Freetown, Baby!


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.

NS

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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.

NS



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!



Charlotte Falls by jc2010sl
September 8, 2010, 9:21 pm
Filed under: nature - wildlife, photos, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

The rains seem to rumble on interminably. We’ve scarcely had a day without some kind of deluge for the last 2 months. I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising given that Salone gets almost double the annual rainfall of London in the month of August alone.

The rain though does have its advantages: it’s not quite as oppressively hot; the Saharan dust brought in by the Harmattan winds has been taken out of the air; and the streams of the Western Peninsula are in full flow. Nowhere is this more impressive than at Charlotte Falls, a little waterfall tucked behind Freetown in the Regent saddle.

To get to the falls is a short drive out of town followed be a walk through Charlotte village and up along the river. Despite being only 30 minutes from the bustle of the capital, it’s a window onto what the early Krio villages must have been like. Houses are scattered along the river and up the hillside; dirt tracks run though the village and there isn’t a paved road in sight.

The houses are the same as they would have been 60 years ago, except that where once corrugated zinc would have been used for the rooves only, the walls are zinc too now. A slim sign of material progress since zinc is more durable than wooden boarding because it’s not susceptible to termites.

Walking out of the village to the falls themselves we came across an abandoned house. Apparently it was deserted because thieves from the neighbouring village made a habit of robbing the house while the owner was selling his wares in Freetown. The rooms inside were tiny, and the wooden walls on the inside were decorated with repeated stencil paintings of butterflies and tigers. Finally we made it up to the Falls themselves – a picturesque sight nestled in the hillside.

Although not quite at their highest, they were still impressive, and the plunge pool was deep enough to have a chilly dip in. Apparently the mossy stones can serve as a water slide, but I wasn’t feeling in adventurous mood.

As headed back into Freetown I wondered what the inhabitants of the village thought of where they lived. Was it the beautiful idyll that it had seemed to me – an escape from the traffic and noise of Freetown? Or a rural backwater they longed to escape for the bright lights of the town?

NS



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?”

m-a



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:

m-a