Monday, 4 April 2011

How to spot a water leak and other construction stories!

Its the dry season and March is the hottest month of the year. Meanwhile Freetown is being torn apart and being put back together again by the Seventh Chinese Railway Construction Company who are widening and improving all the major roads particularly where I live in the West end of Freetown. I’ve mentioned the clearing technique before which involved bulldozing everything in their way, fences, pylons, drains, fronts of buildings, even religious buildings have suffered and lost their front steps for example (I am wondering if the local worshippers had to pole vault into the building?). It is bizarre to see this just after it happens, like the front of a house I saw, with what remains of a bathroom, the sink and loo hanging onto the wall but the bath gone!! Just after my Birthday party last year at Senegalese, the front of the restaurant was bulldozed off but they just rebuilt it and it now only has 4 tables!

It’s amazing how the Saloneans cope with all this, they just get on with and rebuild again and very quickly. Near Leicester Road, the new road went right through a market and the stalls just kept moving around the piles of mud and rubble!!! However, this road building has been going on awhile and shiny new surfaces are starting to appear. There have been drastic consequences however to this massive improvement programme and these are NOT in order of importance:

(1) Severe water supplies and long periods without electricity in the areas nearer to the roads

(2) Lots of water leaks with the precious stuff seaping out everywhere, mixing with all the dust

(3) Enormous and frustrating traffic jams

(4) Injury and death of the construction workers, although I have never seen any statistics on this

(5) Drainage and sewage problems

You see Guma Valley Water Company trucks around town and presumably they are going out to search and fix leaks. Guma is the reservoir that supplies much of the city’s water. It can’t be hard to find a leak as its always surrounded with crowds of kids of all ages with everything from a small bucket to large 5 gallon yellow plastic containers (called rubbers???) chatting and waiting to fill up. Rarely is there trouble. Kids can charge 1000le for delivering a rubber to a ‘water customer’ which they carry on their heads. Even the smallest child can manage a bucket on their heads. There are bigger water barrels called 'Pigs feet' containers as they are used to import the tasty product! I think they take 25 gallons. I'm glad to see them with just water and not the original contents! There are public taps around the town too, as the number of houses having piped water is quite small (around 20% I think) and collecting water is a water of life and its gets harder and harder towards the end of the dry season.

I must get some photos of the colourful and time consuming process of water collection and of all the frenetic building activity as we hurtle towards the 50th Anniversary of Sierra Leone’s Independence on 27th April. The deadline is to have some of the roads completed by then. Already there are bunting and flags appearing everywhere and buildings newly painted. There's still time for more paiting before the big celebrations, but that’s for the next blog!!!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Starting Again...

Being the only person in Country for your UK based organisation can have its benefits and difficulties. The main issue is LOGISTICS, well to be honest no matter if you work for a big organisation or not, water, electricity and transport are the 3 biggest issues which you constantly grapple with and I am NO exception! Its quite common for volunteers and paid workers to go home early as it’s not all beer and beaches!

Recently a good friend of mine finished her 6 month VSO placement in the Ministry and decided not to renew her placement after a 6 month battle with VSO over the provision of water, or lack of it to be precise! At times she could not go to work because she couldn’t wash. When you add these kind of problems to the set up tasks of finding a place to live, finding and setting up an office, setting up a things like a bank account and new business phone, dealing with constant car problems and starting a new job, requiring you to meet with lots of new people and weekly updates on progress/plans... Then add supporting people here with various issues and problems......and good friends leaving like Rey, a week after I arrived.

I’d like to be able to say ‘however, as I am a tough and experienced VSO, the last few weeks has been a breeze’ but they haven’t. Since I came back, its been tough and busy and I’ve missed my friends and family more than before. I’ve only been to the beach twice!!! That’s how hard it’s been! BUT... I now have somewhere to live and an office and the job is starting to take shape. I am sitting sipping my last drop of Oyster Bay wine from the precious 2 bottles I brought with me in February and writing my blog for the first time in ages on the lovely terrace of my new little house. SORRY its taken me so long to get blogging again and thanks for all those kicks, complaints and encouraging emails. I had no idea that my blog had so many readers! I more huge gaps between blogs and yes I am still alive!!!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Making it Happen

When I left Salone last December, I had no return flight booked or any job offer (although I had only actually applied for 2 jobs!). All I knew was that I WAS coming back and that it would be within 2 months of leaving Freetown, with or without a job. Psychologically this was all quite difficult because I want to be in both places at once! Some people seem to manage this dual existence between countries, but can you do that between UK and West Africa? Its so vastly different, however many Saloneans do this with split families, between here and all over the UK, Peckham being a popular location and Manchester too. Leeds is a popular place to study Public Health. However, do many British born have this similar lifestyle taking into consideration the practicalities of working and living in two places so culturally diverse and relatively far away? I’ll look into it!

But anyway, I digress! The key to coming back to Salone and attempting to continue to make some kind of positive contribution is gaining employment and after a year of volunteering (ie lots of work no income!), this had to be paid work! I got home and chased the Ministry to see if they had funding agreed from Donors to employ me for at least another 6 months. I had written two proposals which had been duly sent to at least 2 Donors/potential funders back in December. And I waited... and at the same time I also applied for 2 health related jobs with NGOs. I got shortlisted for both. Are jobs like buses then? One job sounded very interesting and was paid more but you had to travel between 4 West African Countries, which sounded glamorous but I doubt it is and the other job based in Freetown, was working at national level as the first person in Sierra Leone. It was for a relatively new charity with 2 project components: public health and education. It sounded worthwhile and challenging. I was offered the job and I took it with the usual mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation both with the new challenge but also coping with leaving home again, I came back to Africa - six weeks after I left.

Monday, 31 January 2011

January, dull and dreary????

It amazing how I seemed to settle back into life in the UK and totally adjust to all the differences, didn’t even feel much of the cold this time, although I did miss the big freeze! Landed in Manchester airport to a few piles of snow around but relatively balmy weather! For 6 weeks, I enjoyed the cold like a person who knew deep down that it wouldn’t be for very long! Same with food. I was a total pig, there are large areas of Cheshire that have disappeared as I ate everything in sight! Oh and drunk some lovely wine (from a bottle!) and sampled various spirits too.

Mum and Tony picked me up from the airport on 29th December and drove me straight to their house where a belated Chrimbo dinner was waiting, even complete with pudding, brandy butter, crackers and mince pies. New year was spent at my sisters, great fun and not so quietly!

So I settled quickly and well back at home but SHOPs – they still freak me out. There is so much STUFF everywhere and so much of it not essential but rather desirable, 87 different kinds of cheese in one place for example!!! I was also amazed at the size of my own house, after living in 1 room for 10 months and how everything in the house actually works! The VSO returned volunteer coordinator (yes there is such a job in existence) kept trying to contact me to see how I was managed. Apparently lots of people have real trouble ‘re-settling’ January passed quickly and slowly at the same time. I had a few days at Cawood Castle ( in Yorkshire with Rosie and there is was COLD! Check out the Landmark Trust for interesting and quirky places to stay in the UK. We may be staying in grand, historical surroundings, but spent more money on wood and coal than food and drink! That’s saying something when the Green sisters get together!!! Sat in the rather grand surroundings of the castle, I wrote a couple of job applications, both for which I was shortlisted for. 2nd week in January I popped down to London for an interview and to catch up with my lovely uni friends and especially meet Cecily, Lucy and John’s latest little babe only a few weeks old. Tried to steal her but Lucy was holding firmly onto her when she waved me goodbye at Dulwich station! I also managed to meet up with old friends from Liverpool, Sheffield and a few other places, have a pamper day at my house, do 3 fundraising talks for the Wellbodi Partnership, raising about £700, go walking, babysitting for my god daughter, become a lady who lunches with several friends, go to a school reunion (yes school, people I hadn’t seen since the early 80’s!!!), have my eyes and teeth checked, reload on medication for Africa, spend time with my family, go and see Scuzzy in Chipping Norton with his adopted parents (P &L)...oh and get a job! Yes an actual paid job for 6 months starting on 1st feb and due to start work and fly back to Freetown on 11th Feb.

Finally I forgot the weeks holiday in the Lakes ( but cant post any photos as my camera has been stolen/lost before I had uploaded them! The week in the north lakes was wonderful, lots of walking around Derwent Water and Catbells and catching up with the friends who made the journey up the M6 to stop a few days. I really enjoyed those days, even my Mum and Gran came.

So... January was a little busy but there was plenty of time for lying on my favourite sofa and watching files under a blanket.... The photos are from Macclesfield plus some of the places I stayed.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Not ready yet...

28th December and time to go home? Question is what happens next? I’m happy and settled here, despite the difficulties of life and the poverty and the tummy upsets!!! Now it seems I have two homes....So this is what it feels like to be torn between two countries; two lots of friends, two cultures, two set of clothes, two bottle openers and of course two different climates!!! So off I go back to the UK with nothing sorted yet to come back, no job, no flight back booked, with much of sadness, especially at leaving the Ministry but also so looking forward to seeing my family and friends, many of them who love and miss me but don't understand this passion I have for Africa.... so what’s next?

Pictures are on the Kissy Ferry on the way to Lunghi airport and packing up my room, but unfortunately I didnt take any photos or video of the dancing dwarf!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Christmas, simplified

With a Salone family….Christmas morning starts like any other morning, at 6am with cooking, fetching water and cleaning…. Although I sorted out a small tree and some tiny gifts from PZ (an area of Freetown you can buy second hand stuff cheaply) so that everyone had something to open on the 25th. It was wonderful to see even tiny gifts costing a few pence really appreciated by kids who don’t often get very much, that was my Christmas present. OK, so I got another gift.. an African dress which I wore later to church after it had been ironed with a big metal iron heated by the glowing embers. When I say church I mean a hut with an altar and plastic chairs and an amazingly loud sound system for lots of shouting out of the gospel and singing to be spread all over the immediate area, but it’s a church in the eyes of God and the congregation!

Dinner was couscous and cow meat(!) kebab, tasty but nothing like turkey with all the trimmings, no starter (scallops at home), no pud with brandy butter but some kind of tapioca apple thing which looked like space goo but actually tasted quite nice if you dared risk it. No need to rest on the sofa groaning due to excessive food, even had space to have packet noodles for supper! I tried and failed to learn some Krio carols.

The most bizarre thing? The climate, it can’t possibly be Christmas at 30 degrees! Here’s a few photos including me cooling down with a sprite after Church and a couple from Boxing Day on Hamilton beach.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

African Christmas, Snowy European New Year

So in 6 days I fly home, without a definate job... but it looks promising. I have meeting in London on 10th Jan about a 6 month contract here plus I've received 2 calls in the last 5 minutes from one of the Ministry Directors. He is submitting one of the 2 proposals (to keep me) to donors for potential funding.....

Plan A -the Ministry
Plan B - another ethically ok organisation
Plan C - Caroluccios Coffee bar
Plan D - did have one but forgotten it
Plan E - customer service training agency

And while I contemplate the many future possibilities, I also look forward to a Sierra Leonian Christmas, with street carnivals, carol singing, special Christmas food (2 kinds of rice???) and beach bumming.

I am also looking forward to coming home too and being with friends and family. I am not looking forward to leaving my cosy room at Frazier davies Drive and packing my stuff into the smelly store room! 3 days to Christmas....6 days to cheese and snow...