get turned around and found a place to park near this guy’s workshop. I tried not to show too much interest in the desk and so walked around admiring the other pieces because I knew that I would have to bargain hard for it. We did come to a deal pretty fast with Farah helping me. But then we had another problem how would we get this desk back to the apt. It looked pretty big to fit in the taxi. And I didn’t know anyone with who could transport it for me. So Farah opened the trunk and they started to try to fit it in. At first, it didn’t look like it would work but then Farah proceeded to put his back seats down and with just a little maneuvering we managed to get it in and the trunk closed.
Still Farah said that we might be stopped by the police and that could cause a lot of problems. So to avoid the police he turned off on a side road, which was ok except it, was the worst road that I had ever seen and it got worse as we climbed up the hill. At one point the road deteriorated to only sharp, pointed rocks on a steep incline. I was a basket case by the time we made it to the top where the road, at least, looked like what I would call a road. To celebrate we stopped a vendor who was selling bread. A popular snack here is freshly baked baguette, split in half, with carnation sweet milk dribbled on. I bought two. Farah ate one long loaf in no time. I decided that wasn’t my idea of a treat, so he had another one to eat later. But I did admire the vendor’s t-shirt, which had Emimen on it and asked him if I could take his picture. We continued on without incident to our apt and with the help of the staff there had the desk easily moved inside. It took most of the afternoon but, at least, we had accomplished something. And here that is itself something to feel good about!! As Farah wisely told me as we started out on this mission “there is a solution to every problem”.

Shopping with a Prince in Freetown
The next day I booked another taxi driver, whose name is Prince, and told him that I needed to buy some cheap house wares for the apartment. Without him I would have gone to one of the Lebanese owned supermarkets where everything is really expensive, but it is, at least, a place that I can walk down aisles and pick and choose what I might want. Prince took me downtown to a market area in the heart of the old city. A good area to shop but not an easy place to find a parking place.
Freetown is an old city with narrow streets that is slowly filling up with cars. There is no planning for widening streets, parking, there are no street lights, no stop signs and it can only get worse as people get more cars. It’s amazing that the city works as well as it does. You would have to learn a whole different way of driving here. Cars meet with inches to spare, weave around pedestrians who have to walk along the road as there are no sidewalks or they have been destroyed or blocked by street vendors.
This market area was located on a narrow, unpaved, rocky street lined with shops that had seen better days and also local street vendors. How these shops got their goods delivered was a mystery to me, I can only guess in the very early morning. There was one truck delivering goods and it completely blocked the road. Most of the shops sold cheap house wares and it was perfect for what I wanted. The shop we chose was piled high, floor to ceiling, with goods and only a small space was left for a counter behind which was the owner, maybe Lebanese, and two Sierra Leonean employees stood. I was at a loss to even decide what I wanted but slowly I started mentioning stuff or pointing to stuff and we ended up with a large pile of stuff. Prince was really helpful advising me what I might need and between the two of us we did really well. I got a lot of stuff at a very reasonable price. Then I also wanted towels which we harder to find. We walked a long way down this rutted street, crowded with shoppers and vendors. At one point we had to crawl up a low wall to get around this delivery truck blocking the road. I was getting really tired as I still don’t have a lot of stamina and my back was really starting to hurt. So when we finally found a woman selling a few towels I bought what she had so we could go back to the taxi. We collected the other stuff that I had bought and made our way back to the taxi. So much for my first major shopping trip. Later I found out that we had left the handle to the broom we bought so I guess we will be back for more stuff.

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