Freetown, Baby!


Crispy by jc2010sl
May 17, 2010, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Everyone likes the feel of a crisp new bank note, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures. Since I’ve been in Salone I’ve not seen a single pristine note. They are crumpled shreds of paper, various shades of brown, irrespective of their colour when printed. I suspect that they are probably the biggest spreader of communicable disease.

A few weeks ago posters sprung up all over town announcing the arrival of new banknotes. I took it as another case of Salone wishful thinking; something that might happen in that vague unidentified place called the future. I was more than a little taken aback when I was presented with a block of brand spanking new notes on my latest trip to the bank.

Makes a change

The new notes were the talk of the town when they came out on Friday. When I used them to buy lunch the waitress looked shocked and excitedly showed them to the people at the next table. Out on the town everyone was proudly displaying the shiny new notes too.

They were also widely covered in today’s papers. The New Citizen editorialised:

“The most important knowledge anyone can have to appreciate the resized currency is the knowledge of its in-built security measures. The knowledge that we can now sleep better without worrying about the havoc that counterfeiters can wreak on our currency is soothing.

With the co-operation of the people of Sierra Leone it will be a long time before it becomes necessary to re-print the notes… We must co-operate to keep the new bank notes clean, crispy and long lasting and help us save a lot of money with their long life… If we refuse to keep our bank notes in our shoes, underwears, or on wet surfaces we will do a whole lot of good to the currency… Certain groups need to be fully committed. These groups are the palm oil sellers, motor drivers and apprentices responsible for collecting bank notes.

Discipline beckons the patriotic.”

Who knew that a pristine bank note could arouse such elevated sentiments?



TV mistakes by jc2010sl
May 7, 2010, 1:18 am
Filed under: public life | Tags: ,

Tracking down some of my counterparts in the Ministry of Health can be a tricky business. Meetings pop up at short notice, often over-run, and staff can be pulled away to various engagements including media engagements to “sensitise”, that is, inform, the public.

Of all the people I work with, one of the most elusive is Dr SAS Kargbo, spokesperson extraordinaire for the Ministry of Health. Last week I needed to grab him for 20 minutes so dropped by office first thing in the morning. Unfortunately for me, the Ministry press team had put him up for a series of interviews on the morning radio programmes. I thought I’d head along for the ride to see how they were run, and in the vague hope that I might catch him between interviews. An hour or so later, with several more stations added to the schedule, I figured any hope of catching him was gone. I cut my losses and decided to come back in the afternoon.
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April Full by jc2010sl
April 1, 2010, 3:28 pm
Filed under: society | Tags: ,

I wanted to put up an April Fool post today. The outlandish tales which came to mind, though, had the distinct disadvantage of being “true”. Take a radio report from a couple of days ago: three people were charged with turning a child into a deer. I asked my driver how you could establish a) that a child had been turned into a deer and b) who was responsible. He murmured something about “bad people”, and said that witch doctors were very powerful.

I turned to the papers for inspiration, wondering if the Salone press went in for hoax stories. I wasn’t disappointed.
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Stop Press by jc2010sl
March 6, 2010, 1:05 pm
Filed under: public life, society | Tags: , ,

Five weeks in and I still haven’t read all the papers. I don’t even know all their names yet, but I’ve been told there are about 25. Considering the population of the whole country is only c. 6 million people, and that the papers are only published in Freetown – population c. 1 million – that’s a pretty vibrant press culture.

At a glance it’s hard to tell the titles apart – all are tabloid format, about 20 pages long, and mostly have front pages in colour. On reading though there are certainly higher- and lower-brow markets, and clear political bents, with the latter played out in strongly personal terms. Some of the articles in the serious papers wouldn’t be out of place in a monthly periodical. Can you imagine “Formal versus social approaches in the fight against corruption” in a UK daily? Others are far more “newsy” with a decidedly gossipy reporting style. “Apparently”, “sources suggest”, and “it is rumoured” are pretty stock phrases. I’m reminded of a Hunter S Thompson anecdote from his coverage of the 1972 Nixon election campaign. A TV journalist probed him on one of his reports; “You claim that there were rumours…” Hunter S: “I know for a fact there were rumours – I started them”. Well quite.

Much of the content would be familiar to a UK readership. The sports pages cover the Premiership almost exclusively –one back page was a facsimile copy of the latest News of The World! Star signs are a staple, with mine yesterday a choice example: “Party girl Venus dons a frilly apron to sashay around your home center. Since that mad man-about-town Daddy Jupiter is there too, changes will be glitzy. Tweak your digs with an eye to entertaining. With the sun summating as well, there should be the wherewithal to indulge yourself, as only you know how.”

Not sure I follow all of it, but it sounds tantalising…