Thursday, November 02, 2006
Me and my mum have read all your posts. She is fascinated and worried about what might happen to me so I let her read your site. Shhe is very impressed. It's great you managed to get some stuff down already.
Its so amazing to hear what you are up to - How are you coping with the food, your new surroundings and what about your general health ????
Has Joyce managed to log on yet ?
This is my first post from Makeni and much has happened this week. The overriding factor here is the heat and humidity. It is quite incredible what an immediate draining effect this has on any personal activity. Sweating is just a way of life here it seems. It feels much hotter than Freetown.
In Freetown I was given the news that the Chairman was not able to collect me on the Thursday as planned but that he would be coming for me on Sunday. I was getting itchy feet in Freetown and had my fill of shanty town life and yearning to get settled in to my new “home town”. Rachel a VSO volunteer in Makeni had invited me to the local Lebanese restaurant for the Saturday evening and I was keen to make some local contacts. Bernard the VSO driver kindly offered to take me up on the Friday and so we piled my stuff on to the truck plus all of the acquired bulky stuff – kerosene stove, kerosene lamps, mattress and bedding, water buckets, crockery etc.etc. The truck was full and it looked as though we were setting off on an expedition. On the way we stopped by the “Road Transport” office for my driving licence and to hand over yet another bribe. This time they actually did something but nonetheless told me I would have to return again the next day. Wow, I obviously hadn’t
paid enough “cushi”. Bernard kindly offered to collect this and bring the licence when he next visited Makeni.
The trip took about 3 hours for the 185kms a slow pace although quite a good 2 lane road. Slow busses (clapped out) and local agricultural traffic are only a few of the hazards. Lots of broken down or abandoned vehicles. Bernard gave a graphic explanation of how and where the rebels used the road to inflict damage. Apparently Makeni was their stronghold – wonderful I thought but too late to turn back. Arrived in the afternoon at Makeni and quite a culture shock just as deep as Freetown from London. Makeni is about 120,000 people and they seemed to be living in larger homes than Freetown but all of them in a very poor state of dilapidation, beyond repair.
We found the Makeni Town Council offices to be no better condition with a few small children playing outside. Again the excited chants of the children “opporto opporto” at the strange sight of a “whiteman”. One mother cradled her small child who was crying at my approach to him. We found the Deputy Chairman dressed casually at his office and he greeted me very well, albeit surprised and we chatted briefly. I practiced my Krio words and he seemed pleased at my effort. He introduced me to the chief administrator and others that I would be working with and training over the next few months. I just hope that I didn’t show that I was appalled at the standard of work space. Extraordinarily hot, no lighting and discarded furniture – difficult to describe but what a contrast to the Altus Group space.
We were then escorted in convoy to my home for the next few months and having seen the exterior of other homes in Makeni I was in some trepidation. I know that I was coming to the third world but… My trepidation was rewarded with an attractive green painted concrete single storey residence similar to the image I was previously provided with but the house was set among others quite a bit worse off. It was the inside of the house that turned my stomach– not much had been done to clean this up and it could not have been called habitable. However there was a team of 300 people it seemed, working feverishly on one of the four large rooms. This one was at the front of the house and had …an “ensuite bathroom”. I’ll try and take some pictures but I had other things on my mind at that moment. I’m missing out a bit of colour here but a protest to my hosts was met with a reasonable response and the party decamped to a local “hotel” the Amzaz for the night while things were
straightened out at the home on Azzolini Highway.
The rains started with a torrent the likes of which I have not experienced but must be similar to a Monsoon. I hurriedly bid farewell to Bernard and got soaked in the 10 steps to the hotel. By this time it was close to dark – 6pm and there is no electricity here. So not much to do but grab a quick bite at the ½ star hotel serving only ground nut soup and rice with goat. Oh well things must get better tomorrow. A noisy gathering was taking place across the road and since I wasn’t getting along well with the goat I went to investigate, looking for some adventure. Well I’d stepped right into a political party rally for the opposition party. I was rather nervous about being there but I noticed the Deputy Chairman Mr Kargbo and he stood up, interrupted the meeting and warmly announced my presence to the 50 or so attendees. It was pretty embarrassing but the meeting was quite amazing. Lots of chanting and dancing especially among the separately seated women. The room was even
hotter than outside with the kerosene lamps and the number of bodies. Nonetheless the meeting was lively with speeches (Krio uses an English base so you can get the general gist) and more chanting. I was also asked to say a few words to say what I was doing, why I was there and to thank people for the warm reception. The evening was a great success.
I was in bed by 8 PM with the aid of torch light and found that my bedroom was missing a bed net. Being an inventive sort I placed the room table on the bed and draped the netting over the top and after 10 mins I was asleep. My mobile phone beeped at 10pm and to my astonishment Suzanne’s voice beamed magically over the 10,000 kms or so into darkest Africa. I’m still in amazement and what a wonderful surprise.
Next morning Saturday and there was a community clean up in action for the morning. I found out by using my wind-up radio and tuned into the local radio station. The activity in the street was quite industrious and was joined by the army. This was a more encouraging sign and an indication of community taking action. The Amzas was situated overlooking the Makeni football stadium not Buffalo Bills style but more Arsenal footy type. The home of the Wusum All-Stars who were exemted from clean up and practicing for the afternoon match. I was really saddened by the sight of another group of exempted community members - amputees who were on the soccer field also playing with a football, an obvious reminder of the brutal civil war.
By midday I was getting a little worried that my Town Council people had forgotten me or were upset with my ungracious reaction to the Azonlini Highway mansion. Then the Chariman himself turned up in his private car (private cars are unusual) and greeted me as a long lost friend although I had never met him. We returned to the Azzolini home to see the progress from yesterday. The master rooms now had a roll of lino and had been painted, and furnished with a bed and a cupboard. No kitchen or sitting area. Oh well. So I unpacked my stuff, hung the bed net and then in a pool of sweat a bucket of cold water over the head was in order.
The weekly Saturday entertainment is a get together at the hummus and chips Lebanese shack nearby and this was an opportunity to meet the other volunteers working not only in Makeni but also in the villages nearby. I was surprised at the large number of organizations ranging from the large Medicines sans Frontiers, Care International and World Vision to relatively small local groups. Some people from the Dutch based NGO called War Child were most interesting, assisting with the children displaced or orphaned during the war. I also met the other VSO volunteers including Rachel who suggested that I shouldn’t put up with my residence and that she had a spare room.
I stayed one night at the Azzolini and having seen Rachels place in the morning I decamped to Rachels spare room. Much cooler, not so busy and a very pleasant place. I’ve been here for the week and it looks like I’ll be he for another week until the Town Council can find an alternate. Having broached the subject they agreed that my home should be better.
Work this week was interesting since I hadn’t started a new job for many years. I started by having a Monday morning meeting with the four people in the “valuation” department. All of them from Makeni and all male. The first urgent task is to create an electronic record of all 6,000 homes in the City to satisfy the immediate requirements of the Central Government. They are expected next week. The City only has one computer and only one person on the team has some computer skills. Where there is a need it’s amazing what can get done. It seems that the Town were happy with my first week and gave me the motor bike to go for a tour over the weekend.
During the week I bought some material for a shirt and one of the local tailors made it up. This went down well with the locals and the people at work.
It is extremely hot here and any activity such as going to the market is exhausting requiring a bucket of cold water to cool down. I am starting to settle and feel better after the shock of the first few days. I am told by the other volunteers that it does take a few weeks to acclimatize and to get used to the living conditions. However even as I type this blog I am perspiring like crazy. It’s strange but normal here to carry a towel – and water is sold everywhere.
The internet connection here is extremely sparse and it seems that the Catholic Mission, called the Fatima Institute has the only computer with a dial up access. It is located near town and I’ll get there once a week. I really appreciate all the e-mails.
Thats all for my blog notes - I'll write more later
I'll sign off now and go to supper and a beer with some other NGO volunteers / interns at the hummus and chips place. Thanks for the phone calls to my mobile
All the best
This is the second time i've posted .Not sure the first one made it thru? If the waether's cool it should remind you of winter!! On your return I'd like to arrange a speaker's dinner at Grano (Robert the owner just was awarded the Jane Jacobs Award for 2006).Pat McCarney is part of this.
hope Xmas is peaceful and I'm sure interesting. Stay well, go well (comes to mind from Cry, the Beloved Country by Patton).