Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Coming 'home' to Africa: arrival in Sierra Leone

Dear friends,
You were crazy enough to sign up for our blog, now I hope you will open a dialogue with us and share your thoughts as we launch a very modest blog on - Sierra Leone, West Africa.

Betty and I are here because I received a Fulbright award which is named after the late U.S. Senator who believed that people exchanges enhance peace. We'll be here about ten months. i will be teaching human rights, comparative politics, and participating in peace building workshops at one of the oldest (perhaps the oldest) college in West Africa: Fourah Bay College - plus researching past human rights activism. Betty has already been asked to consider contributing to classes at Fourah Bay and perhaps helping a local ngo train photographers. I've already made lots of contacts for the research and met most of my co-teachers.

Enough of the formal stuff.
Sierra Leone's capital city, Freetown, sits on a penninsula draped with stunning high hills which reminded an early visitor of lions - thus the name of the country: mountains of lions. The beaches are beautiful white sands.

Arrivals are fun...as long as you relax and enjoy the confusion. We were met by someone working for the U.S. Embassy, since my pay this year of Fulbright funds comes from, well - we American taxpayers. The night ferry takes a long time to cross the giant bay; the hovercraft was not working; soe we took a shaky (Russian?) helicopter for a brief flight to the city.

We are staying in a comfortable guest house and looking for lng-term lodging. Electricity is spotty, as the government is running out of money to fund even the limited availability. Sierra Leone didn't have any for more than a decade during the war.

The city's house-covered hills are still full of greenery, among wealthy homes and humble ones. Streets are notoriously crowded, however, due to narrow lanes and lots of vehicles. During a monsoon type rain last week some people sat for three hours in jams due to floods.

People here are so very friendly. We get good vibes daily, whether walking, or on my runs and errands downtown, etc. They set a good example for Americans.

I'm sitting at a small internet cafe that has an internet connection for my laptop. It's exciting to know that two of my former students have reached Africa, too. Jim Mitchell is just back in Arkansas at Bill Clinton's college after an internship in Tanzania; and Jeff Brown is in Bamako, Mali as a Peace Corps volunteer. I just got an email from another former student asking about law internships anywhere in the world and have put her in touch with a local lawyers office that helps the poor.

Sierra Leone ranks near or at the bottom in quality of life indexes, with perhaps the highest child mortality rate in the world [don't hold me to all details being accurate on a blog] and a life expectancy of 42, with many deaths due to malaria and other diseases. (So far we've seen only one mosquitoe and one fly here...really. Breezes and fast moving water after rains down steep hills to the sea may explain that; plus people are really cleaning up trash these days.

Hey - blogs are static unless they involve con-ver-sa-tion. So let's start..
Bob and Betty (Press)