Freetown, Baby!

A walk up the hill… by mabrajeux
August 27, 2010, 7:25 pm
Filed under: nature - wildlife, photos, travels | Tags: ,

Last week-end, we went for a walk up Leicester Peak, the hill/mountain/promontory/massive antenna overlooking Freetown. You can drive up to the top or, as we did, park up next to the US embassy and head up the winding road to the top. The road itself doesn’t present much interest but as you go in and out of clouds, you can get the most magnificent views of the hills around Freetown and over the harbour of the Sierra Leone river.

In the top right hand corner, you can spot Bunce Island, an island that was used as an outpost in the slave trade centuries ago. We haven’t visited it yet but fully intend to, so watch this space…

The most amazing thing about the view from Leicester Peak though, is the two visions of Sierra Leone it offers.
On one side, the (almost) cosmopolitan city of Freetown, with its bustling streets and its million inhabitants

And on the other, the quaint Krio villages without electricity or water, seemingly a world away…


Cultural syntax by mabrajeux
August 23, 2010, 8:09 pm
Filed under: education, society | Tags: , ,

One morning a week, I work at a great local secondary school in Freetown, Educaid. It’s the only free secondary school in the country and still manages to score the highest in the national end of year exams. Well, I say free but, as one of the girls from my ‘Girl Power’ group explained to me recently, it’s not really free because they have to pay for their education with ‘excellent attendance, excellent participation and excellent motivation’! Their motivation can hardly be doubted, especially as the ‘summer school’, running 4 days a week in August from 8:30am through to 1pm is attended by over 200 students…

It could be argued that some need a little more motivation than others to succeed however, when you see that dozens of students sleep at the school because they have no home, or when you work with the ‘women’s group’, as I’ve been doing for the last few weeks. In the ‘Women’s Group’, young women catch up on the education that they were denied as little girls, sometimes because of the war, often only because of their sex. Ages range from 12 til mid-20s and many have a reading level of early primary school and so in the couple of mornings I’ve been helping Miriam and her staff, I’ve been doing reading exercises with a couple of groups of these young women.

Learning to read is an activity so closely associated with childhood that it is hard to find exercises that will be relevant to teenagers, let alone adults. While thinking of a way to get them to memorize the vowel sounds, I realised that they might not be particularly excited at the prospect of drawing a cat, a hen, a pig, a dog and a turtle… But their passion and willingness to read generally overcomes those drawbacks and they happily tuck into children’s books about dan the rat and other fascinating heroes.

One hurdle that might be harder to overcome is the cultural gap between the ‘western’ interests pictured in the books and their own lives: after reading ‘In the Park’, one student said there was one thing she didn’t understand. I was expecting tales of verbs, letters or syntax but instead, she looked at me completely puzzled and asked: “why would the children want to play with a bucket and sand?”


Lovely weather, isn’t it? by mabrajeux
August 22, 2010, 7:36 pm
Filed under: nature - wildlife, photos | Tags: , , , ,

True to that eternal British cliché, people here in Freetown have been talking of little else than the weather and the rain. Or lack thereof…

The rainy season in Sierra Leone hits its yearly peak in August before moving to more sporadic showers in September, yet yesterday was spent on the beach sunning ourselves between two dips in the ocean with nothing but a light drizzle to disturb us when it should by rights have been pouring down. Although last year’s August record was a whopping 2 week uninterrupted downpour, so far we’ve only managed maybe one and half days… It will probably still eventually hit us and local people have predicted that September will probably be much worse.

In the meantime, when it does come, the rain remains fairly spectacular, especially in the hilly geography of the Freetown peninsula. A 10 minute walk can take you from foggy rain to sunny delights just by going up or downhill and some areas of the town have been flooded for a few days after a particularly heavy day of rain. And if you are caught in one of the downpours, well, let’s just say my trusty wellies have come in extremely handy, especially as I try to negotiate leaving my flat:


Say Cheese by jc2010sl
August 22, 2010, 7:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Meetings are an unusual, and always long affair in Sierra Leone. They never start when advertised, don’t have an end time and are chaired only in the loosest sense of the word. At any gathering of any significance there is a lengthy acknowledgement of the great and the good, finished with the formula “all protocols observed”.

I came across a new one at a workshop yesterday though – a guy with a camera snapping away. Somewhat bizarre I thought, although I suspected they would probably make their way into some kind of strategy or funding document.

A couple of hours later and the photographer had returned with photos of the participants. It turns out this enterprising soul was hawking out portraits for the participants. Quite why anyone would want a memento of themselves with their colleagues at the 2011 District Health Planning Workshop is beyond me, but he seemed to be doing a roaring trade.

Blood Diamond by jc2010sl
August 12, 2010, 4:44 pm
Filed under: public life | Tags: ,

For a fleeting moment, the world media turned its gaze on Sierra Leone. Or rather, it turned to Naomi Campbell, and Sierra Leone’s civil war and the diamonds which fuelled it provided the backdrop. In the UK the story made front page news “I was given blood diamonds”, the Evening Standard reported her testimony. According to the talking heads, the story was even bigger news in Sierra Leone where people have been following the Charles Taylor trial avidly.

I can’t say I’ve noticed the interest over here. Flicking through a smattering of the papers yesterday revealed a single comment piece on the inner pages of one paper. Far more juicy were headlines about the President telling witch doctors to stop using witch guns (nevermind that the story contained nothing to suggest he’d actually done this) and the latest in a corruption scandal involving local Lebanese businessmen. For the outside world Sierra Leone is thought of, if at all, as the country that suffered a brutal 10-year civil war. Inside the country, this isn’t something people choose to dwell on.

Charles Taylor, the character actually at the centre of the trial (though you could be forgiven for thinking it was Campbell) is on trial at the Hague for war crimes. His alleged possession of blood diamonds from Sierra Leone is cited as evidence of his involvement in the conflict.

The main perpetrators of the violence in Sierra Leone – the leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) – have already been tried here. A “Special Court” was set up in Freetown under the auspices of the UN to charge the most senior commanders. According to a recent documentary about the trial, War Don Don, (The War is Over) the reactions of the population were mixed. Many were opposed to the court and trial, run largely by expats and at great cost. Some felt the process stopped the country from moving forward by dwelling on the atrocities of the past. For others, justice that only applied to a handful of perpetrators wasn’t really justice at all. When the first accused, Issa Sesay, was sentenced to multiple life sentences, there wasn’t much rejoicing in the streets. People went about their business. For those living without power or water the work of reconstruction is more pressing than punishing the accused.

In a couple of days the media circus will move on from the Taylor trial and the barbarism he helped perpetrate. The people of Salone are already moving forward. I doubt they mind that the business of re-building doesn’t make front page news.