Freetown, Baby!

Taxi no make sense by jc2010sl
February 25, 2011, 12:30 pm
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Taxis and poda-podas in Freetown are always emblazoned with messages on their front and rear bumpers. Mostly these are religious professions or exhortations, and sometimes homespun wisdom; “Trust in God” and “Giver never lack” are common enough sights. Recently though, I’ve spotted some altogether more peculiar offerings.

Some are rather gnomic, like “Mi wan gren” which translates as “Myself alone”. Is the driver saying he doesn’t need help from anyone else, or that he’s abandoned in the world? Others are downright confusing, for example “10 * 1 = 11? Homework”. I asked my driver what this was about and after a lengthy pause he said, “Well, the answer to 10 times 1 is not 11, so the driver is saying if you think the answer is right, you need to do your homework.” I wasn’t convinced, but couldn’t come up with a better explanation myself. The oddest of all though was a message “Yu Nar Wak” – “You are a loser”. I can’t imagine painting that on a taxi is particularly good for business.

Tifman by jc2010sl
February 18, 2011, 4:29 pm
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I was sat in the office yesterday when suddenly a clamour rose from the streets outside. My colleagues rushed to the window crying “Tifman!” in excited tones. “What’s going on?” I asked Santos, the office messenger. “They’ve caught a thief” he said, pointing down. Straining to see I spotted a gang of men beating a figure huddled in their midst. “What will the police do?” I naively asked. “Look, here they come!” someone said. Predictably enough I suppose the officer joined the fray, and after a minute or so the presumed perpetrator was hauled from the ruck, his shirt ripped to pieces. “What will happen next?” I asked. “Well if there is evidence the police will arrest and charge him.” I can only wonder what constitutes “evidence”.

At the roadside where the beating happened there is a public information poster. The mix of Krio grammar and western legalese are a sure sign that it’s sponsored by an NGO: “Sexual Harrassment nar crime”. Beneath the caption is a picture of a man beating his wife and the question “If you don’t stop him who will?” A laudable message no doubt, and domestic violence is certainly a problem in Sierra Leone. I wonder though if perceptions on the acceptability of particular acts of violence can be changed without a more general shift in perceptions that violence isn’t the way to resolve disputes.

The Professionals by jc2010sl
February 9, 2011, 8:47 am
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Just when I thought I’d had my fill of the Sierra Leone health system, I was struck down with Malaria. Running a fever and feeling awful I dropped in on a doctor’s clinic for a quick blood test. First up was the comedy attempt to draw blood. After a couple of stabs into my finger, and several blood covered plastic gloves, I offered to prick myself and drop the blood onto the test paper. Malaria duly confirmed the doctor said she’d give me an injection followed by a course of tablets. After rummaging through a store cupboard that would put an untidy 14 year old to shame, the nurse pulled out some vials of colourless liquid.

She lumbered over with a needle, but before she could jab it into me I asked where the needle had come from. “It’s fresh,” she said, in a totally unconvincing fashion, “We’re professionals here”, “Well, neverless, I’d prefer if I saw where the needle came from.” After some huffing she duly produced what was indeed a fresh needle, and filled it from the vials. During the course of this a smile formed across her face, and it dawned on me that while I might be able to insist on a needle, she was going to have the last laugh.

I rolled up my sleeve to present the vein in my arm, but she waved me away. “On the bed, this will go in your boo-tocks”. Face down, pants round my ankles, my humiliation was complete. It seemed she drove home the needle with particular zeal. They then stuck me on a drip for an hour and I waited around for the doctor to give me my prescription so I could get home. After the doctor made it out, I asked where I could get the drugs “well, the pharmacy here closed an hour ago”, “you mean I’ve sat here for 2 hours while you knew what treatment I would need, and in the meantime the pharmacy has closed?” That was about the size of it. “There will be somewhere in town I’m sure.” At 8pm and groggy as hell, this was the last kind of wild goose I needed. As it happened, the first place I found was open, and even stocked the cocktail of drugs prescribed. Perhaps my luck has turned.