Freetown, Baby!

Ren don cam by jc2010sl
June 25, 2010, 11:12 am
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For the last few weeks we’ve started to get the odd shower; occasionally torrential, but never sustained. This rainy season isn’t much to speak of I thought. Then, all of a sudden, it started in earnest. Rain, rain, rain from Sunday afternoon.

We’d optimistically taken our new team mates out to the beach on Saturday evening and stayed the night. It just about held dry until lunchtime Sunday and then it thrashed down. Of all places, the sea is the best spot to find yourself in – for a start you’re wet already, and the mountainous backdrop to the beach looks pretty spectacular shrouded in heavy raincloud.

Driving back was perilous though. I felt like the fat guy in Jurassic Park. Even with the wipers on full speed I could barely see more than 20 meters in front.

After just a few days of heavy downpour the streets in the centre of town, that is, at the bottom of the hills, are covered in red soil, and by the side of the road great piles of the stuff have been dug out of the open drains.

Yesterday I noticed that a number of my colleagues weren’t around. The reason, I found, was that the bridge to Goderich, a small town in the West, had been swept away. Fortunately it had happened in the night and no one was seriously hurt, but on a purely selfish note, I was dismayed that the main route to the beach has gone.

Not that I’ll probably be needing it much over the next 3 months…


Humonetary Dilemma by mabrajeux
June 23, 2010, 8:16 pm
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A few weeks ago in Kono, a young boy in his early teens came up to me as we entered in a restaurant and gave me a letter. He was extremely polite, saying hello and calling me ‘auntie’, a term of respect in Sierra Leone.

The letter was very neatly written, with big round letters in dark blue ink. In it, the young boy said that he had lost both his parents in the war and asked me, or anyone, to help pay for his tuition fee so he could keep going to school.

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Home Advantage by jc2010sl
June 23, 2010, 8:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

As you’d expect, the World Cup has been greeted with huge excitement in Salone. World cups always create anticipation in football mad countries, and the added spice of the tournament being held for the first time in Africa is palpable.

However, there’s little sense of African solidarity, with people tending to support one of the bigger teams; Brazil, Argentina, or even England. I mentioned my surprise that this was the case to a recent visitor. “Just because you’re European, doesn’t mean you support Belguim, does it” was his response. Fair enough I suppose, but if I lived in Luxembourg I might support Belguim (on the evidence of the last week, I certainly wouldn’t be supporting France). Much as they might love football, Salones would have to admit that they aren’t much above Luxembourg in the football pecking order.
The truth is, Salones are unashamed glory hunters and will support any team they think will win. I asked one of the guards at the flat if he’d be watching the FA Cup Final the other month (English football is huge in Sierra Leone) and who he’d be supporting. “Well,” he said, “I think Chelsea will win.” “Ok, but who will you support?” I insisted. “Well, Chelsea then!” came the reply – as though the likelihood of victory automatically implied as much.

During an interminable wait for a meeting the World Cup came up, and one colleague said he would be supporting Nigeria. His colleagues looked at him incredulously, so he quickly put in, “I know they won’t win, though”. At this point I joked – “Well I’m supporting England, even though we’re not going to win.” A few Salones looked slightly horrified and perplexed.

As if the team’s dire performances weren’t enough, I think I lost England another couple of fans in West Africa.

Nor Pis Yah by jc2010sl
June 19, 2010, 12:30 pm
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Given the deplorable state of infrastructure in Freetown, it’s hardly surprising that public urination is a pretty common occurrence. Hand painted signs adorn walls telling passers-by “Nor Pis Yah” – Krio readily understandable by any English speaker. Here’s an example from Victoria Park in the centre of Freetown;

Imagine my surprise then, when I found this injunction painted on a urinal wall in a local bar;

People generally don’t need the invitation…

Getting Shirty by jc2010sl
June 14, 2010, 1:59 pm
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Physical contact is much more common in social interactions over here than in staid, Victorian England. Salones will pat your wrist if they want to patronise you, put a hand on the shoulder as a gesture of friendliness or slap one another heartily on the back while dissolving with laughter.

I mentioned a Salone colleague in passing with an expat and noticed her visibly shudder. “What’s the matter?” I asked “He’s just so creepy” came the reply. “I’m sure it’s just a cultural thing; you have to go with it” I said, sure in the knowledge that I was just less uptight about these things.

Next time I met the colleague in question, sure enough, he was patting me on the shoulder and drawing me by the wrist to look at an email he was drafting. “As I suspected”, I thought to myself, “just part of the culture”. I was somewhat taken aback though, when he pointed out that my shirt was hanging out and proceeded to tuck it in for me.

I had to admit to my colleague that I didn’t think she wasn’t over-reacting, and it did leave me feeling I wasn’t quite as comfortable with the culture as I’d thought.

The tough streets of Kenema… by mabrajeux
June 8, 2010, 5:24 pm
Filed under: photos, public life, travels, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Here’s a few pics I took to document the street gangs of Kenema, the third largest city of Sierra Leone…

Kenema's feared street gang...

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Enthusiastic! by mabrajeux
June 7, 2010, 7:48 pm
Filed under: entertainment, public life, society | Tags: , , ,

Meetings in Sierra Leone generally follow very particular protocol:

    – first, the prayers, often conveniently replaced by a quick 20 seconds of silence…

    – then, the presentation of VIP members, listing their names, titles, position, and ‘observing all protocol’ (this is generally finished by an observation that all protocol was, indeed, observed. Just in case, you know, we were wondering or something…)

    – then, the presentation of ordinary members (that one can be skipped because, let’s be honest, they’re not VIPs…)

    – and, finally, the meeting / workshop / seminar can start…

On a recent workshop I was facilitating (think moderating 25 people trying to argue with each other and compete for my attention. For 6 hours…) I discovered a new ritual: the energizer! It was hard to imagine that it could be needed considering the argumentative energy deployed mere minutes earlier but I have to admit that our lunch of rice and sauce probably did get the better of us…

Cue workshop participant who hadn’t said a word all morning, standing up and enjoining everyone to follow him and repeat after him… What followed is a mix of reverse ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ and the hokey-cokey – think ‘toes, shoulders, shake it all about!’ while singing ‘I’m awake, I’m alert, Enthusiastic!’ progressively faster until the entire room is just a blur of shaking backsides!!

So, next time you’re bored in a business meeting of some sort or other and all protocol has been observed then, just imagine the participants (all VIP I’m sure) energizing away… Or better yet, suggest a little pick me up, you never know, they might just be awake, alert and enthusiastic enough!