Freetown, Baby!


The Game
November 30, 2010, 11:44 am
Filed under: entertainment, photos, public life, society, travels | Tags: , ,

The first time I visited Moyamba, I was bitterly disappointed not to be able to stay in the recommended guesthouse, which also doubled up as … a stadium! It’s hard to explain the feat of architecture that allowed this amazing combination, but basically the rooms are underneath the steps which overlook the gamefield…

As I’m sure you’ll understand, I was therefore incredibly excited when, on my second visit to Moyamba, I managed to bag myself a room at ‘The Stadium’! Although the TV wasn’t working, the place still provided a predictable entertainment for my evenings in town: the national Sierra Leonean football tournament involving such talented teams as Bo, Bonthe, Moyamba, etc…

All three nights I stayed in Moyamba, I was greeted, as I came home from a day-long workshop, by hundreds of locals, cheering, shouting, sucking cough drops and oranges – you don’t eat oranges in Salone, you suck the juice out of them, this being the end result:

The atmosphere is hard to describe so I’ll let the shots do the talking…

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Real Education
November 26, 2010, 10:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

As I’ve mentioned in this blog at times, I’ve been working for a few months at a free secondary school in Lumley, Freetown.

Rather than talk (or write!) for hours about the amazing work they do, I wanted to share a few photos I took last week of the students and the staff at Educaid. (More here)



More here

m-a



Jungle Style
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…

m-a



That Sunday Feeling…
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!



Council Tax
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!!

m-a



A walk up the hill…
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
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?”

m-a