I’ve been in Freetown for nearly two weeks now, still adjusting and adapting to what is a wildly different world than the one to which I am accustomed.
I must admit, though, while my riding in a poda poda, attending church and everything else that I’ve written about thus far have been exciting and memorable, there is one thing that trumps them all and has left a lasting impression on me: Walking through the city center.
Filled with hundreds of merchants and thousands of more pedestrians, the streets of the city center through which cars must seemingly inch their way past are more like a jungle to me than a city.
My first time in the city center, my colleague with whom I was walking turned to me as we shoved our way through the tight crowd and said, “Chaotic, is it not?”
At first glance: Sure, it’s definitely chaotic. Cars are continually honking, people are shouting at and bumping into each other, and if I looked away for no more than a couple minutes I might lose sight of my colleague walking in front of me.
After witnessing the hustle and bustle of the city center, one (especially an American) might think to himself: How can anyone stay organized here?
But taking a closer look, I could see that everyone was actually rather calm; everyone knew their place.
I like to think of the “chaos” of city center as “controlled chaos:” All of the people there are able to manage the perceived craziness so well that they can still get around and function properly amidst the crowded and busy streets.
The merchants know when to attend to a customer; the pedestrians know when a car is right behind them with or without a warning honk; and most people carry on in a bright and positive mood (for the most part).
Of course, I don’t try to live in an ideal world where everything is perfect and “jolly good.” During both times I walked through the city center, the colleague who guided me through warned me to keep my possessions close and not let anyone pick-pocket me.
“This is Freetown,” one co-worker said. “You have to be on your toes.”
Admittedly, I was shouted at once or twice because I was dragging along too slowly or walking too much in the middle of the street. But for every shout I heard, I was in turn greeted by another three or four more smiles and waves as people would say hello.
So while to the residents of Freetown, this is just a part of their daily lives, the city center, to me, can be like a wild jungle. But it is one in which order is still in place where people co-exist and exhibit what I believe to be a special talent: The ability to control chaos.
By Yu Nakayama