Blog: 24 hours in Freetown, Sierra Leone #EbolaFreeSierraLeone

SL_IMG_6842SL_IMG_6869After more than 3 weeks in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, at last I had a chance for a two-night R&R (rest & recreation) with my wife, who is currently based in Freetown.  Saturday afternoon a few of us got transport to Freetown, an intriguing three-hour drive from Port Loko.  We had to pass through several roadblocks (picture right), a common feature in Sierra Leone to control the spread the possible spread of Ebola (usually we had our temperature taken and had to wash our hands).  These stops also gave me chance to look at the local fruit stalls.  We did also have an unscheduled stop to check a deflating tyre, which was quickly repaired with a valve replacement at a roadside car shop (picture left).

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Some of the wonderful vendors at the roadside stalls on the road into Freetown. Bottom: Sesame crisps, bananas (ripe), fried plantain, boiled groundnuts.

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Waterloo town, a bustling town about halfway between Port Loko and Freetown.

The road from Port Loko to Freetown is tarmac and excellent by Sierra Leone standards; there are, however, far too many serious car and truck wrecks next to the road for comfort (we are not talking fender benders). We only had a short stop in Waterloo to get some money and first impressions are that it is a bustling metropolis that warrants a longer visit; very different from Port Loko and Freetown. I expected the last part of our journey into Freetown to be quite quick, but there were two rate limiters. Firstly, the main road in Freetown turns into a potholed dirt road; secondly, thedriver did not know where the hotel was, though he sorted this in typical Sierra Leone fashion. He stopped next to a young man next to the road and after a chat in krio, we agreed that we had a guide to the hotel (he would be returned to the same spot later, with a tip). I later learnt that one can also ask a motorcycle taxi to provide an escort for a 2,000 Leone fee (less than $1).  Eventually I got to the Radisson hotel, another “golden prison” prison full of expats and people from WHO, CDC etc.  

SL_IMG_6922On Sunday we were given a tour of Freetown by one of the local drivers, Lamin. A good thing that we did not walk, the informal houses around the hotel and along the beach had been “flattened” and there was a lot of anger in the air, understandably (I never got a satisfactory explanation for what had happened). After driving through Freetown for a while, I saw some more informal house and decided to have a further look. I took some pictures and was immediately confronted by an angry man with a clipboard. He was the local Chairman and after apologies etc., he then took us on a tour of the location: King Jimmy’s Wharf, which is a former slave site (the slaves rings are still found on the walls, picture left). The squalor was overwhelming, though we also later found out that this site has an impressive social structure and a committee to look after the residents well-being.  This area only had one case of Ebola during the outbreak, they were clearly doing something right. I would like to return to King Jimmy’s on my next visit to talk more to the local community and find out more about their lifestyles and community structure. I am still struggling to come to terms with this place and the people living there (any further information would be appreciated). We left King Jimmy’s a little dazed and confused; later we would have a long discussion about what we could have done – not a comfortable discussion.  

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King Jimmy’s wharf: first impressions are of squalor and desperate living conditions.  The two men (bottom left) are burning animal hides, which would later be boiled in the communal kitchen, until tender and eaten.

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One source of income is fishing, while there is also a market every Tuesday at King Jimmy’s wharf.

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Meeting the residents committee of King Jimmy’s wharf, who gave us an in-depth overview of their roles and the community.  The social structure and support within the community seemed very good. External support seems weak (a “forgotten” community”?).

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A panoramic of Freetown, from Leicester Hill. A beautiful view, but the mood was rather somber.

The World Health Organisation declared Sierra Leone free of Ebola on Saturday, 7 November 2015, with enhanced surveillance to continue for the next 80 days. President Koroma dedicated 21 November 2015 as a National Thanksgiving day and and 15 December as a day of recognition of Ebola response workers (a copy of the President’s speech can be viewed here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/288846606/President-Ernest-Bai-Koroma-speech-on-end-of-evil-scourge-of-Ebola).

We should not forget 3600 Ebola-related deaths, including 221 healthcare workers. in Sierra Leone. It will be a long and hard struggle ahead for the survivors and people of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

God bless Sierra Leone!

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