Thursday, November 02, 2006



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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