An Update on Sierra Leone from Kate

I should probably rename this site Incredible Fukn Kate! I can’t seem to correct the formatting errors, when I do, others appear…cd

The end of our three months in Sierra Leone is in sight.
Time is moving quickly in some respects and crawling in others.
Progress is difficult to measure. Have gotten to make a few trips out
of Freetown, one to the north to Kambia and Port Loko districts and
another to the southeast to Bo and Pujehun. Our mission is to focus on improving the surveillance system, but the trips “uplineâ€? (as upcountry
is called in Krio) have made me question this emphasis. Basic services
like refrigeration are not functioning – routine immunization has
ground to a halt over the last two months due to a shortage of gas for the gas-powered refrigerators in use in most of the country. In some
areas, new solar refrigerators were hailed as the answer to refrigeration problems, but we’ve found many of the solar units to be malfunctioning.
Speaking of things malfunctioning, I have found the time to write this
thanks to the fact that I am now sitting by the side of the road
waiting for a tow truck to pick us up after mething-which-I-am-pretty-sure-is-the-drive-shaft fell off the car.
One of the coolest things we have gotten to do so far is to meet with
many traditional healers about polio and how to report cases of
paralysis. It is difficult to stay on the topic of polio, since I am
curious about the many conditions they treat and how they compound
their remedies. Our visit to Kambia was particularly interesting because the
DMO (District Medical Officer) there, Dr. Wilson, is also a traditional
healer. He is using his own money to build a clinic and hospital
facility for Kambia’s traditional healers. One of the attached photos
shows the group of healers that we met in Kambia outside their new
facility.

On the Kambia trip, I stayed at the house belonging to the Norwegian
Refugee Council, which is currently engaged in building and outfitting
schools. Pursuant to this, they have about 70,000 textbooks stacked in
various parts of the house. The Ministry of Education dictated that
the books would all have to be stamped with the name of the school to which
they belong and suitable warnings about what would happen to anyone
removing them. The stamping project became a small local industry,
employing many of the neighborhood boys and the local stampmaker. The
rhythmic sound of stamping filled the the house from morning to night.
The stamps themselves are a work of art. They are carved by hand from
a small square of rubber using a razor blade. Each stamp is only about
two inches high and contains about six lines of evenly spaced text.
They must take ages to make, yet cost 10,000 Le each, slightly more
than $3.

One has to look closely to find examples of such local craftsmanship,
though. There are very few places in Freetown to find locally-made
goods such as gara dying or woven country cloth. I was hoping to find
such things upcountry, but there seem to be no handicrafts at all for
sale outside of Freetown. Market stalls sell nothing but imported
goods. I sometimes ponder how products make their tortuous roundabout
way to Sierra Leone from all corners of the globe – as I eat my Sri
Lankan crackers with Laughing Cow cheese from Morocco, drink mate from
Argentina or Campari from Italy, wash my clothes in Turkish detergent
and French bleach (at least I think it is bleach – it is all in French),
and spray the insects with Belgian bug spray. Which reminds me of the
charming fact that anything used or secondhand here is “Belgium,â€? as in
“Allie Lakish, Dealer in Belgium Auto Parts.â€? Apparently the term had
its origin in reference to used cars, many of which were routed through
Belgium and most of which were stolen, but it now applies to used
furniture or other items as well. There is a thriving trade in used
clothing. Stalls and strolling vendors tend to specialize in some
particular item of used clothing, so you may see a stall selling
nothing but men’s white business-type shirts, or a teenage boy working the cars
at a busy intersection with women’s bras hanging by their shoulder
straps from the full length of both his arms.
We recently moved to a new place, an overpriced bungalow at the Cape
Sierra Hotel, right off of Lumley Beach. The Cape Sierra has been a
landmark in Freetown since its construction in the early 1970’s. I
recently read Aminatta Forna’s memoir about her father, Mohamed Sorie
Forna, the former Minister of Finance who was arraigned on trumped up
charges and executed in 1975. In one of his speeches as minister, he
rails against the profligate borrowing and spending driving Sierra
Leone into debt, and cites the bulk of the new Cape Sierra Hotel “mocking us
from the hill above Aberdeen.� It remains a bit of a white elephant,
with its cracked tennis court, overgrown grounds, peeling paint,
cockeyed light fixtures and abandoned pool bar. The rusted sign over
the empty deck reads “Sunset Bar.â€? To be fair, we have running water
which is only slightly brown and we usually have power from the hotel
generator.
The National Power Authority is the frequent butt of jokes and general
venom, and one can see why. The power supply was unreliable even
before the war. Now, one is lucky to get a few hours of electricity every ten
or twelve days. Of course, they still come around and read the meters
and bill for the trickle of power rendered. And, if there is a soccer
game at the national stadium, the lights will be on full blast
throughout the game, so it seems that it is at least humanly possible
to supply predictable power when the occasion is of sufficient importance.
The lack of any regular power for many years means that street lights
and stop lights simply do not exist. There is, however, no shortage of
cars. Freetown traffic is legendary. So, take a city slightly larger
than Honolulu, add thousands of cars and not a single stoplight… All
things considered, traffic actually flows relatively well. Driving
here will ruin you for driving anywhere else, though, except maybe Rome.
Starting to look forward to getting back and to seeing you all… and to
spending a night in Paris on the way back to help break up the 36 hour
return trip. Hopefully will send some concluding thoughts and photos
later in August when things here wrap up.
Attached photos-
1. Traditional healers in Kambia District
2. Children collecting money for a school program in Port Loko
3. Dr. Amuza, one of the hundreds of participants in a conference
for traditional healers in Freetown