[Fred Baele in Sierra Leone] I went back to Sierra Leone early January. What a change, how lively it is, 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 transformed 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 spent some time in the markets and slums of Freetown.
The slums are full of contrasts. The first impressions are mostly filled with the litter, the smells of fire, sewage, food, noise and dirt. 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 with me: Was it the colours, the size or the story behind the boat? The ship builder told me that it was commissioned to navigate between Conakry and Freetown, transporting up to 25 people and their merchandise. The boats tell stories of the fishermen, of mobility and connection. The boats and the houses are full of dreams, energy and aspirations. Walking in dirt with heads full of dreams.
Quincy (previously known as Paddy's) is a night spot, a bar, dance floor 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. When I'm alone I sketch. I find that drawing enables me to switch the conversation. 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. In a way I am a storyteller. I am collecting hundreds of stories, snippets of life from people who have or 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.
Fred Baele is a social worker. His job in child protection takes him to many countries across the world. Beside his day job, he sketches and illustrates children's books. He lives with his wife and children in Harare, Zimbabwe. You can see more of his travels and sketches here.