Monday, 30 March 2009
impressions from a freetown
Sunday late afternoon, I took a taxi from the airport to drop my bag before grabbing a map and heading for the nearby freetown commune to take a cautious look around.
After about half an hour of walking, I found myself in an area initially reminiscent of the western side of the Glastonbury Festival.
The difference is that there's around 600-700 permanent residents in this area which was first established sometime in the early 1970s, with its axis centred upon 'Pusher Street'.
For me, it was a bustling late afternoon and many people were using the various cafes and bars, some of which had a rather improvised kind of look. In the central area, there were various 'no photography' signs, which I respected. My limited snaps are from the periphery of what is a large area.
The little symbol above the restaurant sign is three yellow circles on a red background, which is the flag for this freetown area.
Many homeless have gravitated to the area and now using some of the brick structures of what I believe had once been a military camp along with other improvised timber buildings.
I could hear a band practicing in one area and the sounds of skateboards from another. There had been a road layout but now there were no cars and revised paths intersected the area. There appeared to be the remnants of an old bus terminal.
It was an area of contrasts. As well as the shop keepers running bars and cafes and some sort of nightclub scene, there were many individual people drinking beer from bottles along the edges of the street and others alone smoking prominent rolled-up cigarettes.
Through it all walked groups of what were clearly well dressed tourist 'outsiders'.
The freetown set its own agenda. They have argued with the politicians in order to be able to exist. They have their own rules although the State police also make regular visits. There's an economy of sorts and I believe they also have a special currency.
I didn't stay long enough to get an idea of what people in the area really think. I believe this model was originally described as a way to build a new society, as a social experiment. Their messaging is certainly filled with hope.
But I was not well prepared for this visit which created for me an impression of something that was balancing right on the edge, barely surviving.