Friday, December 26, 2008

Our apartment in Freetown and living without power

We were lucky to find a nice clean, modern two bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood. It only has the very basic furniture but it is enough. So far the only piece we have added is a desk for Bob. You can see though that it looks like we camping out as the only decoration so far is some of my pictures on the wall. Somehow I just have not had the energy to do anymore decorating. Unfortunately there are not a lot of beautiful things, other than cloth, to buy like you find in other African countries. Or maybe I have just not found the right places to shop. But the best thing is still watching the sunsets from our balcony!

One thing we still miss living here is not having reliable power. It seems to be a pattern that we have lights from about 7pm to 7am three nights a week. On those nights we run our AC and we sleep really well. On the nights that we do not have power we run our generator until the fuel runs out and that lasts about two hours, if we don’t run too many things, like the A/C or hot water heater. It is time enough to get our computers and cell phones recharged and if we are lucky enough, time to watch a movie. I have found some rechargeable lights that work pretty well to help provide light. But mostly we live by candlelight and have romantic dinners every night.

The other day I returned to the apartment and found only half of the lights. The first time that happened I thought it was a problem with the fuses and called the landlord to fix the electrical problem. Later the staff carefully explained to me that, yes, the national power company sometimes is only on “half” or phased power. The problem with that is that the refrigerator now didn’t work. And I have had enough problems already with food spoiling. It took another day, and it was a suggestion from one of our amazing taxi drivers, to figure out that we needed to move the refrigerator to another power outlet. Fortunately we just needed to move it across the room to work. But actually the fridge is pretty useless when it is only on, maybe 12 hours out of 48 as I have learned the hard way. Now we only cook enough for 1 or two days but that also means I need to shop almost every day. And I can’t buy any refrigerated items that I can’t finish in a day or two. This has not been easy for me to learn and so I have thrown out a lot of good food due to spoiling… and in a country where many people do not have enough to eat. Now today we learned that it was really an electrical problem within the building. So much for blaming everything on the national power company!!

Scholarships needed for these children

If any of you would like to help, these four children need scholarships in order for them to continue going to Cardiff Preparatory School.  Each term costs about $60 and there are three terms.  So I am trying to raise some money to keep these children in school.  They really love going to school. Anything that you contribute would go directly to paying their school fees.  The headmistress is a lovely person and she really tries to keep her students in school if at all possible.

Sarah (4) lost her mother and is now being cared for by her elderly her grandmother

Sarah playing with Jestina.
   Jestina (4) lost her father and her mother has a      hard time supporting the family.

Top: Isata  Kamara (fifth grade) comes from a very poor family where here parents break stones for a very meager living.

Bottom: Minkiale Barrie (5) lost his father and his mother has a hard time paying school fees.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas program at Cardiff Preparatory School

As I wrote earlier I took pictures at a private school nearby called Cardiff Preparatory School. Since it so nearby I sometimes just stop by to say hello to Florence Kamara, the head mistress. She is really loving, caring person and so energetic. And the kids are always great. They come up to shake my hand or to give me a hug. They call me “auntie Betty”.

Today was their Christmas program. Christmas is a big holiday in Sierra Leone. People started wishing me Happy Christmas back mid-November. There are lots of carnivals and parties being advertised.

The program was supposed to start at noon. And I kind of thought that it would start late but then I thought if the parents were invited it might actually start on time. So I arrived at about 12:20 to find everyone still setting up. It was obvious it wouldn’t start for a while but I didn’t feel like climbing back up the hill to our apartment. And it was fun watching the kids run around waiting for the program to get organized. The ice cream man arrived and he must have sold a hundred or so small ice cream cones to the kids. That made for good pictures as you will see. So even though the program started late everyone was enjoying them selves and no one really minded.

All the desks from the classrooms were brought out into the schoolyard. A bamboo structure was partially built to give the audience some shade but it didn’t get finished. Parents, mostly mothers, started to arrive and still the program seemed a long way from starting. I got a typed program so I could see that a lot of thought and preparation had been made. There was a very scratchy, loud sound system with a DJ that played local pop music while things were getting ready. Finally around 2:30 it got started.

The program consisted of singing some very familiar carols, at least the words were familiar, but the tunes were not. The keyboard that accompanied the singing was hooked up to the sound system. So what would have been some lovely singing to listen to, because the students obviously loved to sing, was masked by a lot of static. The Christmas story was acted out and narrated by older students, all of whom performed with great confidence shouting into the microphone. The baby Jesus was a two-year-old boy who let himself be wrapped up into a white sheet and held by a young girl, playing Mary. The angel walked around in a blue choir robe waving his arms. But the most unusual part of the skit was the narration of Herod telling his soldiers to kill all the children less than two years of age. To act this out several girls were sitting on the ground with some dolls and some boys as soldiers attacked the girls snatching the dolls and acting like they were killing them. I know that is part of the Christmas story but I have never seen it acted out in our Christmas programs. So that took me by surprise.

All in all it was a very lively program, with all the students really participating with singing, acting and narrating. And they loved using the microphone, which was passed around to each performer.

The cutest part of the program, of course like all children’s programs, was when the nursery students sang and danced. Even two year old “Jesus” was up there holding the microphone and dancing.

And for the audience to show their appreciation for various performances there was a box placed on a small table in front of the “stage” where people could come up and throw in money. Mothers were especially appreciative when their children performed well. This is a way for the school to raise extra funds.

All in all this event seemed to really tell me a lot about Sierra Leonean culture and to note the differences to the way we do things. In this school many of the students are Muslim yet they were acting out a Christian story and for the most part Christians and Muslims are very tolerant of each other here. Also, though what I saw seemed to be total chaos, in terms of getting the program started, it was well planned out judging by the printed program and later the program itself. And everyone really enjoyed themselves in ways I don’t think you really see in our Christmas programs. The programs here are definitely livelier for both the students and the audience. And the acting out of the King Herod story, though very violent in my way of looking at it, is part of the story and it isn’t ignored.

So four hours later I was back home in our quiet apartment ready to watch another beautiful sunset. It’s hard to get the Christmas spirit without some cold weather. But we are heading to London soon and I am sure then we will wish we were back here!!!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Getting a mosquito net

Getting a mosquito net and frame for our bed turned into a major project taking about 10 days to get in place. And though it seemed really tedious and frustrating if I tried to do this in the USA it would also not have been that easy and would been a lot more expensive. It’s like you can do most anything you want here but you just have to be a little more creative.

Even though we live on top of a hill and we get some good breezes we still have been having a lot of mosquitoes. It got really tiresome to always burn coils and after awhile the fumes were starting to get to us. Our neighbor has a really good design for a canopy frame around his bed and a mosquito net to fit over it. So we decided to copy his design. So off we went to a nearby carpenter to have the frame made. The carpenter did not understand what we wanted, even with the drawing that I had made. He said he understood but he really didn't. Finally I made a model of the frame from rolled up paper, which helped him visualize it, and he started getting together the poles to make the frame. It took several trips to finally get what we wanted. And the last time I went back I found that he had actually made almost enough pieces to fit frames for 3-4 beds all in different stages of completion.
Communication is really difficult especially since we don’t know Krio. Fortunately the carpenter was nearby so I could get there with a local taxi and even walk if I had to. This last trip I could see that he finally had something that we could work with and so I just stayed there until it was finished. Then the pieces of the frame were too big to load into a taxi so I hired two young boys to walk them to our place, about a mile. On the way with the boys a policeman started hollering at us from the security gate of the Presidential Lodge (like our White House) because I had walked on the road leading to the gate. It seems that this is the Procession Road that only the President’s motorcade can drive on but there wasn’t any sign to inform me of this. I had to go up to the guard's gate to see what was the matter. He was really angry with me and I was pretty uncomfortable as he harangued me for several minutes, suggesting that he could arrest me. I kept saying I was sorry and I didn’t know that I couldn’t walk on that road. So I was kind of shaky as I left to finish the walk home. I also didn’t want to get the two boys into trouble because they had followed me. Anyway we got back to the apartment without further incident and we were able to get the pieces of the frame inside. Fortunately we were able to fit the frame back together around the bed.

Now we had to get a mosquito net to fit the around the frame. Farah, our taxi driver (or our personal assistant as I like to call him as he does so much more than just drive us around), took us to a place to have a mosquito net made. Unfortunately though the tailor was cheap he got the dimensions wrong and made it too small. Also his shop was in the market area where we had to park a long way away and walk to it. At that time that was very tiring for me. Fortunately I had Farah go back and pick it up by himself so I didn’t have to go again. So now we were ready to put it over the frame and though it fit the frame the net was not long enough. The idea is to make the net so long it that it bunches up on the floor and prevents from mosquitoes from coming in under the bed into the enclosure. So we had to go back to the shop downtown and go through this whole thing again but, at least this time, he only had to add some additional cloth to the bottom to make it long enough. And each time I had to pay a bit more for the guy to buy more material and also pay Farah for his time to take me there and pick it up when finished. So what was only going to cost about $8 ended up costing several times more in money and time. But now that it is finished it is so nice! Well, but it wouldn’t win any interior decorating awards! When we crawl into bed it’s like entering a safe cocoon of white gauze. Fortunately we live on top of a hill where we get some good breezes because, though a net is safe and cozy, it can also be oppressively hot. And that’s why a lot of people here don’t use them and risk having malaria frequently.

Now I think I will have a canopy cover and matching bedspread made from some the beautiful tye and dye fabric that they make here. Explaining the canopy top to a tailor might take some time but it would look really nice. Maybe that would win me some interior design awards as well!!!!!

Cardiff Preparatory School Visit

Cardiff Preparatory School
As I started to get back into the world of photography I decided to start with a local school, the Cardiff Preparatory School that we drive or walk by every day. The children’s school uniform is hot pink shirts with black slacks or skirts. And most of the school’s buildings are painted pink. The head mistress said I could take pictures but since it is a private school she also hoped I could help with some assistance for the school. The school consists of a nursery and six years of elementary school. Though the nursery is very crowded and confining for the little ones with more than 40 students aged 3-6 the other classes are relatively small in size. They go to school from 8 to about 2:30 with the nursery ones leaving at 12:30. This is in comparison to most government schools which have class sizes of 40 or more and either go in the morning or afternoon for about 4 hours a day. And since for very little money you can send a child to school I said I would try to help. So I am hoping I can interest some of you in helping to sponsor some of these children…but more about that later. I had a great time taking pictures and fortunately all my back pains seemed insignificant. The light was really lovely and the children seemed to be eager learners. Several days later I took my computer back to the school to show what I had taken. The students had a great time seeing themselves in the pictures as you can see.

Obama fascination continues

Meanwhile the Obama fascination goes on. Lots of people are buying Obama T-shirts, you see lots of car stickers, and you can buy Obama posters like the one shown. I bought one for Bob and he loves it. It is very amusing because of all the mistakes on it, i.e. McCain is spelled Mac Caine and Harvard is spelled Harvald. People still yell Obama to us as we walk through out neighborhood. Today I found a shop selling Obama t-shirts. The women are from Sierra Leone but they live in the USA. They had a good idea to buy all sorts of Obama items to sell in Sierra Leone and they are doing a very good business here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Former Sierra Leone Child Soldier tells his story

Former boy soldier in Sierra Leone tells of ravages of war
Samara Kalk Derby
December 9, 2008
After escaping the war zone that was his country, former child soldier Ishmael Beah, now a best-selling author, had forgotten many simple things.
"I had forgotten how to sleep. I had forgotten how to trust people. I had forgotten how to be happy. I had forgotten how to sit in one place more than a few seconds. I was very restless," the Sierra Leone native told a near-capacity crowd of more than 1,000 people Monday night in the Wisconsin Union Theater during his Distinguished Lecture Series talk.
Adding to the problem, he said, was that he was withdrawing from the drugs that he was forced to use -- marijuana, amphetamines and a mix of cocaine and gunpowder, according to published accounts.
Sierra Leone's civil war lasted between 1991 and 2000. Beah lost all four members of his immediate family, his mother and father and both his older and younger brothers. He was conscripted into the war at age 13.
Beah, now 28, fought for almost three years before being rescued by UNICEF. Originally from the countryside, in 1998 he fled the capital, Freetown, and made his way to New York City, where he lived with Laura Simms, a Brooklyn-born white Jewish-American who became his foster mother.
In New York, Beah did two years of high school at the United Nations International School. He went to Oberlin College and graduated in 2004 with a degree in politics.
In 2007, he wrote "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier," which Time magazine described as a "breathtaking and unself-pitying account of how a gentle spirit survives a childhood from which all innocence has suddenly been sucked out. It's a truly riveting memoir."
Scott Straus, an African international relations and human rights professor at UW-Madison, who introduced Beah Monday night, called "A Long Way Gone" an "absolutely fascinating and important book about his experiences in a civil war that destroyed Sierra Leone."
Straus said that in a decade that saw many civil wars around the world, the war in Sierra Leone and its neighbor, Liberia, was one of the worst.
It's "a war that defies our imagination as we sit here in this room in Madison," Straus said, adding that "ordinary people can come to do horrible things to each other."
When he first learned about the war in 1991, Beah said he couldn't believe what he was hearing from people in the eastern part of his country: How their families had been killed, their houses burned, and their children dragged into the fighting.
"We couldn't believe it because we grew up in a society that had such a respect for human life. And we couldn't believe that this was possible until the war actually reached us," he said.
He began to see women carrying their dead children on their backs, he said. He began seeing people who had been struck by stray bullets on various parts of the body. The river where he used to swim had dead bodies floating in it and was filled with blood.
Before the war, the innocence of children was celebrated, Beah said. But after the war started, children became deeply feared. Children were sometimes forced to kill their own family members as a way of indoctrinating them to the violence, he said.
"Once the war reached us, we went straight from being children to being adults. We had to determine which way to run and how to save our own lives."
Beah said he learned to go hungry from days without eating.
He and some friends went to a military base, thinking it would be the safest place to go. But instead it was where they were forced to become soldiers. They were trained in less than a week and learned how to shoot AK-47s, he said.
Besides the coercion and the drugs that were forced upon him, there was also the rhetoric of revenge, Beah said. He was told that the rebels were responsible for what had happened to him and that by going after them and killing them it would prevent what happened to him from happening to other children.
"At that point I believed this tremendously," he said.
In the beginning it was difficult to function as a soldier, Beah said. But as time went on it became normalized. He and his fellow child soldiers lost the ability to experience human emotions, he said.
"It was either kill or be killed, even by your own commanders," he said.
One of the things he wanted to do with the book was write about how he felt while he was in the war, not how he felt about it afterward.
"Because I wanted people to come to this landscape to see, hear, smell and be a part of the experience," he said.
Return to story is operated by Capital Newspapers, publishers of the Wisconsin State Journal, The Capital Times, Agri-View and Apartment Showcase. All contents Copyright ©2008, Capital Newspapers. All rights reserved.

U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone on HIV & AIDS

Dec 12, 2008 Freetown — United States ambassador to Sierra Leone has said that HIV status is not a stigma.
June Carter Perry made this statement whilst pledging her country's support to the fight against HIV/AIDS in the world in commemoration of world AIDS day.
She said: "We should ensure that those with HIV/AIDS are respected for their courage to be open about their status rather than been shunned by their communities"
She said the nation should be gratified by what they have accomplished, but to also acknowledge that they are nowhere near where they want to be in terms of protecting young and old, treating those who need it.
"I am convinced that with their commitment and the support of the international community, they can eliminate stigma, treat those individuals already affected by HIV, and decrease in the number of people with AIDS in Sierra Leone."
June Carter Perry said despite the progress that has been made, the latest statistics from the United Nations and World Health Organization suggest that the overall rate of infection has been climbing continuously since 1990.
"As much as HIV/AIDS is an issue that evokes compassion and empathy, we must also look at the issue as it relates to more pragmatic concerns about national reconstruction and economic growth," said Perry.
Relevant Links
• West Africa
• HIV-Aids and STDs
• Health and Medicine
• Sierra Leone
• United States, Canada and Africa
She said US Congress has authorized up to $48 billion to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria over the next five years. Through that legislation, US will be able to increase the number of individuals being treated from 1.7 to 3 million people worldwide, and provide care for 12 million others.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alone has given over 17 billion dollars to fight AIDS through education, provision of basic health services, sanitation, and other projects through local NGO partners.
Copyright © 2008 Concord Times. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (

sad postlude to a wedding

The brother of the bride whose wedding we attended recently was killed the same day, accused by a mob of being a thief. He was, according to a close friend of the bride, seized, beaten, and injected with acid. His funeral is today (Dec. 8, 2008). Apparently this happens with some regularity: vigilantism by citizens who have little faith in official justice. The use of acid is something I have not heard of before. That, too, is not so unusual, according to the same source. The police did arrive, but too late. The man died at the hospital.

In Bo, the country’s second largest town, a resident says that vigilantism after the long civil war (1991-2002) was widespread. Civilians targeted those they felt betrayed them during the conflict. Some of that continues today, he said.

Meat, music and other events just outside our wall

Just a few yards from our apartment balcony, on the grass in the adjacent apartment, several men are cutting open the neck of a small brown cow they are holding down. A small crowd is watching, including Betty and I, while a woman in a full dress and head scarf is shouting into a hand-held megaphone. It is a Moslem holiday today (Dec 8, 2008) and this is part of the celebration for the family.

The cow has stopped its quivering. Now a man with a machete is very neatly cutting it up into pieces. The intestines have been removed and placed in a plastic bucket; a small section of the ground is soaked in blood. Most of the small crowd has dispersed. We’ve gone back to work: (Betty) editing photographs from our recent trip to Bo (Sierra Leone’s second largest city) and (Bob) transcribing an interview as part of research on human rights in this country.

I’ve never visited a slaughter house in the U.S., though I have watched butchers neatly cutting up cows parts in super markets.
A few days later, also just behind our apartment complex wall, in front of a tin shack on a grassy slope, a crowd gathered for the newly-appointed local chief to address people in the area. Several women with singers and dancers and a man with a drum provided music and earned tips. I enjoyed sitting among the crowd for a while and meeting a few people. The lead singer, using a hand held loud speaker, led a short song for me when I donated 2,000 Leones, about 65 cents.
A Christian revivalist further down the hill has been filling the whole area with songs and sermons shouted out over a loud speaker. It’s been going on for a week. I’d like to pull the plug on their speaker system. I’m not sure why religious groups have to be so loud. One Moslem sitting at the gathering for the chief said he didn’t like the noise.
Holiday moment
Two doors away from our apartment in Freetown, a large house is being constructed. The roof is still not finished, but the massive cement bloc walls stand out like a fort overlooking the valley below. In the backyard, under a tin roof, a family who works as guard for the construction eat around a wood cook fire most nights. A woman prepares cassava leaves daily, pounding them in a wooden mortar with a tall wooden pounding stick. You can hear the sounds before dawn. They live in a tin shack just behind the new house.
Today, a Moslem holiday (Dec 8, 2008), dressed in a long skirt and a white bra for the top, one of the women, barefoot, is pounding. A second woman, also barefoot, sings a repetitive (I think) song with a high-pitched voice in a popular West African traditional style, swaying to the rhythm of the cassava leaf pounding. Then the first woman stops her chore and joins in the singing and dancing. For a moment they dance together, then the first woman returns to her pounding, laughing. Suddenly the songs and dances are over and both women go back to work, preparing the evening meal.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Locked toilets on a college campus

At Fourah Bay College here, one of the most guarded sites are toilets. It took me a while to locate them and then a while longer to discover who had the keys. There is one in my office, though it doesn’t work. There’s another one in the basement of the library and a longtime staff person showed me where the key is kept. When the electric power is off, which happens frequently, you reach that one through a darkened storage room.

There’s yet another toilet in an Administrative/classroom building. The custodian has a key; so does at least one of the Administration officials. None of these appear to be available to students who would normally have access to the hostels, but they were damaged during violence following student elections earlier this year (2008).

Remembering John F. Kennedy in Sierra Leone

One of the most prominent buildings on the skyline overlooking the capitol of Freetown is an eight-story building on the Fourah Bay College campus, a campus beautifully situated on a mountain ridge at the edge of the city. It was built with U.S. funding some 40 years ago and named after the late President. His bust appears in a small patio just outside the structure. But over the years the building became run down. Recently the building was rededicated after the U.S. government paid for its renovation. After the ceremony, we got to the second floor for a reception. The Department of Social Sciences and Law which I teach in is supposed to occupy the building.

But there’s a catch. There’s no furniture or functioning elevator in the building. So far none of the officials on campus I’ve spoken with know what the plan is to furnish the building. And no one mentions any contract to get the elevator operating. Let’s hope both these issues are addressed. More on this later, I hope.

Thanksgiving in Africa - SUVs and plenty of food

Thanksgiving was approaching and we had no invitations to join anyone in the small American community here to celebrate – until an email notice came about a Thanksgiving gathering sponsored by the International Visitors Council, a program of Sierra Leoneans started with the encouragement of the American Embassy. Betty and I have been hosts numerous times over the years to international visitors in the United States; now we were the recipients of such hospitality.

We saw a side of Sierra Leone we had only caught glimpses of. It wasn’t just the SUVs in the spacious parking area around the large two-story home with its very nice, large outdoor balcony where we ate. It was the good food piled high on large plates on a dining table (various kinds of fresh fish, meat and vegetables); it was also the titles of the individuals who were our hosts, including the manager of a large bank. Another runs a care facility. Another woman had just come back from a trip abroad. When the national power cut off, which is a frequent happening here, the family’s large generator kicked in, illuminating the house and attractive garden. The talk was almost all in Krio (the local language based on English). We’ve taken some lessons, but we could only catch some of it. Our hosts were most gracious and friendly and made our Thanksgiving away from home special.

And their professional work is helping this nation grow.

Strikes on a college campus

Strike at Fourah Bay
The staff went on a strike a few weeks ago to demand back pay, settling recently for part of what they sought, to be paid over a period of time. Then the faculty went on strike for non-payment and benefits. One university official says the state has not only been slow to pay employees at the university, but also to pay students their scholarships, which dragged out enrollment for weeks, causing many students to miss the start of classes.

To honor the strike but still honor students’ need for education, I offered to show up at our regular times for a free “tutorial” and not a class. I announced attendance would not be taken, nor tests given until regular classes resumed. Roughly 20-50 percent of my students have continued coming to these informal sessions at which we have been having good discussions. In my large (130+) freshman class we have spent a good deal of time discussing research methods since they have to complete a research paper (the first ever for most of them) and do ten hours community service (teaching human rights in local schools and other institutions).

One student in that class asked a very basic and important question: “How do I learn.” So I spent some time with him suggesting ways to get more out of the assigned readings. It has made me rethink how I present materials. My students have gotten me to shift my approach slightly to first preview readings before holding them responsible for knowing the material. It gives them some study questions and points to ponder, which I hope will help address that question: how do I learn?

Class update: in a recent session of my freshman class on human rights, where we focused on civil rights, including the life of Malcom X, two female and one male student presented the topic in such marvelous detail and context that I applauded their example. In my third year class, student teams have been presenting the week’s theme with great skill and fielding touch questions from the class. These students are not only eager but very capable.

Church visits -African flavor

We were invited to a wedding here that opened another window on local culture. Held in a Methodist church in downtown Freetown, it looked like most American weddings – until the pastor pronounced the couple man and wife. Then the music picked up; a chorus sang, and people got up and danced in the aisles in a long line toward the newlyweds who stood at the front of the church. Each person got a big hug from the bride and the groom, then danced or walked back to their seats. I joined in the routine. Men wore suits or sport shirts, but women wore full length, brightly colored dresses of local designs, many with large head scarves. The godmother of the bride purchased the expensive dresses of the bride and her entourage in the U.S. Weddings here, as in many countries, are expensive. Never mind that this is the poorest country in Africa, and perhaps the world.

Church in an historic village for freed slaves.
St. Andrews Anglican church in the village of Gloucester near the capitol of Freetown held its annual celebration of the founding of the church (1820). Gloucester is one of five villages behind the tall mountain/hills of Freetown; a place for slaves recaptured at sea and freed here. According to local explanations, the villages offered some protection from the raids of other Africans living in this area and of those returning from Jamaica, the U.K. or Nova Scotia.
Their church, according to program notes at the service, was founded as a modest wooden building in 1820, nearly destroyed by a fierce storm in 1975, but quickly rebuilt with contributions. Today it has a pipe organ and large stained glass window, a balcony, and small adjoining rooms for the pastor and another for the choir changing room.
At the three-hour service we attended, a chorus in red gowns, and joined by the congregation, sang their way through many hymns. The sermon was on being “Awake,” so no parishioner dared slip into slumber, though some of the very patient children did just that. There were three offerings, with separate collections for men and women each time: donations were announced by gender (the men only slightly out gave the women).
We hope to revisit this village and get to know the other four settler settlements.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Positive news article on Sierra Leone and Liberia

The following is written by a longtime observer and activist on African issues, John Prendergast, and included in a publication new to me. It highlights positive progress in Sierra Leone and Liberia in terms of recent Presidential elections and the ending of civil wars (2001 in Sierra Leone; 2003 in Liberia). Bob Press accessed nov 16, 2008
Morung Express | Home | FaithLeaf | Continent of Hope
Continent of Hope
Font size:
John Prendergast November 16, 2008 09:26:00

Forgive a typical American if she were to pay a visit to the West African nation of Sierra Leone and be confused by her surroundings. If she had ever heard of Sierra Leone before, it might have been while watching the movie Blood Diamond, which graphically depicted some of the worst depredations of the conflict there, such as the rebel group RUF’s amputation of limbs, the drug-crazed child soldiers, and the links between criminal diamond-dealing mafias and the war economy.
If this visitor to Sierra Leone had been reading occasional international news missives over the years, she might have remembered something about a rebel group that hacked the limbs off civilians to punish them for voting, or perhaps might have remembered that al Qaeda laundered money in the Sierra Leone diamond market before and after 9/11 to hide its assets.
Given that context, she certainly would have been quite astounded to have joined me on my visit to Tongo Fields in eastern Sierra Leone, the heart of the diamond-producing area and the site of some of the most intense fighting and horrific atrocities in the last century in Africa. What she would have seen in fact defied all expectations—the kind of low expectations that have come to mark international attitudes toward Africa in general.
Tongo Fields is a place crawling with former child soldiers, heavily contested by three political parties in last year’s election, and placed at further risk by a winner-take-all electoral process that dictates access to diamond profits as a result of victory at the polls. Before Sierra Leone’s historic 2007 election, every conflict indicator was flashing a red alert. Africa “experts” around the world were predicting that Sierra Leone, only half a decade after the end of its brutal civil war, was perhaps heading back down an inevitable road toward a return to war.
So in the context of all that Afro-pessimism—the legacy of war thick as the rainy season clouds lacing the Sierra Leonean skies—what happened?
I’VE OBSERVED elections in a number of African countries over the past 25 years, and this election in Sierra Leone may have been the most efficient, transparent and peaceful procedure I have ever witnessed, run by some of the most conscientious and earnest polling officials I have ever met. The army stayed in the barracks and didn’t improperly intervene, while the police contributed to the security of elections throughout the country on election day. The runoff among the two highest vote-getters led to a victory by the opposition party, and the ruling party gracefully and peacefully turned over the reins of power. In a grand affirmation of their country’s future, the people of Sierra Leone are defying both historical legacies and pundits’ low expectations.
An appropriately named former child soldier, Elijah, told me, “It’s a brand-new day for Sierra Leone.” Every one of the ex-combatants that I met in Tongo Fields and Freetown said in no uncertain terms that they would never again be lured back to a life of war in the bush. “We fought for nothing,” another former child soldier told me. “We are so tired of war. We don’t want to be used for fighting and end up with nothing.” A third former combatant, who divulged that he had committed “terrible atrocities” while he was in the bush, concluded, “This vote signals the end of jungle justice.”
Why Africa is a land of endless possibilitiy -- and how that should guide U.S. relations with the continent
The similarities are striking to another African country that also was written off by Africa “experts”: Liberia. Much like Blood Diamond, movies such as Lord of War with Nicolas Cage leave a hopeless impression of Liberia, referred to in the film as “that country which God seemed to have forsaken,” with Cage’s character describing the outskirts of Monrovia as “the edge of hell.” Yet in late 2005, Liberians marched to the polls and elected the first female head of state in Africa, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and more than 100,000 soldiers have demobilized as the country works diligently to erase the legacies of war. President Johnson-Sirleaf’s policies in a number of sectors have become models for other countries, and she is regularly invited to Europe and America to share her lessons learned and insights into how to heal societies and countries believed to have been “broken.”
I was there for that election too. The stories of the former child soldiers in Liberia were hauntingly similar to those of Sierra Leone. A 14-year-old named David told me, “We were used, fooled, and forced” by their former warlords; now he wants to farm if he can be given a little land and some capital. Others want to go to school or get job training. The last thing they want is to be dragged back to a world where the rule of law is abandoned and the gun talks loudest of all.
MOST AMERICANS view Africa as a place ripped apart by war, famine, anarchy, and HIV/AIDS. They often view Africans as people who need to be helped and “saved.” The truth is that there are indeed a few countries that are trapped in cycles of conflict, such as Sudan, Somalia, and Congo. But they are the exceptions. Liberia and Sierra Leone tell a different story of Africa—that of a continent of hope, of transformation.
The evidence goes far beyond those two West African nations. Everyone knows the story of South Africa, which up until the early 1990s was ruled by a system that codified racial discrimination against black Africans. Today, South Africa is preparing for its fourth democratic elections since the fall of that apartheid system. At the time Nelson Mandela was being elected South Africa’s first democratic president in 1994, Africa’s fastest genocide was occurring in Rwanda, where almost one million people were eliminated from the face of the earth in 100 days. Today, Rwandans are working hard to heal the wounds of the recent past, the country has a significant economic growth rate, and the likelihood of a return to conflict diminishes with each passing year. Neighboring Burundi and southern Sudan—themselves ripped apart by genocide and conflict, killing millions—have forged peace deals laying the groundwork for future peace and security.
In all of these countries, there are political and security problems, but the grassroots demand for peace has resulted in fundamental transformations that, if they had occurred in Europe, would be hailed as nothing short of miraculous.
What I have found in my travels in each of these success stories is an unparalleled assertion of rights and responsibilities by people from all walks of life throughout Africa, and especially by young people. There is a demand that their voices be heard, through the ballot box, through civil society organizations, through news media, through new and renewed political parties, and through burgeoning cultures of accountability. Part of what had fueled recruitment of young people during these various wars was disempowerment and victimization. Electoral processes, education, and development initiatives allow for a revaluation of the importance of the individual within the community, thus beginning a process of vesting citizens in the governance of their own countries.
ALL THIS IS just intellectual fodder unless it provides lessons for what we can do now for the biggest crises on the African continent: Darfur and Congo (see sidebar). The difference between Darfur and other cases such as Sierra Leone is that this time Americans are not looking away, and are asserting that our government has an important role to play in ending the crisis. With the exception of the smaller but effective anti-apartheid movement for South Africa in the 1980s, the outpouring of American activism in support of a more robust U.S. response to Darfur has been unparalleled. It is the first time there has been a mass-based political movement created to confront genocide or civil war in Africa. We need to raise our voices even louder for Darfur and find room in our advocacy for the people of Congo as well.
Failure in Darfur would likely mean that hundreds of thousands of Americans would once again turn away from the hard issues still confronting Africa as it tries to shake off its legacies of slavery, colonialism, and conflict to create a new future. Success in Darfur, however, will ensure that a whole generation of newly politically active Americans will redouble their efforts to ensure that a permanent constituency is created that will not stand idly by in the face of future war or genocide in Africa.
Add to: Digg Technorati

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Teaching 129 students human rights

With now 129 students in my Human Rights and Democracy class, I’ve adopted a few necessary techniques to keep discipline while still encouraging discussions: even low-voiced talk from that many students becomes a roar that drowns out any speaker, including me. (My co-teacher, Ibrahim Bangura, is off to the Democratic Republic of Congo with a non-government organization for about ten days. I'm impressed with his teaching skills.)
We’ve reached an agreement that when I raise my hand, everyone stops talking. I don’t do it a lot because for the most part students are respectful of each other and of me. But one of my arguments to help keep the noise down is to suggest that those talking over the recognized speaker of the moment are robbing students of an educational moment to learn. Still, it’s a constant effort. Though the other day when I gave a rare full-hour lecture, students were pretty quiet.
They’re getting a lot of new challenges. They now realize I’m serious about their doing ten hours of community service, teaching human rights in local schools or organizations. They chose their topics; they now have a letter of introduction from the department, and have clustered with others choosing similar topics. Their choices include: children in war; sexual abuse of children; the right to education; early marriage issues; genocide; various women’s issues.
They also have to do a research paper, something most of these recent high school graduates have not done before. We hold periodic workshops in class on research methodologies.

American Government class reminds me of the British Parliament. I was impressed with my class (now up from 10 to about 50) in their first presentation. I have divided the class into teams to present the week’s readings. The first team, on the constitution, had done the readings and not only reviewed the key points but explained their significance.

Post election Obama euphoria

This city is still alive with excitement over Obama’s victory. Neighbors call out “Obama” when I walk or run by; the internet carries stories of Obama supporters expressing their joy at his election. My Obama t-shirt brings shouts of approval. And when I bought cooking gas at a Lebanese grocery store, the Lebanese man I spoke with was introduced as “Barak Obama.” (His actual name is Bahrat.)
Those fortunate enough to have access to television speak of staying up till near dawn here to see the results and listen to Obama’s victory speech (and McCain’s gracious concession remarks). Many have expressed the feeling that Obama as President will not only help bring more peace to the world but will change the image of America in the world.

Running in Sierra Leone (Bob)

In Mississippi it was hard to find hills to train on; here it’s hard to find a flat area. One of my runs is from our home in Hill Station (a residential ridge high above the central part of the city) through a valley and up a mountain peak (Leicester) behind the U.S. Embassy, and back home. It’s a run of about an hour, much of it on rocky, dirt paths. Usually young children shout out a welcome along the way. Adults give encouragement with a smile or greeting, or return a wave.

My track workouts are at the national stadium where I run with members of various clubs who are currently training for a national meet in December. The other day we did 600 meters/500/400/300/200/100 then repeated it. I was far behind the first set but keeping up with the end runners the last set. The coach is an enthusiastic former national sprint champion who yells encouragement to me from time to time.

The crazy runs are with the “Hash,” a weekly event for walkers and runners up and down steep dirt trails through mostly low income residential areas. As we run, people give friendly greetings and finger-pointing directions to those who lag behind the group. Because the trail setters intentionally put markers that lead to some dead ends or turnaround markers, the slow runners usually catch up to the faster ones doubling back. Betty, well on the road to her recovery from her back injury, walked with the Hash recently.

“Don’t eat your flashlight” (Bob)

Since we get electricity only about one night out of three, we use the generator we purchased to give us a couple hours of light most other nights. But we have a lot of hours with just candles or rechargable Chinese-made hand held lights. I had not realized how accustomed we were to having electricity routinely available back home.

To keep track of fuel use on the generator, our landlord suggested writing down the amount on hand and the hours it is turned on. So on generator nights I go out into the unlit parking lot inside the compound (which itself is surrounded by a high wall and has a tall metal gate). Alpha, one of the security guards, and I sit down on the steps to fill out the fuel book (we have duplicate copies). To write, we each put our narrow flashlights in our mouth to free our hands and shine on the books. Our mutual joke has become: “Don’t eat your flashlight.”

Pushing the refrigerator across the kitchen. More recently the periodic electricity has powered only half our outlets, a phased power plan that I suppose saves even more on the nation’s fuel costs (the power company is running a daily deficit at present). Sometimes this means we have to push our small refrigerator across the kitchen to the powered outlet. It also means sometimes we don’t get power for the water heater but do get it for the wall unit air conditioner in our bedroom. Those are special nights when we lie inside our mosquito net-covered double bed and have to pull a sheet over us because it’s chilly.

Romantic candle-lit dinners. On the brighter side of this darkness, Betty and I have been reacquainted with the charm of dinners by candlelight. We often eat on the balcony from which we can see barely visible lights of distant fishing boats on the ocean.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Images from Freetown (Betty)

Here are some images from Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. In recent years people have flooded to it from the countryside, mainly because of all the unrest during the war. And once people get there they discover the excitement of city life and they don’t want to go back to the village. It is an old city as you see from the mixture of old and new buildings, the streets are narrow and filled with cars, the sidewalks have been taken over by vendors forcing the pedestrians to walk in the streets with the cars. Still I find it exciting, in the sense that you always see something new or different, frustrating when you are in a taxi trying to get somewhere, the traffic is backed up, and you are smelling noxious fumes, scary as the taxi is always close to hitting either people walking along side the streets or the approaching cars.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Images from Charlotte village (Betty)

I am finally posting images from an earlier visit to Charlotte, which is an amazing village! Small old wooden houses, often called Creole cottages, probably built in the 1800’s or early 1900’, dotted the lush hillside, many surrounded by flowering shrubs. Some were in relatively good shape and even painted and others were falling down but still lived in. A guide appeared and invited us to walk through the village and up to St. John’s Anglican Church built in 1847. The notice board listed the names of some of the members who had made financial pledges. Near the stone built church were the ruins of an even older girl’s school started in 1816. Along the way we were warmly greeted by the villagers, especially the children, and allowed to take photos. Sierra Leoneans have had a really long history of interacting with Westerners and more evidence remains from those days than I have seen in many other African countries.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"We defeated the British"

I am teaching a section of the third year contemporary politics course (British politics) on American politics, with some history (including the defeat of the British). The class started at 10 but reached an enrollment of 40+ quickly. Most students seem used to lectures and feedback on the all-important final exam worth 70 percent of their grade. That’s fairly typical in the U.S., too, though the final is usually worth less.

But my style is different. I use debates, role playing, lots of discussions, and quizzes to keep students focused on the readings they need to have intelligent discussions. So when I divided up the class into teams to be in charge of presenting the next week’s readings in some interesting form, they were surprised. When I sent the first team out of the room to prepare, I had to ask several times for them to stand up, move out, and prepare. Outside the door they began talking in loud voices about their topic: the U. S. Constitution. So I asked one of our two class representatives to ask tell them to move down the hall - and not shout. My other class rep told me quietly: the students are not used to this kind of teaching, but they like it. We’ll see; I hope so.

My third class (comparative politics) is with graduate students: a grand total of three, when they all come. We had no classroom assigned, so we meet on the shaded balcony of one of the buildings. So far we’ve focused mostly on how to do research. I’m just glad classes finally started (early November); a Fulbright fellow in Mali says classes there won’t start till December.

Research isn’t easy in a country where almost all students can not afford books; and where book are mostly unavailable anyway. The internet cafes charge about $1 to $1.30 an hour with slow downloading. Campus computers (there are about 80) often have waiting lines formed behind the users. The university library suffers from students cutting out pages or even throwing books out the window because there is no copying facility available before the checkout and because copying costs money (though not much: about 3 cents a page). Still there is a reserve section (no check outs allowed). And the librarian, Mr. Oliver L. T. Harding, is enthusiastic and experienced.

100 + eager students in an unlit hall

Registration for the freshman human rights and democracy class kept growing. It quickly reached 50, then more than doubled by the time classes finally started. We meet in a large unlit hallway with no equipment, not even a blackboard. Students squeeze in five or six to a bench – wooden benches, no backs; narrow wooden desks. But students show every sign of being eager to learn. For them it’s a step toward a profession, a career.

I read before coming about a lecturer (as they call university-level teachers here) who had to practice speaking in a loud voice to be heard by a large class here. Speaking isn’t the problem; listening is. Even minimal conversation in low voices among 100 students creates a rumble that can quickly drown out a voice at one end of the class from being heard at the other. But so far, its not bad. My co-teacher, Ibrahim Bangura, insists on discipline and expelled one noisy student from class the first day. I’ve made an agreement with the students that is holding pretty well: whenever I raise my hand, the class should become quiet. I don’t do it very often, but when I do they are pretty respectful and quiet down.

In fact I’m proud of their behavior so far. We had a research workshop the other day. One class requirement is to do a 7-page research paper on a human rights topic of their choice. Another requirement is to do ten hours of community service: teaching human rights in a local school or other institution. They had many questions because they had not done either kind of assignment. But when I asked them to sit in groups of about ten and quietly (indoor voices; no shouts) discuss their planned topics, they were very quiet. And their proposals are sound.

But more than half flunked the first quiz. They’re not used to quizzes; I said one was coming, but the non-note takers apparently didn’t heed the warning. There will be more.

I’ve read their personal statements, including experiences in war and peace (more on that in a separate posting on this blog) and they have seen hell during the civil war which ended only a few years ago. They want to be peacemakers and human rights activists, lawyers, judges, etc. They also want to help promote peace. Community service in this class offers them a chance. And it reinforces what they learn in class and reflect on.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gladys; home life; shopping on foot

Gladys – future caterer or secretary; (from Betty)
A few new people have become part of our life. One is a really pleasant and helpful young woman, Gladys, whom we have hired to work for us in the apartment. We met her at the guesthouse where we were staying. She said that she had been to catering school and was trying to start a catering business after she earned enough money. So we decided to hire her and after we leave we hope to help her achieve some of her goals.
I feel a little bad about how she came to work for us but, not too bad, because she has really been a “godsend”. I was worried about finding someone I would like, and trust, and also someone who could help me with the cooking. The other new people have been the staff at our apartment complex.

The new apartment
The 8 unit apartment building is surrounded by a high cement block fence, topped with barbed wire. You enter the compound, which also has a very nice garden, through a huge metal gate. Over to one side is a shed where all the individual generators sit. We thought we were very lucky to not have our apt on that side until we had to deal with our neighbors’ huge generator on the other side. At night there are, at least, two security guards who are also in charge of turning on the generators.
At first everything was going well but then one night when we asked one of the security guys to turn on the generator, the tank that was supposed to be full was instead empty and since the extra fuel containers were locked up we couldn’t turn it on. We had planned to charge up our computers and phones for the next day in case we didn’t have power. Now we could not do neither and we had to deal with someone taking the fuel. And since there are several people working here you don’t know who took it. Petty theft is a big problem here. Mostly likely the people who work here are not well paid by our landlord. Also we did not have a system in place to keep everyone honest.
Now we have started a system of signing for all fuel used and hopefully this won’t happen again. It is a little uncomfortable knowing that someone has not been honest with us but we have decided to build a relationship of trust and respect with them, the latter is really important in the culture here, rather than trying to punish them for a theft of less than $10. We will also try to reward them when they do their work well or are helpful.

Shopping on foot
There are always people who need jobs here and most of the menial jobs are long hours for very low pay. We usually try to be generous with the people who help us in some way and we try to support small local businesses around where we live. So we always giving out small amounts of money. I tell Bob that we are running our own NGO (non-governmental organization) here. We have 3 small kiosks nearby where we can get bread, toilet paper, fruit, soft drinks, etc. which is very convenient. They make really good bread here and now a young man who is trying earn money for school fees stops by every day with fresh bread. These are all the little things here that we would never have in Hattiesburg, where if you don’t have bread you have to get into your car and drive to the nearest store.

ocean view; new apartment

Ocean view and sunsets on walks in ‘our village’ (from Betty)
One of our daily pleasures comes at the end of the day as the sun become less intense. Then is when we usually go for a walk around our neighborhood which is called Hill Station. I have already described some of the details of this truly unique and historic neighborhood. I can’t wait to try and document it with photos so you will be able to visualize this place. Fortunately we can walk here without a lot of traffic congestion. The only cars that come up this rutted, dirt road are going to a small hotel called Country Lodge as most people who live here don’t have cars. So it’s very easy to safely walk around.
There are always people around, some are sitting outside of their house enjoying the cooler air, and others are walking home or going to one of the small kiosks that act like convenience stores and also social points. We, too, stop at the kiosks to buy soft drinks and chat, trying to use the Krio we are learning with from our Krio teacher.
One of the big old houses has been turned into an elementary school so there are always students in their blue gingham checked uniforms in the school yard getting ready to go home for the day. Most schools here have two tracks, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The students are always curious to talk to us and find out our names. And when I tell them mine, they all light up because Betty is a very popular name here and also because they recognize it.
And lastly on our walk we make our way to an open area on the road where we can see the sun set in the ocean and watch the sky turn pink. On each walk we are trying to learn people’s names and explore new paths. Sometimes we end up chatting too much and we miss the sunset. Actually the neighborhood is very small, with maybe only about 20 old wooden homes and then a few apartment complexes clustered like ours on the side of the hill facing the ocean. There is only one main road if you stay on the top of the hill. At first we thought that the only way down to the bottom of the hill to catch a taxi was walking the road but then we found all sorts of shortcuts going between the houses. They are kind of steep and rocky but still better than walking the long windy dirt road.


settling in; setback

Settling in; and a setback (from Betty)
I am sorry this journal is all about our settling in here and very little about the country and the people. So please forgive me because I am still not getting out that much. I have spent most days for last month, now in our new apartment and before in the guesthouse, so my contact with the real world has been limited. And when I do go out it is with one of the taxi drivers who we have gotten to know quite well now. I try not to walk too much because for one thing the roads are so narrow and congested with people and cars that I am afraid of falling again and second I get tired really easy. So mostly I go shopping at the supermarket to buy food and or on other errands to buy necessary items for the apartment. Or we go to an internet cafĂ©. So I mostly see the world from my taxi seat. But there are lots of things to observe and I long for the day when I will be able to get out and photograph some of these amazing scenes. I love observing life that is so present and in your face. It makes feel alive. Of course, at the end of the day, I am happy to retire to the privacy of my apartment with “most” of the normal amenities present.

I have divided my stay here into before my fall and after my fall. Also sometimes I go over and over that scene as I felt myself falling. One event can so drastically change your life and you can’t undo it much as you would want to. Now I have been recuperating for 4 weeks and I keep wondering why I don’t really feel well yet. I realize that I have been very unlucky when it comes to medicine. I don’t tolerate it well at all. First the pain medicine didn’t agree with me and so I stopped taking it except for when I was desperate. Then I decided that I was also getting side effects from the malaria medicine I was taking and so I decided to try another one that most people were taking here and seemed to tolerate well.
Before I started taking it I was actually doing much better judging by the outing we made to the village of Charlotte that I described in an earlier entry. Well today I went on the internet and looked for the side effects of doxycycline, and a lot of the ones that I have been having, are listed on the site. So no more doxycyline!! I got really upset with Bob yesterday about nothing and I realize now that I was having an anxiety attack, one of the side effects listed.
But the main serious effect has been pain in my throat so that it is hard to swallow anything. I hoped it would go away quickly but it is persisting. As I don’t really feel comfortable with the doctors here I finally remembered that my niece is married to a doctor. So I emailed him to find out what might be the problem and what to do about it. He explained what I had which made me better just knowing the problem and also some remedies but the unfortunate news is that it could take awhile to heal. So now each day is even more of a struggle. It’s an accomplishment to be able to eat something each meal. The good thing is that I should lose some weight because I am eating very small amounts.

However, to look on the bright side, because I haven’t felt well enough to do much, it has kept me from over straining my back. Also I have used the time to move into the new apartment and really enjoy it. When we have power we watch a movie on my computer. We have a pretty good video store but we can’t be too choosy about we watch. And I have found time to read some of the books, especially the ones on Sierra Leone, that I brought with me. And slowly we have dealt with all the problems that we had the first night. Burning mosquito coils has helped us sleep better, (fortunately I don’t mind the smell), the evenings have been relatively cool even when we haven’t had AC, and the huge generator next door has been on less because we have had more power. Also I think they have soundproofed it more as it is less noisy and there are fewer vibrations in our building. That is a real blessing!

Our new home

October 13, 2008
Our New Home (from Betty)
Well I am sitting on our veranda watching the sun set over the ocean. The clouds are a pale pink and probably there will more rain tonight. It is still the rainy season as I found out when the clothes we put out to dry came back wet from a sudden storm. I also finally got our battery operated radio going and got it tuned to something called Capitol Radio but it also had news from BBC. In the guesthouse I mainly watched CNN to keep up with the news but in our new place we don’t have a TV so I am glad to have this radio and to get some good reception. Their choice of music has ranged from “Material Girl” by Madonna to Paul Simon’s South African CD Graceland. But I was happy to get the news at the top of the hour and to hear that the US market has rebounded somewhat. Who knows if that will hold as it seems to be acting more like a seesaw.
I love our new apartment. It’s big, airy, and has a wonderful view which I am enjoying this evening by myself as Bob has gone running with a local group, called the Hash Harriers, and won’t be back until after dark. It only has some very basic furniture but it’s something I can live with and build on with local craft materials, I hope. But we had some very rude shocks as we settled in. And after our first night in the apartment I wasn’t sure if I could survive another night.
This is a country with a generator culture because the govt can’t provide power on a daily basis. As you know to get this apartment we had to buy our own generator. The first night we did not have power and so we happily turned on the generator when it got dark at 7pm. And we had our first dinner that I cooked, spaghetti, not very exciting but it tasted wonderful after eating local food with rice or badly prepared restaurant food for over a month. Actually I do like the local food just not every night. Everything was going pretty well. We turned on the hot water heater but not the AC as we didn’t buy a big enough generator to do both at the same time thinking we would cool down the bedroom later.
The evening was going nicely but as I settled in to read a book on the couch I began to feel like my head was throbbing. We realized that the generator next door was producing not only noise but vibrations which I felt through out my whole body. Since my back injury my body has become more sensitive. Then our whole apartment went dark and we scrambled to find some flashlights, which in our hurried move here we had not really unpacked properly. Finally we found them and went outside to talk to the security guy at the gate. Well, the generator had run out of fuel. So we asked the guard to put more fuel in the tank, which he did, and this time it only lasted 2 hours only time enough to barely cool off the bedroom and get to sleep.
We woke a few hours later, all sweaty and to the sound of mosquitoes buzzing our ears. We found our insect repellant, applied it best we could and covered up, sweating out the rest of the night. Needless to say we did not sleep very well. And along with that the bed was very soft which didn’t help my back at all. We were both pretty miserable. But when we woke up the view was there to greet us, the generator noise had stopped, and the birds were singing. We actually had a nice breakfast with the granola that I had baked the night before and tried to decide what we would do next.
Then the national power came on and we were able to work on our computers for most of the day and life seemed back to normal. It’s amazing how things looked so much better with a bit of power and no noise. Some friends stopped by and we had drinks on the veranda watching the sunset. We even had power that evening when we came home from eating out and we didn’t have to turn on our generator. Stupid us we didn’t really understand how much fuel a generator uses. So this has been a very expensive shock…one hour of lights, etc. will cost us about $5.00. So now when the lights come on, and we never know when or how long they will stay on, we let out a sigh of relief and a cry for joy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama fans in Sierra Leone

The other day I walked through our hilltop 'village' of old colonial era wooden houses set high on steel stilts (the British attempt to get cooler breezes and fewer mosquitoes). Actually we are told the houses are pre-fabs sold through Harrods Department store in London and shipped then assembled here.
As I walked along the single paved road and several dirt paths, wearing my Obama for President t-shirt, Sierra Leonians called out from tiny storefronts, homes, and elsewhere in support of Obama. One day I ran with the same shirt and from the crowded sidewalks and small stores, even balconies, came cries of Obama; Obama. "We love Obama." Even scowling faces shifted to big smiles; people waved.
If folks here could vote, Barak would sweep the country - and no doubt the rest of Africa.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

please share this blog; and send your comments and news

Hi, everyone. Now that Betty is blogging and I will be posting more regularly, please share this with friends. Also ask them to send an email request to be added to our blog alert list. I really appreciate the comments so far; share your thoughts, and how you're doing wherever you are.
I am very glad Betty is back on her feet, though still in some daily pain. We had a nice stroll today through the hilltop 'village' where we moved in this past week.

Betty will respond to requests for photos before long.

from Betty:Taxi drivers are our friends

Taxi drivers are our friends
We get around here by hiring taxi drivers. We have about 3 names of good, reliable drivers and whenever we need to do something we book them for several hours. They are more than taxi drivers; they are the ones who inform us about the town, teach us some Krio and are ready to help solve any problem we might have. Almost like a personal assistant in the US but doesn’t cost as much. Today I booked Farah and my goal was to check out the apt and decide what else we needed in the way of furniture. We plan to live with very little but one necessary thing, so Bob could do his work, was a desk. Farah took me to the carpenter who made some furniture for him but the guy was not at his workshop if you could call it that. All I saw was a very crudely built worktable and some rough wood stacked in a corner. Somehow that did not give me a lot of confidence though Farah assured me that he made very good, and cheap, furniture and I would not be disappointed. I decided I wanted to look further. There are lots of local carpenters and so it wasn’t hard to find someone else. And I realized again how basic these workshops are and it’s a wonder how they turn out anything decent at all. I am sure these guys could have made me something nice but I still wanted to look further.
So we drove to another place where they were supposed to be some carpenters. The first place we saw was too hard to park at. The next place we saw was a commercial place, owned probably by a Lebanese, with some imported and locally made desks…nice stuff but too expensive. And I really wanted to support the local crafts people so we drove on. I was not expecting to see a desk because most carpenters if they have any things on display, its usually beds, tables and chairs, not desks. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a DESK on the side of the road. I told Farah to stop but there was nowhere for him to park. So I just got out and told Farah to find me, as I wanted to see this desk. Later Farah did manage to get turned around and found a place to park near this guy’s workshop. I tried not to show too much interest in the desk and so walked around admiring the other pieces because I knew that I would have to bargain hard for it. We did come to a deal pretty fast with Farah helping me. But then we had another problem how would we get this desk back to the apt. It looked pretty big to fit in the taxi. And I didn’t know anyone with who could transport it for me. So Farah opened the trunk and they started to try to fit it in. At first, it didn’t look like it would work but then Farah proceeded to put his back seats down and with just a little maneuvering we managed to get it in and the trunk closed.
Still Farah said that we might be stopped by the police and that could cause a lot of problems. So to avoid the police he turned off on a side road, which was ok except it, was the worst road that I had ever seen and it got worse as we climbed up the hill. At one point the road deteriorated to only sharp, pointed rocks on a steep incline. I was a basket case by the time we made it to the top where the road, at least, looked like what I would call a road. To celebrate we stopped a vendor who was selling bread. A popular snack here is freshly baked baguette, split in half, with carnation sweet milk dribbled on. I bought two. Farah ate one long loaf in no time. I decided that wasn’t my idea of a treat, so he had another one to eat later. But I did admire the vendor’s t-shirt, which had Emimen on it and asked him if I could take his picture. We continued on without incident to our apt and with the help of the staff there had the desk easily moved inside. It took most of the afternoon but, at least, we had accomplished something. And here that is itself something to feel good about!! As Farah wisely told me as we started out on this mission “there is a solution to every problem”.

Shopping with a Prince in Freetown
The next day I booked another taxi driver, whose name is Prince, and told him that I needed to buy some cheap house wares for the apartment. Without him I would have gone to one of the Lebanese owned supermarkets where everything is really expensive, but it is, at least, a place that I can walk down aisles and pick and choose what I might want. Prince took me downtown to a market area in the heart of the old city. A good area to shop but not an easy place to find a parking place.
Freetown is an old city with narrow streets that is slowly filling up with cars. There is no planning for widening streets, parking, there are no street lights, no stop signs and it can only get worse as people get more cars. It’s amazing that the city works as well as it does. You would have to learn a whole different way of driving here. Cars meet with inches to spare, weave around pedestrians who have to walk along the road as there are no sidewalks or they have been destroyed or blocked by street vendors.
This market area was located on a narrow, unpaved, rocky street lined with shops that had seen better days and also local street vendors. How these shops got their goods delivered was a mystery to me, I can only guess in the very early morning. There was one truck delivering goods and it completely blocked the road. Most of the shops sold cheap house wares and it was perfect for what I wanted. The shop we chose was piled high, floor to ceiling, with goods and only a small space was left for a counter behind which was the owner, maybe Lebanese, and two Sierra Leonean employees stood. I was at a loss to even decide what I wanted but slowly I started mentioning stuff or pointing to stuff and we ended up with a large pile of stuff. Prince was really helpful advising me what I might need and between the two of us we did really well. I got a lot of stuff at a very reasonable price. Then I also wanted towels which we harder to find. We walked a long way down this rutted street, crowded with shoppers and vendors. At one point we had to crawl up a low wall to get around this delivery truck blocking the road. I was getting really tired as I still don’t have a lot of stamina and my back was really starting to hurt. So when we finally found a woman selling a few towels I bought what she had so we could go back to the taxi. We collected the other stuff that I had bought and made our way back to the taxi. So much for my first major shopping trip. Later I found out that we had left the handle to the broom we bought so I guess we will be back for more stuff.