Freetown, Baby!

Jungle Style by mabrajeux
September 29, 2010, 9:00 am
Filed under: nature - wildlife, photos, society | Tags: , ,

A popular joke in Salone goes thus: “What side of the road do people drive on in Freetown? The best one”. This should give you an idea of the style of driving in the capital city here in Sierra Leone, and which generally extends to the rest of the country too…

Another variant is ‘jungle style’ driving, as we encountered on Saturday. We were driving down the peninsula on our way to the beach when we noticed a long line of cars on the side of what is normally a fairly deserted dirt track / road. We stopped and enquired what was going on before noticing the Caterpillar Digger on the flimsy one lane bridge further down the road. Turns out, as our new friend Lemuel explained, that a truck had nearly driven off said bridge the night before and was now stuck with a couple wheels hanging off and unable to pull back. Which is where the digger comes in, as the workmen currently fixing the beach road were summoned to help, in the form of pulling the truck up, or back, or somehow onto and off the bridge. This was somewhat complicated by the fact that the truck was full of sand and its owner understandably tetchy about attempts to ‘lighten the load’…

So what is “jungle style” driving exactly? Well, according to Lemuel, it refers to the truck driver’s situation the night before: driving in the dark, along a single lane dirt road / track, with no lights and no brakes…



Clear Skies by jc2010sl
September 27, 2010, 7:37 pm
Filed under: photos | Tags: ,

As well as the fairly obvious benefits of not being wet the whole time, the end of the rainy season also means I have the view from my office window back. A couple of months ago in the height of the rains I could just about make out the roof of the Miatta Conference Centre (the white lego block in the left foreground)

Today the skies are clear and I can see as far as the antennea of Leicester Peak.

I should enjoy it while it lasts – come December the Harmattan winds will bring dust from the Sahara and obscure the view again.


That Sunday Feeling… by mabrajeux
September 26, 2010, 7:27 pm
Filed under: photos, society, travels | Tags: , , , ,

When I first moved to England, I loved the fact that shops are open on Sundays. I mean, what could be better than going shopping on a quiet Sunday when you haven’t had a chance to do in the week, not to mention the fact that you would never have to go milk-less again…
I never really bought the argument that Sundays should be saved up for family time or, in a more general way, non consumerist activities… But then I have to admit that there is something really amazing about the centre of Freetown on a Sunday afternoon.
We wondered there a few weekends ago to check the first church established by settlers in 1792 (that is one of the hazards of living with a historian…) and were completely shocked at what we saw, or rather didn’t see… The pavements, which are bustling with all sorts of vendors and peddlers in the week were entirely deserted and the streets, which are normally rammed full of cars, motorcycles, poda podas and the occasional livestock (check the photo on the home page for an illustration…) were empty but for a group of children playing football!

Merecin Man by jc2010sl
September 23, 2010, 7:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

The corridors of the Youyi building (where the Ministry of Health is based) are frequently peopled by hawkers and pedlars of various sorts. Some are itinerant salesman, knocking on your door trying to sell chewing gum or mobile phone credit. Others pick a choice spot, usually on a staircase, and ply their wares from a seated position. “Roast meat” that is, kebab, is a favourite, and I recently discovered a purveyor of the best rice akara I’ve tasted. The ubiquitous rip-off DVD seller is also in evidence, although the hits are Nollywood rather than Hollywood. I thought I’d seen all that Youyi had to offer.

Yesterday though I came across a new trader – the Merecin, or as we’d have it in English, the Medicine Man. He was doling out some sticky fluorescent yellow liquid to a man by his basket. The patient(?) shuddered momentarily and blinked. “What’s that for?” I asked. “Ulcers, headaches – try some.” I had a sniff – it was sweet and strongly alcoholic smelling. “What else do you have?” He proceeded to show me a range of herbs, liquids and powders that he claimed could heal just about any ailment. I was particularly intrigued by one syrup that could cure both high and low blood pressure. “Really?” I asked. “Oh yes” he said, quite offended.

“What does the Ministry of Health think about this?” I asked. “Oh, I’m licensed by the Pharmacy Board” he said. Somehow I wasn’t convinced and decided to give his elixirs a miss.


Council Tax by mabrajeux
September 16, 2010, 8:51 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When you walk around Freetown, you quickly get used to people calling out for you, sometimes even gesturing to come over. After doing so a couple of times, I eventually realised that there often is no particular reason for it and became a little more circumspect before crossing the road whenever someone shouted ‘white girl’.

So when a woman sitting on a bench near cotton tree in the centre of Freetown hailed me and asked me to stop, I waved back, said ‘kushe’ and carried on briskly. She called after me again and I kept ignoring her, politely but firmly, when someone pointed out that she was actually from the city council and collecting local taxes from residents.

Dubious though I was, on my way back I decided to stop and find out more about it. And so she explained enthusiastically that she was indeed from the local council and they were in fact collecting local taxes from local residents, so if I was one, I should pay up. If I did not, the lady assured me, she would walk over to the police over there and they would arrest me.

I hesitated for a second, then decided that street tax collection was maybe not such a strange thing here, and that her overflowing bag of little plastic wallets that would be used to fashion personalised cards for each taxpayer ‘including ID photos!) probably ruled out the possibility of a scam… The fact that it only cost 5,000Le (less than one pound) might also have assuaged any initial concerns!!

And so I paid up, gave the lady 5,000Le and my passport photo and was promptly handed my ‘Local Tax Receipt’, to carry with me at all time and without which I would, I’m sure, be arrested promptly by the police!!


Give and go by jc2010sl
September 16, 2010, 3:18 pm
Filed under: society, Uncategorized

I’ve seen a couple of fascinating surveys in the last few weeks that have revealed something of the two sides of Sierra Leone.

The first I was a poll from Gallup about where people would live if there were no border controls. Perhaps unsurprisingly given that it’s one of the poorest countries in the world Sierra Leone “topped” the list for nations people wanted to leave. Given the choice, 56% of adults would leave Sierra Leone. That’s a pretty shocking statistic when you think about it. Imagine if every other person wanted to leave the UK because they thought they could make a better life somewhere else.

And yet, despite the hardships faced by the people of Salone there is an incredible warmth. I always found guide books more than a little patronising when they talked of the “friendliness of the locals”, but I have found myself saying it of Salones over and over.

Apparently this isn’t just my impression of the place. According to the World Giving Index, Salones are the eleventh most generous people on earth, only 3 places behind the UK. One of the measures that makes up the ranking is people helping strangers. I’ve been on the receiving end of assistance countless times, and in the oddest of situations. On one occasion, my driver took us over a large stone and the car got stuck. A man helped dislodge the item, and once we’d reversed, took it out of the road to clear our path. He wandered off without even so much as waiting to see if we’d give him any money, let alone asking for any. The government too has been generous without expectation of reward. After the Haitian earthquake the Government of Sierra Leone made a donation to the people of Haiti, despite the dire need at home.

Generosity like this, despite the state the country finds itself in, renews one’s faith in the place and gives you a new determination to make whatever small contribution you can.


Sektakandinguyay by jc2010sl
September 10, 2010, 4:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

Regular readers of the blog (if such people exist) may be bored to tears now by the incessant talk of rain, rain, rain. If so, I have managed to convey some of my own frustrations with the climate out here. Last week we suffered a convulsion of 7 days almost continuous rain. Apparently, it’s known in Krio as the “7 days rain” and marks the end of the rainy season.

The Limba, from the East, have a more lyrical name for it; “Sektakandinguyay”, literally “the time when you take what you have set aside.” It is a time of such downpours that no one is able to work and therefore unable to earn any money. Hence, you have to look to your savings.

However it’s known, I only hope that it does indeed mark the end of the rains.