Freetown, Baby!

Miscommunication… by mabrajeux
May 27, 2010, 12:29 pm
Filed under: society | Tags: ,

Mobile phones are ubiquitous here in Sierra Leone. There are very few landlines, and even fewer that actually function and so people rely almost exclusively on those for communication. Many even own more than one phone, in order to benefit from the cheaper network to network rates on all the networks. And considering my consumption of units so far, I have to admit I’m almost considering it myself!

Although you can’t rely on the internet or credit cards to make recharging your account easier, there is still quite a lot of different ways you can do it here… First, you’ve got dedicated shops in town centre, selling phone contracts and vouchers, and also some local shops who can also sell you vouchers. Then you’ve got little ‘shacks’ – and by that I mean anything ranging from a small convenience store to a cart filled with chewing gum by the side of the road – who can top up your phone for you.

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Serra Lyoa by jc2010sl
May 23, 2010, 9:16 pm
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It was the Portuguese explorer Pedro de Cintra who gave Sierra Leone it’s name. Passing the peninsular hills on his ship he called them the “Serra Lyoa”, or Lion Mountains. No one’s sure exactly why, but suppositions abound. One theory is that the tropical thunderstorms sound like a lion roaring, another is that the mountains resemble a lion lying down. Most prosaically, some claim that in de Cintra’s day lions roamed the coastline.

These days at least, lions are pretty uncommon. In the last decade there has been 1 recorded lion in Sierra Leone, far from the coast near the Guinean border. It terrorised a village until a hunter tracked and killed it, earning himself national fame and an audience with the then President.

As a national symbol though, the lion is ubiquitous. All over town, patriotic Salones have small statues on their walls and over their gates. Here are some that I pass on my way to work:
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Yestide bete pas tide by jc2010sl
May 20, 2010, 9:08 pm
Filed under: society, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

It’s not uncommon for musicians to rail against the established order. It’s practically expected. Hardly surprising then to find that one of Salone’s favourite sons, Emmerson, has made a name for himself lambasting governments past and present. His hits include Borboh Beleh; a song which likens the current APC Government to an overweight boy who has fattened himself by stealing food from others.

In a recent hit Yestide bete pas tide – “Yesterday was better than today” he sings how things have got worse since the APC came to power. As well as lamenting corruption, Emmerson claims that Salone has failed to develop. According to him, “businesses are closing, taxes have risen and teachers’ salaries are the same.”

Enter Innocent, another popular local artist, and his riposte in the shape of Gie dem Chance – “Give them a chance”. Musical rivalries being what they are he can’t resist the odd dig at Emmerson: bete don cam, yu no see becos yu blind – “better times have arrived, you can’t see them because you’re blind. Rather than failure, he points to a Salone moving forward. Development de, yusef kin testify – “Development is here, you can see for yourself”.

Maybe it’s nothing more than musicians using politics as a way of taking a swipe at each other, but maybe it’s also a sign of hope in politics. Today can be better than yesterday.

Crispy by jc2010sl
May 17, 2010, 11:05 pm
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Everyone likes the feel of a crisp new bank note, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures. Since I’ve been in Salone I’ve not seen a single pristine note. They are crumpled shreds of paper, various shades of brown, irrespective of their colour when printed. I suspect that they are probably the biggest spreader of communicable disease.

A few weeks ago posters sprung up all over town announcing the arrival of new banknotes. I took it as another case of Salone wishful thinking; something that might happen in that vague unidentified place called the future. I was more than a little taken aback when I was presented with a block of brand spanking new notes on my latest trip to the bank.

Makes a change

The new notes were the talk of the town when they came out on Friday. When I used them to buy lunch the waitress looked shocked and excitedly showed them to the people at the next table. Out on the town everyone was proudly displaying the shiny new notes too.

They were also widely covered in today’s papers. The New Citizen editorialised:

“The most important knowledge anyone can have to appreciate the resized currency is the knowledge of its in-built security measures. The knowledge that we can now sleep better without worrying about the havoc that counterfeiters can wreak on our currency is soothing.

With the co-operation of the people of Sierra Leone it will be a long time before it becomes necessary to re-print the notes… We must co-operate to keep the new bank notes clean, crispy and long lasting and help us save a lot of money with their long life… If we refuse to keep our bank notes in our shoes, underwears, or on wet surfaces we will do a whole lot of good to the currency… Certain groups need to be fully committed. These groups are the palm oil sellers, motor drivers and apprentices responsible for collecting bank notes.

Discipline beckons the patriotic.”

Who knew that a pristine bank note could arouse such elevated sentiments?

Poyo by jc2010sl
May 11, 2010, 11:29 pm
Filed under: food - cooking | Tags:

I thought I had  already tasted the most revolting concontion available in Sierra Leone. I was wrong.

The other day I met a friend of a friend, a palm oil entrepreneur, at dinner. He had just come back from his plantation with him a bottle of Poyo – that is palm wine. It’s essentially sap tapped directly from a palm tree into a plastic drum and left to ferment “on the tree”. It’s then decanted into re-used plastic bottles for “retail” and served up as quickly as possible before it explodes.

The bubbles when you pour the stuff out are reminiscent of champagne, but there the similarities end. It truly is a foul drink – it smells like a combination of vomit and stale eggs and tastes only marginally better. It lingers long in the mouth, so that whatever you eat or drink for the next couple of hours is clouded by the repugnant taste.

My Dad often describes cheap wine as “rectified wood alcohol”. Having drunk non-rectified wood alcohol the phrase has a new resonance for me.

It often rains and it pours… by mabrajeux
May 10, 2010, 3:26 pm
Filed under: photos | Tags: , ,

I’ve been back in Freetown for a couple of weeks now and the strangest things about being back is that it is, well, not strange at all. It has really felt as if I never left in the first place, which is reassuring but also a little disconcerting.

There is one novelty though: it’s started to rain. It started literally with a bang on my first Tuesday here, the anniversary of the independence of Sierra Leone and the day of the Akon concert.

We sat on the balcony waiting for dinner and watched the clouds gathering in slowly. A few strikes of lightning later and the heavens literally opened and the wind started howling. It wasn’t quite complete until the power cut halfway through dinner though… And even the concert did not survive the rain!

Thankfully, the rain doesn’t always come like this. Generally, the first thing you notice is a stillness, or rather, a stickiness in the air. The heat gets more oppressive and you feel as if weighed down.

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Akon-mania by mabrajeux
May 7, 2010, 1:23 pm
Filed under: entertainment | Tags: ,

Last week, Sierra Leone celebrated its 49th Independence anniversary and along with the more traditional celebrations, another treat was announced: a concert at the National Stadium by none other than Akon!

He might be familiar to some, but in West Africa he is one of the biggest stars there is, the epitome of the local guy making it big, even though he was born and at least partly raised in the US. The event was organised (and sponsored) by another West Africa and Salone expat, Gibril Wilson, as US football player who was born in Freetown. (more details on the organisation of the concert here)

So the gig was scheduled on the evening of Independence Day, the 27th April, tickets had gone on sale the day before with what seemed like little complications in salone terms and everyone was gearing for an evening of RnB beats and sweaty dancing… And then it started raining. Not just any little rain, but a proper storm, complete with downpour, lightning, wind and power cut…
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TV mistakes by jc2010sl
May 7, 2010, 1:18 am
Filed under: public life | Tags: ,

Tracking down some of my counterparts in the Ministry of Health can be a tricky business. Meetings pop up at short notice, often over-run, and staff can be pulled away to various engagements including media engagements to “sensitise”, that is, inform, the public.

Of all the people I work with, one of the most elusive is Dr SAS Kargbo, spokesperson extraordinaire for the Ministry of Health. Last week I needed to grab him for 20 minutes so dropped by office first thing in the morning. Unfortunately for me, the Ministry press team had put him up for a series of interviews on the morning radio programmes. I thought I’d head along for the ride to see how they were run, and in the vague hope that I might catch him between interviews. An hour or so later, with several more stations added to the schedule, I figured any hope of catching him was gone. I cut my losses and decided to come back in the afternoon.
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