Monday, February 28, 2011

Life in Freetown, Sierra Leone

We have arrived onto the ship (next blog will be about the Africa Mercy!), and have completed our two and a half week stay in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Here are some thoughts:
Crazy traffic.
  Imagine a city intended for 200,000 people, with more than 2 million people living in it (Because of the civil war that Sierra Leone endured in the 90s and 00s, many people fled to the city for safety, and left areas upcountry, closer to the diamond fields.  Most have stayed).  Two lane roads jammed full with motorcycles, cars, buses, 18 passenger vans (Poda Podas), man-powered carts loaded high with 50 pound bags of onions, or stacks of firewood, and walking vendors. A five mile journey on paved roads through the city may take two hours while you are at a stand still- everyone honks.  Cars swerve wherever needed avoiding collisions by inches.  Roads may be one-way in one direction in the morning, and become the other direction in the afternoon- without signs that indicate this.  How do you know?  "You just know," says the police after they pull you over for going the wrong way.  This is hard to know for visitors!

Conveyor belt shopping. 
While you are at a stand still in traffic, the beauty of it is that the shopping comes to you.  Feel like a snack?  How about a bag of dried plantains or banana chips?  (about 12 cents).  Popcorn?  Same price.  A fresh coconut (they'll open it with a machete for you, you drink the milk, then they'll whack it in half and scoop out the flesh for you).  They come in old, new and half and half.  (Old is what you think of when you see a coconut- brown on the outside, lots of dried husk, flesh is firm.  New is greener- the flesh is still kind of slimy.  Half and half is somewhere in between this).  Peanuts are also available roadside - you determine the price, and that will determine the amount.  25 cents worth is about 1/2 cup of shelled peanuts.  They carry them on a large flat bowl on their heads, scoop them up for you and make a paper cone for take-away - we've had newspaper paper cones, and also a page from someone's school notebook.  They are very creative and resourceful.

And the shopping isn't just limited to food.  Coal, air fresheners, cd mixes for your long journey, underwear, socks, jeans, skirts, plastic containers, cheese graters (coconut graters, really), plastic hangers, and basically a walking Walmart passes your car.  If it's not being carried on someone's head, it's for sale curbside- you make a loud kissy sound, and get the vendor's attention- they will bring it to you - even if traffic starts to move and you have inched forward 50 feet, they'll bring it to you.  We could easily get used to this kind of shopping.  There are two types of clothing: ready-made (new, in the package) and junks (used).  Junks are all those donations that get sent to Africa.  We have seen clothes with Goodwill price tags still on them, t-shirts from our hometowns, and everything you can imagine at home.  One intersection we dubbed "Wal-mart" because of the vast selection of clothing.

The people of Sierra Leone are happy, peaceful, loving, and eager to see Mercy Ships back in the country.  The Anastasis was here in 1993, 2002, 2003, and 2004, so they are familiar with the ship and the help that it can provide.  We have been greeted with many friendly faces who are anxious to see the ship at the port.  There have been many, MANY NGOs here (Non-Governmental Organizations) during the past 10-15 years in the aftermath of the war.  While they might tell us "white man" price instead of African price, we have not felt threatened or in danger in any way while we have been here.  For some further info on Sierra Leone, check out the movie Blood Diamond, or the book A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Bean. 


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