Freetown, Baby!

Independence Day by jc2010sl
April 29, 2010, 3:10 pm
Filed under: photos, public life | Tags: ,

On 27th April 1961, Sierra Leone gained independence from the UK. As you’d expect, the anniversary is a day marked by celebration and fanfare. The big event, starting the night before, is a lantern procession through the streets. Each part of town and some of the guilds and traders creates their own lanterns and all converge on the centre to be judged.

We got ourselves down to the cotton tree near the judges to see the parade at 9 as instructed and duly waited 3 hours for the procession to start – so far, so Salone.
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Vultures on the veranda by jc2010sl
April 25, 2010, 12:42 pm
Filed under: nature - wildlife | Tags: , ,

I’ve been feeling under the weather the last few days, so I’ve spent a lot of time just sat outside on the balcony doing nothing at all. One of my favourite things to do if I get home before it’s dark is to sit and watch the red kites gliding on the thermals, periodically falling on one another, or swooping in search of lizards. With nothing much to do I thought I’d take up my camera and capture some of the wildlife. Continue reading

Brothers by jc2010sl
April 21, 2010, 10:04 pm
Filed under: society

I’ve been going to the same barber on Howe Street since I arrived in Freetown. It’s a fairly rough and ready shack just off the street, but it does the job. Gibril, the barber, notices me now as I stroll down the street and will beckon me over. I stopped by after lunch the other day for a trim, and took a seat on a stool to wait my turn.

As Gibril finished with his customer, he gestured me over. There was another man who’d clearly been waiting before me, who looked understandably peeved that I was jumping the queue. I said to Gibril “It’s fine, this guy was before me”, “No, no, it’s OK, he’s my brother.” I looked across to the waiting man, and back to Gibril, but there was no resemblance that I could see. He shook his head wearily and sat back down.

It seems strange to say, but this was the first time I’d be made so consciously aware of preferential treatment solely because of the colour of my skin. Clearly, I’m not oblivious to the fact that my standard of living is vastly higher than the majority of Salones. Nor the fact that we have staff to clean our houses, guard our gates, and drive our cars.

I guess I’d rationalised these server – consumer relationships as economic. They are paid to do these jobs, they do them for the wealthy Salones as well; my colour is incidental.

But this seemed to be something different – a sense that my colour entitled me to more. It didn’t feel right to me, nor to Gibril’s brother.

Did you just flash me? Hot and Passionate texts (vol 1) by jc2010sl
April 20, 2010, 5:00 pm
Filed under: society, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Mobile telephony has taken off in a big way in Salone. Like a number of other developing countries, it has bypassed expensive landline cables and gone straight for mobiles. In the time that I’ve lived here a mobile mast has been erected on the hill where I live and since I arrived I haven’t called a single landline – every restaurant, hotel and other business has a mobile as it’s point of contact.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the saturation in Freetown a set of complex conventions has developed around mobile use.

Calls rarely go unanswered, which is just as well as no one ever checks voice mail. Even in meetings with Ministers people will pick up the phone and talk at length, before finally saying “A no kin tok, a de meetin. Yes, Meetin!”
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Bugle by jc2010sl
April 15, 2010, 6:43 pm
Filed under: public life | Tags: ,

At 6:30 each evening an eerie quiet descends on the State House building. Everyone stands stock still as a bugler pipes something sounding like the last post. The prohibition on moving even extends to the immediate environs of State House as I saw the other day. The driver stopped the car half way down the road and the milling pedestrians came to a halt as the bugle rang out.

I decided to get myself into the courtyard today to see what it is all about.

It’s a somewhat peculiar piece of theatre that seems to hark back to the colonial era. A military guard presents itself in front of the flag post and stands to attention as the national flag is lowered. The flag is removed somewhere into the bowels of the State House and another day is done.

Dr SAS by jc2010sl
April 14, 2010, 5:02 pm
Filed under: public life, society | Tags: , ,

It seems I’m not the only one in Freetown hitting the blogosphere. Thought you might be interested in this guest post on the Guardian health website from Dr SAS Kargbo, one of the counterparts I work with in the Ministry of Health.

Turtle Island by jc2010sl
April 13, 2010, 10:39 pm
Filed under: photos, travels | Tags: ,

I was joined over the Easter weekend by my attorney and another associate. I thought I would treat them to more than just the hustle of Freetown and pristine beaches of Peninsula, so I booked a trip to the Turtle Islands – a collection of islands cast into the Atlantic off the south coast. These are the stuff of castaway movies – little more than sand bars covered with palm trees. They are truly idyllic.

Fisherman head out for the day

But I wondered if it was so for the locals. The islands are exceptionally remote – 4 hours by speedboat from Freetown, and 24 hours by public ferry. Our arrival was greeted with some fanfare and on some islands I suspect we were the first white faces they had seen. I imagine many people had never left the archipelago, and therefore have no reference point to compare with the incredible place they live in.

But even those who’ve never set foot anywhere else are aware of what their compatriots on the mainland can access – electricity, running water, televisions, a community larger than 300 people where you have the freedom to move. On one island an elder spoke to us about his hope to “develop” the island. It was a comma in the ocean; no more than 40 meters wide and 150 meters long. What does “development” even mean in this context I wondered?

The very remoteness, and lack of basics that we take for granted is precisely what attracts the western tourist to these places. But I’m not sure that’s how the islanders see it.