Freetown, Baby!

Sign Language by jc2010sl
April 15, 2011, 2:57 pm
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Despite being the official language, there are occasional signs that English isn’t the first language in Salone. Sometimes its the choice of archaic vocabulary; people are asked to “proffer” views, and situations are often described as “obtaining”. But sometimes you’re just hit with a phrase that an English speaker of English would never use.

I can only wonder at the dregs of Freetown society left on the shelf from “Desperate Chicks Vol. 1”.

Revellers would probably do well to take heed of this warning on the Masiaka highway.

Safe journey? I’m not so sure.

Krapp’s Last tape by jc2010sl
April 6, 2011, 3:29 pm
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After 3 days on the Ile de Rhoume I headed back to Conakry on the islanders’ little pirogue ready to fly to Sierra Leone. On the way to the airport I decided to give the travel agent a call to make sure all was in order. Just as well I did, as it turns out the flight was postponed until the next day. “Change of plan,” I said to the driver “To the Jardin de Guinea” – a little hotel where I’d had dinner the week before. Unfortunately all the rooms were taken, but the barman said he knew of another spot nearby – perfect.

The driver claimed to know the way, but I wasn’t convinced. “I know the way,” said a woman outside, “I work there.” Likely story, I thought, she probably just wants a lift across town, but fair enough, and it’s no skin off my nose in any case. We climbed into the taxi, and she said again “I work at the hotel”, “Yes, yes,” I said “I heard”. “Je suis une masseuse, vous avais compris?” Yes, I thought to myself, I have understood both what you said, and what you mean…

As I got out of the taxi at the next hotel the bony old ghost followed me out. “Thank you, I’ll be fine from here,” I said, but she pursued me into the lobby anyway. Inside, I asked the receptionist for a small room. “It’s just me,” I said, looking pointedly at my new companion. “How rude!” she said as I quickly scurried away.

Perspiring somewhat from my trip across town I was glad to find a bath and bucket of cold water to shower. But where was the plastic cup and towel? Bucket showers are all well and good, but one needs one’s accessories. I asked a member of staff for the necessaries and she proceeded to take me on a “grand” tour of the 10 room dive. “Look, I just want a shower” I pleaded, but my request seemed to fall on deaf ears. As we entered the kitchen I decided to take matters into my own hands and seized a plastic cup from the sideboard. “What are you doing?” she asked, horrified. “Taking a shower!” I replied. “No, no, no, that’s not how we do things.” Heinous as my crime was, at least it prompted my guide to find the desired objects to facilitate my shower.

Showered and refreshed, I headed out for my lunch. “Where’s your wife?” asked the receptionist. My wife!? Talk about insult to injury. She was almost 20 years my senior and had more limbs than teeth. “I believe she was a ‘woman of the night’” I said, translating directly into French. “Vraiment?” asked the receptionist, horrified, “We don’t want that sort in here.” “Well neither do I; make sure she doesn’t come back.” That, at least, seemed a simple enough request to carry out.

Serving the customer by jc2010sl
December 1, 2010, 4:33 pm
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As I’ve noted elsewhere, customer service leaves a lot to be desired in Salone. So when it’s good, you notice. The bank my team uses is unusually helpful, and the concierge service with our phone company is incredible. They call every week to see if there are any requests they can help with. A UK standard plumber in Freetown? No problem, here are our man’s contact details. Hotel availability next Wednesday? We’ll get onto that for you.

I discovered the other week though that there might be an ulterior motive to all this. I received a call from the phone company asking me to a jazz night. “Why not,” I said, thinking it was some kind of corporate offer, “I’ll see who else from my team might be interested.” Cue chuckling at the other end, “no, Nathan, this is an invitation just for you, just a friendly evening, you know.” The following week the woman from the bank invited me to some kind of fashion show with her friends – again my colleagues expressly uninvited – and I figured maybe a pattern was emerging. I wondered if the introduction from the concierge service; “we’ll do anything if it’s legal” was quite as throw-away as I thought.

A few weeks – and several spurned invitations – later and I’ve noticed a definite dip in standards. My bills are late, and my calls go unreturned. I guess customer service in Salone is something of a 2-way street…


Did you just flash me? Hot and Passionate texts (vol 1) by jc2010sl
April 20, 2010, 5:00 pm
Filed under: society, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Mobile telephony has taken off in a big way in Salone. Like a number of other developing countries, it has bypassed expensive landline cables and gone straight for mobiles. In the time that I’ve lived here a mobile mast has been erected on the hill where I live and since I arrived I haven’t called a single landline – every restaurant, hotel and other business has a mobile as it’s point of contact.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the saturation in Freetown a set of complex conventions has developed around mobile use.

Calls rarely go unanswered, which is just as well as no one ever checks voice mail. Even in meetings with Ministers people will pick up the phone and talk at length, before finally saying “A no kin tok, a de meetin. Yes, Meetin!”
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Seduction Salone Style by mabrajeux
February 16, 2010, 1:31 pm
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Number of marriage proposals: 1

Although I was pretty pleased with this achievement as I considered my first three weeks in Freetown, apparently by local standards I’m not really doing that well…

Truth is, people in Sierra Leone are generally incredibly friendly. Greetings are an important part of the local Krio culture and it’s very common to greet people you cross in the street, saying either ‘hello’ or ‘Aw di bodi?’(krio for ‘how are you?’ – watch this space for more info). People also often ask you your name, which is a bit unsettling at first, as if they are somehow invading your privacy but you soon get used to it and if I had a better memory, I’d be on first name term with half of Freetown!

But walking around the streets of Freetown you also encounter a more interested kind of attention… It ranges from shouts of ‘white girl, white girl’ when you walk down the street to the fully fledged promise of eternal devotion and marriage proposal… (well, just the one in my case) Although this attention is a little strange to get used to, you can soon tell the good-humoured banter from the more intrusive hassle and you learn to reply or walk past.

This seductive trait, along with Salone friendliness and willingness to chat can lead to amusing conversations, which can soon resemble an orderly interrogation, as I experienced a few days ago.
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