Freetown, Baby!

Health and safety gone mad by jc2010sl
October 26, 2010, 11:26 pm
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Chaos is a pretty common state of affairs in Salone. Host a qualifying match for the African Cup of Nations at the rusting National Stadium against South Africa, and its pretty much guaranteed. I’d been looking forward to the game for weeks and had asked my driver to pick up tickets when they went on sale. Each day I’d ask if they were out yet, and each day he’d say “not yet”.

The reason for this delay was apparently security concerns. Tickets are printed on simple coloured paper so release is delayed until the morning of the game to stop photocopying of tickets and over-crowding. Sensible enough in theory, but rendered utterly redundant by the actual “policing” of the event.

We started queueing in one of no more than 4 entrances to the 30,000 seater stadium about 3 hours before kick off. At the front it became apparent why we’d been told to get there so early. The queue degenerated into a ruck of 30 or so people – many without tickets – barging towards one single file gate. A fair bit of shoving later and we’d made into the stadium. From here it was not too difficult to make it to our seats in the mid-priced, covered, stand. Looking across the pitch we could see scores of people who’d climbed through razor wire to get a view from the floodlight pylons.

Not long after we’d taken our seats the gate to our stand was closed by a small group of policemen. From our seats directly above the entrance to the stand we could see them desperately trying to keep the rickety gate closed. They resorted to locking it with a pair of handcuffs.

After 20 minutes of concerted pressure from the crowd outside, the gates were smashed off their hinges and in the people flowed.

For half an hour they streamed in as the stand became ever more packed. Visions of Hillsborough flashed before my eyes and we decided to get out of the stand while we still could.

Feeling pretty disgruntled we thought we might be able to play the “lost white guy routine” and wangle an upgrade to the Presidential Suite. A policeman said he would shepherd us in, but as we came near it was exactly the same story – thronging crowds and a thin blue line manning the door. That was, until a huge surge smashed through the glass doors and swept into the suite. At this point we thought it best to cut our losses altogether and headed out of the stadium.

As we left the police allowing still more people in. I explained what we’d seen and one replied “yes, there are too many people in there,” seemingly making no link between the overcrowding inside and the streams he was letting in.

Frustrating as it was to leave away after such a wait, we made the right decision. Nonetheless, I did allow myself a slight smile when we heard the result on the radio later: nil – nil.



Home from home by jc2010sl
October 24, 2010, 7:43 pm
Filed under: photos, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Given that the initial settlers in the Western Area mostly came from British domains it’s hardly surprising that many of the place names have a familiar ring. Passing through Sussex, Hastings and Kent you could think you were on the South Coast. Some particularly patriotic settlers (for the Krio thought themselves most emphatically English subjects) named their village Waterloo. In all likelihood some of them had fought at the battle.

Street names in Freetown have similarly English rings to them. In Brookfields there is a “Beccles Street” – perhaps named after my home town?

I don’t think there is anything quite as exotic as a mosque in that particular corner of Norfolk though.

Even more incongruous is “Kingston-Upon-Hull Way” – the route that leads along the beach skirting West Freetown.

The oddest sign is at the other end of the beach road; a strange 1960s-looking concrete sculpture.

Herman Gmeiner was an Austrian philanthropist who set up a school for orphaned children in Lumley. As testaments go, it’s a fairly odd one, but strangely appropriate in this corner of the world.


Ornithological observations (2) by jc2010sl
October 14, 2010, 10:13 am
Filed under: nature - wildlife, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

One of my favourite books out here is my copy of Birds of West Africa. I’ve always liked birds, and being able to identify and categorise them sates my geeky side. Here is a selection of some of my favourite sightings!

Some of the birds are familiar from the UK, like this curlew, seen at Sussex beach…

…or the Kestrel that perches in my garden, seemingly to enjoy the view.

Others are a little more exotic, like the ubiquitous yellow weaver. In towns across the peninsula you can hear the deafening chatter of thousands of weavers, and spot the unmistakable round nests high in the foliage.

A regular visitor to the gardens of Kande Bureh apartments are the sunbirds. Brightly coloured, hummingbird-like, they flit around drinking nectar…

…and only rarely perch in full view.

Not bad for an amateur.


Taxi Driver by jc2010sl
October 7, 2010, 10:53 pm
Filed under: society | Tags: , ,

It’s the same the world over – wherever you go the taxi drivers have some kind of scam. In Thailand they say the attraction is closed today, but they know a great little souvenir shop. Surprisingly enough it’s owned by their friend and you’re not allowed out until you’ve bought something. In India horns are attached to the meter so that every time your driver vents his fury, the price shoots up. One of my friends experienced Sierra Leone’s version the other day. Sitting in the back seat (and we’re talking 4 people squeezed across the back of a Nissan Sunny, not a Hackney cab) someone leaned over her to “close the door”. It was only afterwards she realised her phone and wallet had been snatched.

It suddenly occurred to me that someone had tried the same scam on me a few weeks before. I can’t say that I particularly suspected the guy leaning over to “close” the door; I guess I was just wary enough to avert an annoying phone theft. Even though I’d managed to avoid being pick-pocketed I still felt slightly pissed off that someone had tried to steal from me.

And then I realised how ridiculous this reaction was compared with the potential response of Freetownians each time they get into a cab. Most taxi drivers are ex-combattants from the civil war. A key plank of the country’s Demilitarisation, Demobilisation and Rehabilitation (DDR) strategy after the war was to give the disaffected youth a stake in society and a way out of their banditry. For many this meant trading their AKs for a little capital and buying taxis or okadas (motorbikes) or setting up carpentry shops.

Many have blood on their hands. Some of them must have taken part in “Operation no living thing”: the horrific campaign of violence and mutilation launched on Freetown in 1999. As a social group they wield some power, especially where ex-combatants are concentrated. Who knows what Freetownians think of their taxi drivers. On the rare occasions that the war comes up in conversation people mostly talk of moving forward rather than a lust for vengeance. It’s particularly unjust in a country where so many people have so little to see people gain from violence, but that was the price of peace. It certainly made my sense of affront pale into insignificance.