Monday, January 22, 2007
I left Bo yesterday morning having spent a nice evening with the valuation officer Francis Conteh. He turned up at the hotel and wanted a chat before I left and so we went for dinner and a couple of beers. I was pleased to have the opportunity to treat him to a meal and to have a private and relaxed discussion since I felt all along that my presence might have been a threat. On the contrary he wanted to explore and continue some of the ideas and he also wanted to thank me for treating his staff who I had taken for a meal the day before. This was gratifying. We talked about his work problems with staff training and motivation, acceptance of new technologies, and most of all how to handle the political machine; the Council who he felt wanted to micro-manage his administrative function. The separation of administrative and political functions is important and seems to be missed here and in Makeni, probably due to the obvious favours that political leaders wanted to control. Francis and I agreed to keep in contact.
Earlier in the afternoon the Deputy Mayor Joe Pyne had taken me on a tour of the City and he also treated me to a drink at the local “country club”. Well I was dumbstruck at the sight of this walled compound with tennis court, swimming pool and restaurant / bar that could have been a luxury resort somewhere in the Caribbean. The parking lot was almost full with white Toyota landcruisers repleat with important looking oversized antennas the status symbol of the NGO’s such as Oxfam, UN, Care, World Vision etc.. More about these organizations later. Joes beaten up 20 year old Mitsubishi was second class but as an important politician he was obviously accepted here. The relaxed and holiday atmosphere of the luxury “club” was too stark a contrast with the normal street scene and I was uncomfortable. (I even forgot to take a snap.) Nonetheless we enjoyed the drink and a chat and Joe introduced me to the locals. He also presented me with a Gara cloth, a locally made light cotton material that was nicely coloured and decorated. This will make a good African shirt since I am getting tired of the existing one. I was very pleased that Joe appreciated my effort to come to Bo and he wanted to adopt some of the ideas. He also wanted to tempt me to extend my stay in Sierra Leone and spend some time working in Bo with him. I gave him the contact details for the VSO office (and Trevor Marks) and politely avoided making a commitment.
During the morning I visited the local Njala University with Bo Councilor and Lecturer Mrs. Issa. The University had just finished it’s first academic year. In some respects it was good to see that there are enough people (2,000 students) who have the money to attend - $600 per annum fees. This amount is very tough to budget in Sierra Leone. Quite sad in many respects since the campus is run down, overcrowded and it seems at first glance that the courses are modest at best. I sat in on a business course and the lecturer was explaining how to complete a banking cheque. The University has no access to internet and computer courses were given in crowded rooms. Exams were being taken outdoors since there was no room inside. The students seemed happy and positive about the future although the main (almost desperate) question of me was how to immigrate to Canada.
My trip to Kenema was thankfully uneventful although I was a little too intimate with the passengers of the overloaded small Toyota car (7 people). I was met by Patricia a friend of a Makeni friend Maria and she took me to a local guest house. She was very nice and we spent the day looking around the town, visiting the local neighbourhoods which are very similar to Makeni and the small commercial core. Kenema is a dusty ramshackle of a place and although they have hydro power it is not as developed as Bo. Lacking are the banks and other commercial institutions, government etc. nor any industry. People here seem to experience extreme poverty. Patricia is a local 27 year old African and at her home she prepared a supper of cassava leaves with fish and rice. She has a harrowing story of her experience during the war. Husband killed, fled to Liberia and with her small child. Her neighbour Martin has an equally dreadful story and this really has affected me. Not too many people in Makeni want to relate their experiences. Kenema seems to be the main town where resettlement of refugees is still taking place. All of the main agencies are here.
At an internet café now and this is run by a local Lebanese who belong to a community that appear to run all of the local businesses. The meeting with the Town Council here was successful and the valuation officer Mr. James Ensah was enthusiastic about the Access routines that I will quickly adapt for Kenema. I learnt a great deal about what assessment practices they employed and had largely failed. I now have a good basis for making recommendations to Makeni. The Mayor and an entourage took me for lunch and the fare was groundnut stew and it was not too appetizing. I was already suffering from a bout of “runnebelle” but I had to be polite. Patricia is meeting me soon and we are planning a visit to the library. I am interested since Makeni has a new library building funded by the EU but seemingly no budget for books. I’ll treat Patricia to supper at the Capitol restaurant where it seems all the local NGO’s go.
Tomorrow it’s back on a bus to Bo and I am still hoping for a ride from Action Faim back to Makeni on Wednesday.