Thursday, November 02, 2006


Refugee all-stars

Refugee All-Stars Band are the talked about group over here and I understand from my daughter Suzanne that they are performing in Toronto at Thompson Hall and later in London England. The group were all refugees of the civil war here that ended in 2002. The drummer had his hand amputated by rebel soldiers. The music has the beat and feel of a rather unique music I hear everywhere here - on car radios, in bars and even yesterday on the beach. The message is highly political and is a great time for African development to be on the lips of people in "the west" You can listen at


More adventures

The people from Makeni didnt arrive today but sent a message to say that they would come on Sunday. I was a bit disappointed since I wanted to get going, having packed again. Oh well. You have to take your time here as I'm learning fast and nothing quite goes according to plan. It gave me the opportunity to visit the downtown area again. In fact I had to go to a Government office to pick up my Sierra Leonean driving license. As it turned out this was a bit of a farce. I had already been the day before to play the paper chase, fill out forms speak to three people in separate offices and hand over a wheelbarrow full of 80,000 leones ($30!!). Today was supposed to be a pick up but they found some more paperwork for me to fill and said that I have to go back tomorrow morning again. The Government people couldnt really care about my 1 and half hour journey there. (see the lady in the pic waving at me to stop taking the photo). I could have gotten upset but it is just the pace of things here and it is better to laugh than cry. The paperwork is really so that they can keep their jobs. You wouldnt believe the dinginess of the office though. It is more like a prison with no lighting and no ventilation - incredible. However jobs are hard to find I suppose and this is a good way to put food on the table so I'll go along with it.

I decided to walk back despite the distance. This was a bit of an adventure and the heat/humidity made it seem more like a hike in a sauna. As a rarely seen opporto (white man in Krio) walking the streets I attracted quite a lot of attention especially from the small kids. I was able to chat with many and really enjoyed this.
It more than made up for the driving licence lark. One thing struck me was the conspicuous lack of older people - evidence of the average age - 17.5 years. I came across a wedding party coming out of a church and everyone was dressed in their finest. The most striking thing was the womens tremendous headgear - hats is not the right word. I chatted with one of the guests, Eugene who was interested in talking and a was great fellow, a teacher in a secondary school. I felt a bit like the ancient mariner since I think I delayed him from the celebration. I then visited the parliament building at the top of Tower Hill which I was somehow expecting to be a splendid building, but instead it turned out to be very badly dilapidated - typical of so much I have seen in Freetown. The building was erected in 1960 apparently by the Israelis says Joe who escorted me around. I stopped by a school and chatted with a couple of teachers outside the buildings. Seems that attendance is good although it still costs a small sum to send kids to school. The teachers were quite happy since things had improved significantly from the end of the war about 4 years ago. School books seemed to be the most needed. Moving onwards I found a school for the arts which was really interesting. In this god foresaken place there are some gems that really stand out. Everything from "ballay" sculture, music, dance - Shengbe Shenbe style - apparently from ancient times and comes under the heading of spiritual arts. Anyway I really enjoyed this visit. Other nice interludes along the way were around drinks shacks where I treated kids usually in neat school uniforms to "fantas" - an orange drink. Nearly home and by now dark, I stopped at a bar / restaurant to murder a Star - the local beer and reflected on a really nice afternoon.



I arrived last Sunday in Freetown and I’m just settling in. It’s very exciting being somewhere new and unpredictable and I’m growing to like this very friendly but obviously very poor city. Bernard the VSO driver met me at the airport and first impressions were a little daunting. I arrived after dark and Bernard negotiated his way along a crowded unpaved road to the crowded third world ferry. An hour later Freetown greeted us with even more crowded streets and one huge traffic jam of old beat up cars, a jam that seems permanent. Streets were unlit and uninterrupted crowds of people again line the streets dodging the traffic and all seemingly selling something. The darkness of the street was lit by candles to illuminate the various wares on display. As we drove along it was all pretty surreal - a huge contrast from London. The VSO office seemed an oasis and my room above was welcome after that long journey.

The VSO people here were well prepared and they organized a couple of days of orientation getting me ready for work in Makeni. I am being picked up by the Town Council people today; so I’m on the move again “up contree” as they say here in Krio

Yesterday I spent some time with Bernard going around Freetown doing errands like getting a drivers licence and work permits etc. The city is quite a ramshackle and hugely crowded place that is obviously poor. Other cities in Africa, Nairobi, Cape Town etc seem to have a modern wealthy part and the shanty towns at the fringe. Freetown just seems to be one large shanty. Streets are narrow and lined with open sewers, small shops and people selling things from small tables. More selling is done usually by women walking with a stock of things like baskets or plantain etc balanced carefully on the head. What’s interesting is that there doesn’t seem to be any begging. The clothes stalls sell obviously second hand stuff from “the west” and a Royal Bank T shirt caught my eye with a price quoted at 8,000 leone or $2.

I have visited some Government departments to get the historical perspective about revenue earned from local taxes. Offices were in very old small buildings poorly maintained but clearly much better that the usual ramshackle. Government people seem to dress very formally in business clothes, quite a contrast from the people in the street and I have to be similarly dressed – slacks and open neck shirt which is quite uncomfortable in 34C heat. People are very approachable and friendly, interested in what I am doing and keen assist. I have found this quite encouraging although the problems of Sierra Leone are obviously huge. There is a major decentralization shift to local government and this is where the local governments need some assistance and training. It’s pretty daunting but I’m up for the challenge.

Although obviously poor, mobile phones are ubiquitous and several phone companies vie for business. There are few land lines. It’s pretty strange to see a mobile phone in the hand of a poor second hand clothes seller. Internet has not quite arrived although you can find it in some “holes in the wall”. The VSO office is the only reasonable place and I am uncertain what I will find in Makeni. I have a bought a sim card that surprisingly seems to work in my blackberry and I have a mobile number 232-076-532445.

Had pleasant dinner last night with a group of the VSO volunteers. We went down to the beach not too far from town and had fish dinner in a beachfront restaurant. The local “Star” beers went down well and I took a stroll along the lovely un-crowded beach.

This morning I have to pack and I’m off to Makeni.

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