Monday, July 25, 2011

Return to Sierra Leone (July 20)

When you land in Sierra Leone you’re not in the capital, Freetown. You are in Lungi, across a very big bay that takes at least half an hour in a fast passenger speedboat. The alternatives are a shaky old helicopter, or a slow moving ferry that doesn’t operate at night. We chose the speedboat for $40 each. Soon the lights of the city were becoming brighter. The city crowds down to the Atlantic ocean, squeezed by low mountains that early Portuguese explorers said resembled lions – thus the name Sierra “Leone.”

A friend welcomed us and took us to his guesthouse with air conditioning and a view of the ocean and bay. The next morning we awoke to a different world, familiar from two years ago but new again: a downtown of tall office buildings competing for space with squat ones of one to several stories, all lining narrow streets overflowing with people, fixed-route, taxies (25 cents per passenger); unpaved back streets dotted with small kiosks and shops; high security walls around wealthier residences often against modest ones; low income neighborhoods of two room homes of brick, or mud walls, mingling with one-room tin shacks perched on steep valley walls with winding creeks used for public bathing. A city of contrasts, an example of income disparity that is global and growing.

There has been some progress in Sierra Leone since we left here two years ago: several key roads in Freetown are being widened. Electricity is a daily occurrence, though this is the rainy season when water levels are higher behind hydropower dams. There are still powerless periods in the dry season we are told. More schools are being built in rural areas. That’s where we are heading next – to Bo, the second city of Sierra Leone, and visits to some villages.

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