Friday, January 19, 2007
The trip to Bo was quite an adventure. I managed to catch a ride with one of the better NGO’s Action Faim in their Land Cruiser and I’m glad I did. The road from Makeni is more or less single track, unpaved and so poorly maintained so that much of the journey is a bone jarring experience, the vehicle straining in low gear negotiating all manner of rivers, rocks and fallen trees. The tongue has to be kept firmly in the mouth. Some informal road blocks put up by the locals to extract money from passing opportos are ignored but other police checks are more or less polite. The Action Faim guys take all this seriously with 15 minute radio checks back to Makeni base and this increases the tension. I must admit I hadn’t anticipated all this. Along the way we came across several of the beaten up Poda Poda buses laden with people and goods and I really don’t know how they managed to survive the journey. This is remote bush country with small rivers and mainly palm trees and a relatively flat or rolling landscape. Small mud hut villages interrupt the jungle like journey and the children wave enthusiastically. Surprisingly some local subsistence farmers are seen walking along the track, heads loaded with goods, tools and all manner of stuff, even livestock. Needless to say, I’m making some enquiries with Action Faim for a ride back next week.
Bo is a rather ramshackle town a little larger than Makeni but there are subtle differences that indicate that the people here are better off. Streets are paved and relatively clean and the open sewers are less obvious. Shops are relatively well stocked with good variety and I was even able to buy two mars bars. I am staying in a rather “interesting” hotel in the centre of town, apparently the best available and the charge of $10 per night is expensive given the hard-to-describe standard. Nonetheless I am grateful at the opportunity of charging my phone, camera and computer, bathed in the light of a single fluorescent light tube. They even served me a cold Star beer downstairs on the patio and I chatted with some of the locals.
This is “Mende” country and a rather different tribe compared to the “Temne” dominated in the north at Makeni. The Mende people seem much more passive and reserved, interested in education and government and a pleasant change from the more aggressive directness of the Temne. The coming election is much on the lips and this is an SLPP supported part of the country compared to the north anchored by Makeni which is APC. The Government in power now is SLPP and partisan politics is an important factor it seems, leading to the better conditions here in Bo. If you managed to read Aminatta Fornas book you’ll appreciate the difference and it is interesting to see.
Yesterday I was welcomed effusively by the Deputy Mayor at the Town Hall offices and I spent much of the day discussing technical issues of revenue generation, clearly a critical issue. The database work I had done for Makeni was of particular interest as well as the publicity campaign and collection procedures that I had started. I was escorted on a tour of the city to see the market, the lorry park and the clock tower as well as some of the residential areas. All seemed similar to Makeni although the central areas are definitely better here in Bo. I was asked to address the full Council meeting with a presentation to take place at 10 this morning. I had better get ready and so I’ll finish here and see if I can post this blog at the internet “caffe” down the street. The effect of electricity on the economy is amazing.
It’s about 3pm and I’ve just come from the Council meeting and a lunch with some of the valuation staff. The meeting was lively and my presentation was well received. Clearly Councilors are keen to learn and adopt new procedures and several were adopted on the spot. Best of all from my perspective is that they are prepared to co-ordinate the taxing costs for the large companies. The mayor Mr. Wusu Sannoh was very welcoming and I am invited to supper at his residence. Tomorrow I am attending a breakfast at the Ladies Club hoted by one of the Councilors (it’s good to see 4 women Councilors of the 12 in Total). For lunch I treated the valuation staff of 5 ( 4 female) to a local meal of cassava leaves with fish and rice; all eating from the same plate as is usual. They were all delighted since it is unusual for an opporto to eat traditional West African food in particular in this “setting”. FYI the average salary is 134,000 leones or about $40 per month.
I’m off to the library to see if I can learn anything for the Makeni library.