The day began with a jog along dirt roads and paths winding among solid, one-story, tin-sheet homes of brick or cement. After breakfast in our hotel we hop on two okadas (motorcycle taxies) and head downtown, into Sierra Leone’s second largest (but still small) city of low buildings, and crowded streets. We spend the morning trying to connect to the internet to send out a few emails and upload our blog entries for the first few days in SL Electric power is an uncertain feature of SL – with much less in the dry season. Here, for example, we are told there are often days, sometimes weeks without power. But this is the rainy season and power is plentiful – but not the Internet due to narrow bands reaching the country.
Betty photographs babies being weighed on a sidewalk in front of a clinic under rehabilitation, part of Sierra Leone’s new law offering free pre and post natal health care for babies and mothers. Free, except when you need to purchase drugs. But wait in a long line and you get your baby weighed or get high protein food supplements given by the Food and Agriculture Administration of the UN. Some were definitely malnourished.
After lunch of cassava leaves and rice (delicious), Gibril Bassie, who runs a human rights organization here, drives me to the Njala University campus. Retiring Dean Abu Seasy shows me around, explaining his lecture classes were usually about 300 students, while a student mentions his government classes had only 40. The main campus, a good drive from the city, was destroyed during the civil war (1991-2001).
We find an Internet café and mange to upload some blog entries, and then join Gibril for refreshments at sitting outside a local café on the outskirts of town. Gerbil, whom I’ve known since 2008, was a military officer, then a Karmajor (armed local militia that fought rebels in contested parts of the country. Though like many here, he has traveled abroad, he chose to return to Sierra Leone after the war. His program visits local schools and community groups to discuss human rights laws and development.
Edward John Bull, SL’s national director of the Catholic Charity Caritas drives up and joins us. SL is changing in visible ways (more paved roads, more homes) and invisible ways, he says: people are less focused on their extended families and more on ‘nuclear’ or immediate families; there is some upward movement into the ‘upper lower class,’ and a small but growing middle class. But there is little movement of the very poor; and the gap between the wealthy and the poor is growing.
Unfortunately it has been too hard to load the pictures for this post Betty will try to add some for the next post.