My name is Vickie Remoe-Doherty. This is my first post as Global Voices author for Sierra Leone. I thought that my first post should introduce you to some notable blogs on Sierra Leonean blogosphere. I hope that my work with Global Voices Online will inspire Sierra Leoneans in Sierra Leone and in the Diaspora to join the global conversation online as is the case for Nigerians, Kenyans, Tanzanians, Malawians, and South Africans.
If you’ve searched for blogs from or on Sierra Leone, there are two things that should be obvious by now: (1) the Sierra Leonean blogosphere is very small (2) most people blogging from Sierra Leone are international expats or volunteers currently working in the country. The blogs either focus on the implementation of projects (mostly NGO related) or personal experiences (difficulties/joys) of living in Sierra Leone as a native of another country.
Hi, I’m Justin and this is my blog from Freetown, Sierra Leone. I work for a global charity called Mercy Ships. While my organization is best known for having floating hospitals, we have two land-based centres here in this country. We are one of the few centres in Africa that provides surgery for obstetric fistula, and we also work in primary healthcare and community development.
What’s up with the blog? Well, I thought it would be pretty interesting for people to read what is happening here in West Africa, and to get a day-to-day glimpse into the life of a transplanted Westerner. I’m writing about the things I see, hear, and experience and sometimes, they’re not pretty.
More about me… I’m originally from a small town called Breslau, which is an hour away from Toronto, Ontario. I studied political science at the University of Waterloo. The future? Grad school, hopefully in Europe. Subject of study: law or development.
Hi all, I know it's been a while since I last wrote. My latest trip was again to Kenema and then Kailahun to disburse the 2nd half of the grants that I helped distribute back in December. The trip out was relatively uneventful. I found that almost no progress has been made on the reconstruction of the main road out. It was still dusty and a long drive, 5 hours or so. Our security guy and country rep didn't want us keeping large amounts of cash on us this time, so it was decided that we would have to return all the way back to Kenema every day. This added an extra hour in the morning and evening. Unfortunately we had no choice in the matter and to be fair carrying millions of leones around is probably not the best idea.
Anyway, after meeting up with Salim, our agricultural guy, we figured out a process for getting the money every morning from the safe. By this time it was time to go to guest house and hopefully get some rest. But it was not to be. The power in Kenema used to be excellent (back in October), but now it isn't strong enough to run an air conditioner. So this left me in an extremely hot and noisy room (people talking and the generator blaring when the power went out altogether) with only a bit of air movement from the fan. I did manage to get a little sleep but around 5 am the call to prayer started (Of course I had forgotten my earplugs, lesson learned). Unlike most other mosques, this one broadcast the entire 45 minute service. By the time it ended, the “snorer” started up. It was unbelievably loud, and I pretty much gave up at this point and got up.
I direct the education & community partnerships for a regional family-owned theatre circuit in West and Central Michigan. My husband Aaron is in the midst of a PhD biology degree, studying ‘behavioral ecology’ of the W. African Forest buffalo. He grew up in Sierra Leone, is fluent in a number of languages spoken in the north of the country, and is committed both to the people and conservation of natural resources. We are juggling an interesting first few years of marriage! I have been incredibly privileged to get access to the wonderful Kuranko people and land in the north of the country… along with the best available ‘lingual’ and ‘cultural’ interpretation.
The conflict between the Fula and the Limba has resulted in a public hearing, which is transpiring in the town square today. I need to amend my last post to say that the ‘truth’ turns out to be somewhere in the middle of the two versions of the ‘story’ I represented. Cows have been killed; this resulted in a Fula rancher killing a Limba boy. No ‘retaliation’ has taken place – yet. The Paramount Chief is in an awkward position, as he is a Limba who is married to a Fula woman. He is one of the two Paramount Chiefs in Kabala (which sits on the border of Sengbeh and Wara-Wara-Yagalah chiefdoms). His inclination was to see if he could wait for things to ‘blow over. This precipitated his initial reaction: that the issue would not be addressed until the taxes have been collected for this region. However, the ‘district officers’ (Freetown governmental representatives) were drawn in, as this is a murder case. Thankfully, due attention is now being given to the situation. IMATT, UN officials and others have come to witness the proceedings, as this has been deemed a ‘regional issue’ with many small grievances (and some big ones) being addressed.
With the help of Aaron and a Sierra Leonean man who works for Red Cross, I was able to secure permission from the police to take a few pictures, which I will put on the website as soon as ‘uploading’ pictures is possible. The pavilion is so crowded that it is difficult to get in to see the actual proceedings, but outside the pavilion, crowds are peacefully assembled in the streets and on balconies of nearby houses with huge banners. One pictorially depicts the shooting followed by an X through a cow, with the header “Enough is Enough.” Others read: “Cows, Yes! Uncontrolled Cows, No!!” (again, illustrated – with fences and cows), “Where are the Authorities?” and “Respect my Place.” I am hopeful that all will go well – though there is some volatile ‘talk’ in town”
My highlight of the week was definitely on Tuesday. I’ll tell you why…
A 42 year old lady showed up at the centre wondering if we could help her. She was born with a cleft lip. It’s a little unusual for me to see an adult patient (other than our staff); this was an exception. Her defect was obvious so there was not much I needed to do in the sense of examination etc. I had to tell her we would not be able to help her at our centre but that we could schedule her for a surgery on the ship in 2008 when the ship comes to Freetown. I don’t think she really understood what I meant initially so I decided to take out some before and after pictures of a little boy who has had surgery on the ship in the past. When she saw the difference in the pictures a big smile appeared on her face. It was as if she couldn’t believe her eyes. She went on to explain that she has 5 children and some grandchildren at that all of them get teased because of her defect. Very sad to hear and it made the moment even more special to realize what an impact a surgery would have on her life; and to think that she has had to walk around in shame for 42 years. I went on to show her a picture of the Africa Mercy and her eyes got even bigger. She was delighted to show her daughter and grandchild the pictures. Explaining to them that she too would receive surgery and her lip would be healed. She didn’t speak English or Krio but a local language. I had someone translate what she was saying. She said ‘I am so happy I could dance for you.’ Next thing we see is her getting up and doing a little dance of joy for us. Oh to see her face a year or so from now after surgery. It’s a privilege to play a small role in someone’s life!
I have been doing a lot of reading about fistulas – even saw my first surgery the other week (story on the website: http://www.minxproductions.com/mel/?p=154). I have been working with the ladies who come in with footdrop, and have managed to instigate some changes in regards to orthoses that will hopefully make it easier and more comfortable for them, not to mention speed up the process a little. I am also writing a couple of papers of recommendation for rehabilitation work at the fistula centre, but thankfully those documents wont turn out to be as mammoth as the New Steps paper. The ladies are delightful to work with and I have been privileged to be able to attend a few ‘Gladi Gladi’s’, which is a celebration ceremony for those who have recovered from their surgery and are going home, complete with a beautiful new dress and a new start in life. There is lots of singing, followed by dancing around the courtyard. This week was particularly special leading up to Easter as the Sierra Leonean nurses talked about how like the new life the women experience when their fistula is closed, we can be made whole inside and have new life in Jesus. This was followed by the general favourite song here “Tell Papa God Tankie” (tell ‘daddy’ God thankyou).
I have accepted a placement in Sierra Leone, a third world developing country located in western Africa. The 6 month job involves assisting and training in the valuation of properties for local assessment and taxation purposes. I expect to be in Sierra Leone from November 2006 to May 2007 and hope I can keep in touch through this blog. I have been impressed with the international development agency Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) who have trained me both in Canada and in the UK
One of his most recent post is about food in Sierra Leone:
It’s comforting to know that people out there are thinking of me. A few have commented that there appears to be a diminishing amount of me. Pictured here is taken last weekend in Freetown with the VSO country director, Chals Wontonwe. Well it is true that my trouser belt is a couple of notches further in but I seem to be able to have a balanced diet although without the added Mars Bar calories. The food markets have a very limited selection of “western food” and there is a complete lack of any Loblaws or Sainsburys type supermarkets. Kelloggs and Cadburys type stuff can be bought in the west of Freetown where most of the international NGO’s have their compounds and the foods are quite expensive. Makeni clearly doesn’t make it; the nearest thing being the PZ petrol filling station that also has a selection of canned tuna, mayonnaise, pasta for the Italian priests, laughing cow cheese and occasionally some jam. In the town there is quite a lot of bread made and sold by the Fullah tribesmen from stalls along the road. They know me now and I try to distribute my trade among them. The staple diet among Saloneans here is rice and no matter how much other food is consumed, people will say that they have not eaten unless rice has been on the plate. More about rice later. Most of the vegetable food is available from stalls in the market and there appears to be a good supply but of very limited variety.
Having adapted now to the local foods my diet has certainly changed and I eat a combination of rice dishes with locally grown vegetables mainly cassava, sweet potato, crin crin including and sometimes solely the leaves. There are no fridges here – no electricity – and the hot climate means that all the food you buy has to be eaten. Groundnuts are locally grown and I have a favourite fellow in the market who will grind the nuts into a paste; much like peanut butter. I favour those dishes that I can cook in ½ hour and over a single kerosene stove ‘cause that’s all I have. So I make cassava leaves mixed with groundnut paste and a good helping of fresh peppers, sweet potatoes etc.
Once again back in the centre of Zimmi, Simpson told me, we have to return to the police office, which we passed, as I was being called. I thought he was making a joke, I didn't hear anything. I didn't notice them calling me. I followed Simpson back some sixty yards. Their office was strategically located, with the good view of the main street. It comprised of a desk with a chair and a table with benches on either side. One was sitting at the desk, another couple of them at the table. They were in the middle of lunch, having some couscous with chicken. By then I was hungry. We greeted and then they asked me to sit down on the bench at their table.
“So, we have seen you around the last couple of days,” one of them started in a serious tone hid position demanded, still finishing his meal.
“You've been snapping all around. Who are you and what is your mission here? You know we had a war here, and we are very near Liberian border,” continued the other one in the same manner the first one embarked on.
I immediately took my formal voice and articulation to explain myself. I used my most proffesional title in introducing myself. It flashed through my mind they could confiscate my pictures in the camera. I explained the best of reasons I had, what I was doing there, also involving my professional interest. I did it without much thought. Simpson was watching the different me. I was not the same person that was dancing around not long ago.
It seemed the policemen were satisfied with my answer, they were just doing their job. I felt nothing unpleasant was going to happen after all. They were respectful and nice, though still very serious. Nevertheless my lighthearted mood was shaken. It was still a small interrogation. I was no longer just a harmless incognito traveller I wanted to be, who was making friends with the local people. I was also a possible spy.
Sweet Sierra Leone is our last blog for today:
Welcome to Sweet Sierra Leone! Here you will find a diverse array of Sierra Leone related topics/commentaries/photos. Everything from music to development and other stuff in between. If you have any questions or topics you would like to see discussed or presented on Sierra Leone let me know and i will do my best to satisfy you. Enjoy. On the copyright tip, unless otherwise indicated most photos on this site were taken by me and belong to me, Share wisely :-)
On Sierra Leonean presidential elections later this year, Sweet Sierra Leone writes “Evidence that SLPP Government will win July 28th Elections“:
In the past 6 months or so five African countries have had elections…Zambia, Congo, Gambia, Senegal, and this past weekend Nigeria. If the results from these elections show anything its that YOU CAN NOT REMOVE A SITTING GOVERNMENT with the electoral process if that government is not ready to relinquish power.
Though many African countries have set up “independent” electoral monitoring boards like the National Electoral Commission in Sierra Leone, managing a free & fair elections still remains a challenge.