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?

Bulk Access by jc2010sl
February 18, 2010, 8:04 am
Filed under: society | Tags: , ,

One of the most striking practical differences of living in Salone is the movement to a total cash economy. In the 3 weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve not seen a single place that takes card payment. Cash is most definitely king. This basically means that you need to leave the house armed with a hefty brick of cash if you don’t want to be caught out. Having practically run out of the US Dollars I brought with me (you can change these all over town for the local currency – the Leone) I made a trip to the bank in town.

At the back of the bank there is a sign that reads “Bulk Access – cash transfer”, where you can withdraw a maximum of 2 million leones (about £350). Counting to check you’ve not been short-changed is certainly advisable, and among the many slightly odd skills that I never thought I’d need – or frankly ever thought about at all – I’ve become a dab hand at counting money. (A future career as a bank teller beckons if it all goes wrong.) The other thing that struck me was just how safe I felt walking out of the bank with what is probably close to half the annual salary for a nurse in the provinces.