Freedom Square is where the street kids of Isiolo pass most of their time. It's a small family of Acacia trees, rooted directly in the center of town. Under its fractal shade, the kids cook, sleep, fight, tease their dog and do glue. Anneliese had the brilliant idea to bring some art supplies into the den, to encourage a bit of expression other than the usual antics they perform when we have the camera around. I predicted a riot as soon as the paper and colored pencils were to be revealed, ending in similar fashion to the many attempts we've made to distribute food. It's a sad and desperate thing to watch. Each time we swear we'll never do it again. And of course, we do. This time however, there was a moment of paralysis as Anneliese pulled out the sketch pad, pencils and crayons, handing them over to one of the older, bigger boys. They didn't immediately know what to make of the offering. Edible? Valuable? Which color do I want? The pencils- pink, blue, whatever- were snatched without preference. Most haven't been to school and are even less likely to have ever been given a chance to do some coloring on a big sketch pad. After quick skirmish, about 20 boys were prone on their mats, silently coloring. 10 minutes later, kids started coming over to proudly present and describe their drawings. Most were simple homes. Lots of lions, snakes and cars. A couple were pornographic.
Anneliese got a nice, Renaissance-style portrait (see above). After they were satisfied with their drawings, the kids voluntarily handed them to us for safe keeping- each with a smile, most saying thank you quietly, before affixing the glue bottles back to their lips as they spiraled away.
Then a strange thing happened. As our cameras came out, they went back to their usual business of rolling around laughing, passing out, cooking, trading collected copper scraps for glue, etc. but for once, they paid us almost no attention. Some sort of peace and acceptance settled in beneath the tree. Our acknowledgment of their creativity, of their potential, of their existence as something other than a disturbance seemed to release some pressure. And it lasted until sunset.