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.

from Betty: renting an apartment? Bring your own generator...

Betty (October 8)
We finally found a place to live. We have been living in a guesthouse for the last month. And though we get along really well it has been a bit tiresome living in one room. Also as I was recuperating from my accident I was basically here 24/7. The guesthouse is run by a family, the father who is fairly high up in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, his wife, a true Krio, who basically runs the place, their two children, Jack, a teenager, and bouncy Martha who is three and loves Bob because he chases her around the compound. Also there is the staff of about 8 people, cleaning, hauling water, cooking, washing clothes, of course all my hand, etc. So I was never alone and could watch the daily activities from my room. I usually kept the door open just to feel like I was part of the outside world. One amazing sight every day was to watch Elmamy string 20 plus yellow 10-gallon plastic containers together and then carry them on his head out of the compound. He carries them down the hill and to a place where they are filled. Later in the day a truck brings them back and all the guys in the compound carry them down a stairs to the cistern. But it is still not finished because each container has to be lifted and poured into the cistern. Back breaking work, or you could say it in a more positive sense, muscle building. The guys do look pretty well built. With all that I feel guilty every time I flush the toilet.

Every morning and evening we go up to a 2nd floor terrace, overlooking the hillside, to eat…this house was built on the hillside but somehow turned its back on the view of downtown and the sea which seems odd as it is a much better view. We usually eat with the other Fulbright colleague who is also staying here. Mary usually brings our food. She is very good-natured but only speaks Krio so we laugh and talk but we never really understand each other. I am very spoiled with nothing to do, as my room is cleaned and our meals are served to us every day. I do wash a few clothes by hand but that is about all. But after my fall when I wasn’t supposed to do anything this was the perfect place to be and I was very well cared for. And Bob could keep up with his responsibilities without having to worry about taking care of me.

Another young woman worked here but she was pregnant and about to have her baby so she left. I think she will call us when she has it. But basically she was let go and so has no income while she waits to have the baby. It’s a hard world here and the staff does not make much money (about $75 a month we think).

New lodging
I am getting a little nostalgic for this place as we get ready to leave and move to our new apartment. It’s nice to have people around. In our new place we will be much more isolated from the local people and our neighbors will be mostly Europeans. We looked for a whole month before we found a place that we really liked and were ready to move into. But, as with every place that we looked at, there were problems. The place is expensive. We have to buy a generator so we would have reliable power in the evenings. Bob, who hates to buy things and especially in a place without fixed prices and not always trusted information, bravely bit the bullet and just did it. It seemed like a manly thing to do, I being stuck with all the other tasks of buying stuff to furnish the place. The apt does have basic furniture, but no kitchen or cleaning stuff so there are lots to buy, all of which I hope to get at a decent price.

from Betty: Village visit

Betty (Saturday, October 4) ecially since we would be in, what I thought, would be a very comfortable SUV. Well, even an SUV is not that comfortable going over seriously eroded pothole
Saturday a newly arrived American embassy employee invited us to join him on a trip to visit historic Charlotte village and a nearby waterfall. I took a risk and said that I thought I could make it esp filled roads so I was glad it wasn’t a long trip. When we got there, like every other place I have seen in so far in Sierra Leone, the village was built on the hillside, which meant that I had to do a bit of climbing to see it.
But what an amazing village! Small old wooden cottages probably built in the 1800’s or early 1900’s 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 the church built in 1841. Near the stone built church were the ruins of an even older girl’s school started in 1816 by the Anglicans.
Along the way we were warmly greeted by the villagers and allowed to take photos. After seeing the church we started down a rough dirt path through the other side of the village that would take us to the waterfall. After walking for a while I realized that the waterfall was probably too far away for me to easily walk there. Questioning the locals in English and in our limited Krio elicited various responses from not far, to very far and “small far”. Our friend decided to go on with the guide while Bob and I found a place to sit and wait. By that time we had collected a small crowd of mostly young children. They were very polite and we talked as best we could though most of them did not know much English. They liked having their pictures taken so they could look at themselves on the digital playback screen. The older ones were blowing on some leaves to make sounds so Bob showed how they could make an even louder sound with the same leaves. That kept everyone laughing as many made futile blowing attempts and others surprised themselves when they produced a loud blast. Just as our friend came back from the waterfall it started to rain, this still being the rainy season, and so we quickly got out our rain gear and made our way back to the car. It was the end of a very pleasant morning as we drove back to Freetown. But it made us both aware at how beautiful this country is and how we want to explore it more. Also this country has 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.

from Betty: a bad fall

Betty’s Blog Entry Sep 28
My stay in Sierra Leone has been colored by a bad fall on the street where I hurt my back (compression fracture in the lower vertebrae), happening after I had only been in the country for 10 days. This meant that I experienced, not by choice, first hand the health care facilities of Sierra Leone. I came through it ok but I would not like to have had a serious life threatening injury. And I received some of the best care you can get. Even then it seemed very pretty haphazard. There are no ambulances or even stretchers at most clinics. So they pick you up and carry you, if necessary, to where you might get some help. I probably should have been lying down after the accident but the best I had was a wheelchair and some strong men half carrying me from the front seat of a car to different places. I did get a quick X Ray done at a radiology clinic with the films being developed in minutes and a diagnosis given by a very experienced radiologist/doctor. At that point it was decided that I needed to be in the hospital in case there were any other injuries. So I was carried back to the car and driven to the hospital. There they wanted a proper ID, which both Bob or I had and they wanted to be paid. An US Embassy doctor was with us but even that didn’t help much. But finally after a long discussion and a promise to pay I was admitted. By now I had been shuttled around for 4 hours, all the time in very serious pain, such that I was crying most of the time.

At the hospital I was finally put on a metal stretcher and given a pain injection. The needle was in a sealed container but somehow I kind of lost track of what was happening since most of my thoughts were on surviving the pain. When the Indian doctor who didn’t speak much English started rudely examining me I insisted that Bob be in the room. He seemed offended at that but I didn’t care. There were nurses there as well but still I just didn’t feel very comfortable with him. Finally he listened to my symptoms, which were mainly pain in the back. The rest of me was still ok fortunately.

Anyway to make a long story short it was a long two-day stay in the hospital. The pain was still pretty intense and I couldn’t sleep so the hours seem to tick by minute by minute. The nights were the longest because I felt very alone. During the first day I was told to stay flat on my back and not move at all. Finally I insisted on getting up to use the toilet, as my only other choice was a bedpan. The next day when Bob came he brought news from an orthopedic specialist in the US saying that it was ok to get up a bit and move around. That was a big relief but it also meant that I didn’t need to stay in the ICU unit any longer. So I was moved to another ward where I was in a room with 3 other women and one bathroom. The room was very hot and stuffy. The bed was quite hard for someone with back pain. My privacy consisted of a curtain around my bed, which made me a bit claustrophobic. I could hear the other women but I couldn’t really see them. One had a radio, which was tuned to an evangelical religious station so I heard a lot praying and singing from her. Another must have had a small TV or computer because I heard snippets of a soap opera drama. I kind of wished I could have joined her as it would have helped the time pass. That night was the worse because I didn’t take the pain medicine, which gave me bad dreams and an upset stomach, and so I was very uncomfortable and couldn’t sleep. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that Bob would be there in the morning to check me out. And I was determined to tell the doctor how much better I was so he would agree to discharge me. The nurses were all very kind and friendly. One thing they did on a regular schedule was taking my blood pressure and temperature and those vital signs were always normal. Also the food amazingly enough was very good.

Since the time went so slowly I really appreciated having visitors. Bob, of course, came several times a day. I didn’t know many other people, only a few at the embassy and our Fulbright colleagues, and so I wasn’t expecting many to come. But surprisingly the only other people who did come to see me were Sierra Leonean from our guesthouse, the owners Mr. and Mrs. Kai Kai and several of the staff people. Usually when you are in a foreign country people realize that such an accident can be quite traumatic and especially when you first arrive and don’t know anyone. Something for me to remember if this kind of thing happens to other people.

Bob did arrive early the next morning but it took him a while to slowly make his way through the bureaucracy to get me discharged. The only good thing about my hospital stay was there were some very kind nurses and it didn’t cost very much (less that $400) compared to a stay in a US hospital. The taxi slowly drove me home and I felt like I was entering paradise as I arrived at the guesthouse.

Now after two weeks of very limited activity I am beginning to go out for short periods of time. I am also trying to do some exercises to keep the muscles strong. Though I still feel a lot of discomfort, and some days I feel worse than others, for the most part I can feel myself returning to a normal life.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Traffic scenes

As I was riding home today in a group taxi (about 30 U.S. cents), we stalled in a long line of cars on a narrow street. It was raining. The driver pulled a small packet of soap powder out from his dashboard, reached through the open window, and sprinkled some on his windshield. In a few seconds his dirty window was freshly washed and clean. "We do a lot of things in Africa," he said with a laugh.

Traffic gets backed up when it rains; commuters may be in a taxi for an hour or more going just a few miles across this city which, from the point of view of geography, is stunningly beautiful. Streets are narrow and with sidewalks either non-existent or having gaping holes exposing the sewer lines just below, many people, including myself, walk on the edge of the roadsides. Taxies whiz along when they can, missing people by inches. With no stop lights, many roundabouts, and only a few traffic police, you'd think nothing would move at all; but it does.

And taxies, even with four customers (the three-seaters have up to eight or nine; and the mini-buses are packed), can be a good place to practise Krio, the English-based dialect here. "Rain de com plenty" - It's really raining hard.

We've also come to appreciate the driving skills of several taxi drivers we use frequently by the hour for multiple errands and visits around town. They often are just a cell phone call away.

Today in the rain, I jumped into the first available group taxi downtown and only later asked where it was going (they have fixed routes). It was heading to within a mile of our guest house. And I got to see the window washing. On the walk the last mile I bought some fresh bread rolls (15 U.S. cents each), one with condensed milk poured on it; and I purchased a couple of soft drinks at a street side stand from Bob. Police recently tore his stand down - perhaps for lack of permit - but he put it back up the next day.

We had considered buying a car here, but my driving skills don't match those of taxi drivers.