Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sierra Leone... Life after Ebola

Back to Sierra Leone early January!
What a change, how lively it is, the country is back swagging, people go out, beaches and bars are full, what a change from last year, the contrast is enormous, highlighting both the resilience of the people from Salone and the admirable way they changed their habits and life, to respond to the worst Ebola outbreak. 
I have so much respect for them, now we are drinking, we are dancing and playing ball on the beach, that's the way we roll! 
People are back in the streets, gazillions of them, and I could spend some time in the markets and slums of Freetown. Informal settlements during the week and touristy spots on the WE.

One of the pleasure of spending time in slums is that they are full of contrasts. The first impressions are mostly filled with the litter, the smells of fire, sewage, food, noise and durtiness. Then you start paying attention to life, to the kids, the multiple businesses, the youths putting up a party spot, the others playing ball, and you come to the realization that the metal city is breathing and moving. Then beauty comes out. Beauty is shy. It comes in the way rooms are taken care of, the paintings on the walls, the people you meet or, in this specific case, in the work of craftsmen. Facing the sea is the shipyard, and a boat was being finished. I don't know what resonated so much in me. Was it the colours, the size or the story behind the boat? The ship builder told me that it was commissionned to navigate between Conakry and Freetown, transporting up to 25 people, with their merchandises. It was due to be lauched early february. It should be on the ocean now. The boats tell stories of the fishermen, of mobility and the relations people build between regions. The boats and the zinc houses are full of dreams, energy and aspirations. Walking in dirt with heads full of dreams. 

Thanks guys for taking me out to the Whatsapp -and filling a USB with local tunes. A cool venue to dance on nigerian, ghanean, Salone beats, azondo, dancehall, ndombolo and others! So nice to go out! So much more simple than in zim. You don't feel like an intruder, you're a guest and it feels good.

Quincy (previousely known as Paddy's) is another night spot, a bar, dancefloor and pool tables on the beach. I went there because I couldn't not go out. It's Freetown and Ebola is over. You have to dance for life. I was thinking I'ld find people in that popular venue but no-one I knew was there. There was a police-force function, with distribution of certificates and prizes, then the music kicked in.
When I'm alone I sketch. As a man alone in a bar, I draw attention, and the solitude is quickly broken by friendly ladies of the night. I find that drawing enables to switch the conversation, to discuss about something else than love, businness and attraction. We then get to chat about what I am doing, I get to do their portrait and chat about our lives, the children, the jobs, dreams of success and a good life. I like to hear stories of people. I think that in a sense that is what I do. Last year a young girl in india asked me what I was doing. I was visiting her school, in a brick kiln. the workplace of her family. It is difficult for me to explain my job to children, so I said that I am hearing stories from people all over the world and I can share them. In a way I am a storyteller. I am collecting hundreds of stories,  snippets of life from people who have/ are facing hardship and from those who live with empathy and compassion. I collect stories of violence and love, poverty and dreams, neglect and care.
And I see with so much clarity the similarity in the human experience, regardless of colour, gender, religion, group of belonging, environment... humans are designed to love, to help each others, to cooperate and to show compassion. Whatever the situation, be there war, natural disaster, violence... there will always be people who will care and help, regardless of the danger, regardless of themselves.
I met last week a beautiful women, she is working for the catholic church in a war zone, helping to provide health facilities to over half a million people. Under the bombs. On one side you have people trying hard to destroy, on the other you have others that keep on building and caring regardless. They win. She told me that she spoke to the bishop about the extreme situation she is working in, and yet that feeling of being alive, happy and so looking forward to go back in the field. Under the bombs, living surrounded by violence. The bishop said that it was like being in Love. Love make people do crazy things, forgetting themselves and yet feeling in complete harmony and peace.

My daughter can share images from her head, she can put thoughts in other people's heads and dreams. She is 5, she is right, she shares good thoughts. I should do that more often.Kids know things adults have forgotten.