Sunday, August 21, 2011

A typical day in Freetown (Betty Press)

This was my first day to really try to get around Freetown and take care of some the activities that we are supporting here. We were lucky that our favorite taxi driver, Sheku, (the one that we worked with before) had just come back from doing business in another city and was available to help us. He already knows a lot of the people I need to see and where to find them. And it is nice to work with someone who we like and trust. Today he also informed us of the latest political news as one of the main political parties here just had their convention and chose their presidential candidate for the 2012 election. On Sunday we were warned to stay away from the area where the convention was being held due to possible violence and heavy traffic. But from what we heard things stayed pretty quiet.

So today I was off to cash some money. I went to one of the major banks in downtown. After being referred to several different windows they didn’t seem much interested in cashing my dollars so I ended up doing it discreetly with one of the street changers in the back seat of my taxi. That’s not how I would prefer to do it but the banks here are not set up for “tourists”. After that fortunately the traffic was not too bad and we were able to get Bob to his next appointment at Fourah Bay College on time.

Then Sheku and I went off to find Meddish, the artist I have been working with. I had some money for him and I also wanted him to do a few more paintings that I could take back with me to sell for him. Meddish only speaks Krio so Sheku helped me out with the translation. Sheku also agreed to buy the boards, and get them cut so Meddish would have something to paint on. Meddish is one of the few people who doesn’t have a cell phone so locating where he is always takes time. His friends at a kiosk where he cuts hair said that he was at his mother’s. So after about an hour of searching here and there we finally found him. This is just another example of what it is like to do business here. It takes time and patience and bearing up under the heat and humidity. Meddish is an untrained painter but I think he has real potential. I am advising him to do some pop art type work some of which you can see in the photos. Later I took him to a small art center where he might be able to sell his work here. He doesn’t have much confidence in his work and I so I am trying to encourage him.

These are the pictures that he painted for me and I picked up later in the week. I think these are some of his best. if anyone is interested in buying these please let me know.

Later in the day I also got in touch with another artist called Sparta. I had sold two of his paintings and so he, too, was so pleased to have some extra money. People are really struggling here to survive. Sparta is a good graphic artist but he doesn’t have regular work. I met him because he had painted the sign for the Obama International Bakery back in 2009.

After working with Meddish I went off to Cardiff Preparatory, the school that was near where we used to live and where I took so many wonderful photos. I was shocked to see that in place of the solid school building there was now a structure entirely covered in tin sheets.

As it turned out there had been a dispute with the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints over who owned the land where the school was located. So one weekend the church sent in bulldozers and knocked the school down. The only things saved were the benches…all the computers, books, and supplies lost or taken. Unbelievable! The teachers and the children marched in protest up to the Presidential compound that is located near the school. There was also TV coverage by that time. President Koroma saw what happened and ordered the church to rebuild the school. But so far they have only built this tin structure. Later it was determined that the school is on government land not on church property.

The picture with the girls running was how the school used to look in 2009.

Florence is the deputy headmaster at Cardiff and we have been sponsoring several children at the school with the help of some other of our friends. One of them is Minkailu who had just broken his arm. The other who is doing really well with her grades is Jestina, shown here with Florence and her mother.

The other two are no longer at Cardiff. Sarah had a problem with her family and is now at the SOS Children’s home with her little brother. I went to see her just before we left the country. She seemed a little sad but gave me a big hug. The home is a good one as far as childens'homes go so I think she will be all right. Jestina and Sarah are special to me because their picture from 2009 is featured in my book. Another student graduated from Cardiff and is now in a state junior secondary school. So things change!

By that time I was tired and ready to go back to the guesthouse for a break. It’s a problem to keep one’s energy up in this chaotic urban environment. As we were driving back Sheku was stopped by a traffic cop who asked to look at his documents. Sheku just showed his driver’s license but would not give it to the cop before knowing what the offense was. If you give over the license it is hard to get it back sometimes. I started writing down the cop’s name and number and so he got upset with me. So finally what was the offense…too many decorations on the car!!! The cops are just harassing people, trying to get money. Finally I think he decided we were too much trouble and he wouldn’t get anything from us so he let us go. This is something taxi drivers have to contend with on a daily basis.

We are staying at a very pleasant guesthouse. We have AC and lights 24 hours and even more important WIFI...though the internet is so slow that is frustrating to use it and with the heavy rains the server is often down.

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