When making my way out to the other side of Freetown to meet with my weaving teacher, I have experienced on several occasions now the fascinating mess of traffic in the capital that I described in an earlier post. My last such trip, however, was genuinely amusing.
After I had been directed to the poda poda headed to Grafton where my teacher lives, the man who guides the passengers to their poda podas (I have no idea what one would call his position) poked his head in to address all the passengers. In Krio he told us that the poda poda would be taking back streets (meaning away from the official route) to avoid traffic. If the police stopped us, we were to say we were on a school outing. He ducked out again, missing the giggles among us all as we looked around noting the wide range of our ages from teenaged to elderly, the huge baskets of goods that would be sold at the Grafton market, the two babies in their mothers laps, and me, the lone white lady. The driver started the engine just as the giggles had settled into grins and we were off, up and down the crazy back streets of eastern Freetown. From my seat some appeared no wider than the poda poda itself, but we managed to squeeze past oncoming and parked cars, all the while the driver was deftly avoiding a shocking plunge into the deep drainage ditches on either side. Most of the streets are not paved any longer, and many lead straight up the side of one of the mountains that rise up out of the city's harbor. I had learned by then to trust the drivers of these rusty buses to miraculously coax the engines up very steep inclines, but I nevertheless held my breath until we started the long descent back down to the main road out of town.
Then one of the passengers spotted the police officer, just before the driver himself. We all went silent as if the officer might hear us. The driver pulled over behind a parked truck, turned the engine off and stuck his head out of the window. No one said a word until the officer was seen riding off on his motorcycle. We all laughed as the driver started the engine again - he was entirely straight-faced about the whole business, clearly not at all amused by having to dodge the police officers who had begun patrolling the back streets now that they had figured out what the poda poda drivers were up to. He was apparently emotionally prepared for the challenge as well: We pulled out onto the main road just a few blocks from where three officers stood at a traffic circle. The driver pulled up to them, said something amiable to them that made them laugh and off we went.
Just a little update on the school today: Thanks to a substantial donation from the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City and my own frugal living (even splurging on restaurant dinners and imported chocolate bars it is possible to live on less than $500 a month) this week we will begin serving lunch on Fridays. A little further calculation revealed that I couldn't really stay through mid-July if the school lunch program were to continue through the end of the school year, so I have booked my return flights home for the beginning of June and arranged with the school director to take care of the lunch program. Really, I was also thinking about the warnings I had received that once the rainy season started up in May, there would be days when I wouldn't be able to get to the school because of flooded roads. I will have completed introducing the curriculum and childhood development by then and am planning to finally sit in on classes so as to evaluate the teachers and give them some feedback on how they are developing. It now seems as if there is no time left at all before I go and so much to do...