Sunday, 21 December 2014

Freetown Christmas Hamper Delivery 2014

Festive edition. Final post for this year. This post features the 4th food basket delivery. However, with a twist. Christmas hampers this time around. Not to Ebola quarantined homes. But to others suffering in Freetown through the impact of Ebola. The already fragile economy has virtually collapsed. Sierra Leone is a poor country with no safety net. Where most of you sit, and me in a few days, Christmas is the highlight of our year. For many in Freetown, it's another grim day of struggle, as well as for millions of others across Sierra Leone, Liberia & Guinea. The inflicted and the affected. Today we visit some of the affected...

There's a saying that every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. Doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running. This feels the case now. Everyone's running... everyone's trying to survive...

What's the latest situation? Ebola has now killed more than 7,300 people this year in West Africa. There have been nearly 2,500 deaths in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has the highest number of cases at 8,800. Liberia has the highest number of deaths. Over 3,300.

Sierra Leone, Liberia & Guinea currently have 5 million children who've not been schooled for the past 5 months. This week officials in Sierra Leone began house-to-house searches in Freetown to find hidden cases of Ebola. Sunday trading is banned and travel between districts restricted.

Public celebrations of Christmas and New Year have been banned. Christmas has been efficiently cancelled by the government. This is part of a broader package of measures aimed at breaking the chain of transmission. It's called the Western Area Surge. Hopefully, things will begin to turn in the New Year. Some positive underlying indicators are emerging, particularly in Liberia.

Anyway, we have a few calls to make, mostly to old friends. Let's start at the Crown Bakery on Wilberforce Street. Are you ready? Let's go. First, my team. 'The Divas' have enjoyed plenty of name checks throughout the blog. Here they are in all their glory...

Oh, and talking of the Divas, the 3 things you know it's December in Freetown. 

  1. Rainy season is over - a pleasant Harmattan (desert winds), meaning the dry season has arrived.

  2. Christmas kitsch appears in the Lebanese owned supermarkets. 

  3. Divas staying late at the office (annual bonus time).

We begin this morning with a team breakfast at the Crown Bakery in town. Let's go outside and meet the team who 'work' this patch...

Chairman is Joseph Saidu Conteh. He leads an organised group of 55, nearly all of whom are disabled. Established in 2002. Their motto, ‘Disability Is Not Inability’. They use money received, mostly from patrons of the Crown, and other well-wishers to take care of their families. 

We present the Christmas hamper to the Chairman & Deputy Chairman. Are they beggars? No. Do they hustle? Yes, they have to. Do they have jobs? No. Are they a nuisance? No. Well, perhaps sometimes. They have dignity. They can be entertaining. They can be a handful. 

The Deputy Chairman makes me laugh with his demands each time I see him. What does this interaction mean? Well, VIP parking, eased in and out of the traffic, and far more importantly a smile, and good-natured bonhomie.

Today was the big one. A Christmas hamper, and a 50 kgs bag of rice. They were of course delighted. It was beautiful to see them happy and cheering. I made a short speech as crowds gathered from everywhere to watch the entertainment. The Chairman responded on behalf of the group. All good heartwarming stuff. Then right to form the Deputy takes me to one side; they needed help with housing. I remind the deputy he's a pain in the arse and be happy for now. Sounds harsh I know, there are groups outside many restaurants, bars, supermarkets - you can't help everyone. I wish I could. If the deputy didn't press for more, I'd be surprised. We set up our Christmas scene, complete with hats, a small Christmas tree, tinsel etc.

Next up is a visit to the Army vets who live at the back of Wilberforce Barracks. The Chairman of the group is retired Corporal, Farma Jalloh. He leads around 900 former soldiers who were either wounded or disabled in the Sierra Leone war. Corporal Jalloh was struck by RPG fragments in 1998 and has been blind since. He retired from the Army, 28th Feb 2006, after serving 16 years. 

Some veterans joined him, as well as his children and other family members. Corporal Jalloh was overwhelmed and responded with a moving speech of gratitude. He was dignified, articulate and passionate in his leadership of the veterans and his fight to obtain a better deal for his men. There was no trace of bitterness but a quiet anger of having to live on a pension of Le13,000 a month (less than $3).

What's Christmas usually like in a West Africa free from Ebola? Christmas is extremely hot. In many of Africa's predominantly Muslim countries, including Sierra Leone, Christmas is still marked for celebration. Secularism has taken to meaning everyone celebrates all holidays. Christmas can be best described as a social event in Sierra Leone. Not this year.

Broadly speaking in Africa the emphasis is more on the religious aspects and singing in church, than on gift giving. The most common purchase is a new set of clothes for church. Not this year.

In Sierra Leone, the diaspora usually returns in large numbers bringing with them gifts and valuable money from overseas. Not this year. 

Extended families are enormous compared to European or North American norms. Family parties and social interaction typically takes place outdoors, and the beaches are packed. Not this year. Christmas has been largely curtailed.

Back to the hampers. 'Roy's Bar' on Lumley Beach. The group that 'work' this bar is called the United Beach Organisation. The UBO. The Chairman is Moses Kamara. He leads a group of mostly 20 amputees and disabled. Moses had his leg amputated by rebels in 1999. He was 10 years old at the time. This is a prime spot to hustle. One of the best in Freetown during normal times. The Chairman is happy and has a few of his group in attendance. These guys normally work the evenings. The opposite to the Crown where they 'work' the day shift. 

Last call. We head further along Lumley Beach towards the Aberdeen area. The group here is the Aberdeen Beach Development Organisation (ABDO). 150 members and established 1982. Some here today are original members. These fellows take care of the beach. They've planted trees. They provide 'security' to visitors in the area. They make some money with beach barbecues, fishing, excursions, etc. The Chairman is Glen Mends and the Deputy Sheku Kamara. We had a great time with the ABDO and took photos on the beach.

Right. Time to fly back to the UK for Christmas. Family time. I reflect on Father Christmas and the 4 phases of life through that prism. You're a believer, you don't believe, you are Father Christmas, and finally, you look like him. Luckily still in phase 3.  

In closing, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Happy Christmas in Krio? Appi Krismes. 

See you all in 2015...

P.S. I arrived back in the UK last Thurs. Big warm hugs from my Mother-in-Law. What happened to her Ebola quarantine protocols? I think she's still on a high from Halloween...

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Food Basket Delivery Marampa Chiefdom

Sierra Leone

1 country
13 Districts
149 Chiefdoms

Today, all about one Chiefdom. Marampa Chiefdom. A two hour, 120 kms drive northeast of Freetown. In the northern Province. We're in Lunsar. A dispiriting day. An uplifting day. Not quite in equal measure. We're in one of the worst Ebola affected areas in the country.

In numbers;

Villages visited: 8
Households assisted: 31
Food baskets distributed: 35
Deaths encountered: 55    
Under quarantine: 70
Survivors met: 8 

I mention numbers. They can't do it justice. They're just numbers. These are real people. Real stories. I served in the British Army 24 years. Never have I witnessed such devastation as seen in these small villages. Some of this post might be tough going for some. It's raw in parts. The photos speak for themselves. They capture the situation completely.

55 deaths in the houses and adjoining houses visited. Such human suffering. I've said it before. I'll say it again. Ebola is a disease that hits mostly the poor. The poor, and of course the medical staff in the front lines. Today brought this home like never before. I don't want to write too many words, rather let the images speak for themselves.

Where it really hit home was Labour Compound No. 10. Affected us all, me included. 

This lady was sat crying and confused. Her name is Safiatu Fofanah. She's broken. Safiatu has lost her husband and all 4 children. Her grief, her suffering was tangible. Difficult to photograph. She's the only survivor from her family of 6 souls. Safiatu needs counseling. Such 'luxuries' do not exist in the hinterland of Sierra Leone. This village is a few desolate houses sprinkled either side of a sandy coloured dirt road. Hardest hit area we visited all day. In total the 7 households had lost 12 people. There were another 7 in quarantine.

We delivered a basket to each household. Seven baskets. 

I must mention the nurse in the photo. Madam Isha Daramy Kabia. Nearly 40 years in the UK National Health Service as a midwife. Completed her lengthy service at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in 2004. Lives both in London and Freetown, but moves back and forth. Isha is making a huge difference on the ground. A true hero. 

Since the delivery last Friday, we've since met again where I was fortunate to dine with her for a couple of hours. She's up at 0600 hrs every day, takes a light breakfast, and often works from sunrise to beyond sunset. A light dinner in the evening is separated by 6 coconuts a day. She decants the coconut water and fills 2 water bottles. Isha has plenty of energy and keeps up with her younger assistants easily.

This family in Kontha Bana has also been devastated. The mother being monitored in the photo has lost her husband and eldest son. The child had held his father.

These are the surviving children. 2 days after these photos were taken mother and daughter were admitted to Port Loko Treatment Centre. They had elevated temperatures. This proves the value of monitoring. Isha and team do this every single day, and keep great records. They will be away for 21 days. Let's hope they return to the 2 boys, who will remain under quarantine. Below the basket, the charcoal bundle, the water, the bag of rice. Many of you reading this blog have contributed to these baskets. Here's your money being spent as carefully as possible. 

We've raised nearly $9,000 so far. We've spent just over $5,000. This includes another 27 baskets delivered to Makeni by KAB 2 days ago. I'm back to Conakry, Guinea for a few days.

Some of the remaining fund is still in the form of pledges. To those I say please send when you can. Details in the previous posts, or email me direct ( Anyone else who would like to donate, no matter how small; please, you are most welcome. I'd like to keep going until Christmas at least. 

The mood in our vehicle by now was subdued, sombre almost. It had been a long day. The last village was Dumpa Line. The lone survivor from 8 in this house. 

Dead were 5 adults and 2 children. Pictured is Abdulai Fofanah. Poor Abdulai looks sick. Uncle Abdulai has lost 7 people close to him. He looks weak, confused... He seemed to know his fate. We left a basket. He struggled to open the cheese triangles, the first thing he took from the basket. A sad sight. The neighbours looked on from their own nearby houses talking quietly to themselves. A policeman appeared. He smelt of alcohol and looked like he'd been taking substance.  

2 days following this photo Abdulai died. Nurse Isha called for the burial team. 

We then delivered 3 baskets at Mabenseneh Hospital in Lunsar. This is funded by the Catholic Church. It was in this hospital another quiet hero contracted Ebola and later died following evacuation to Madrid. Spanish missionary, Manuel Garcia Viejo, worked here as a Medical Director. People speak fondly of the love they had for him. He was 69 years old.

We have to finish on an upbeat note. To another part of Lunsar, New London. Here KAB delivered a special basket to now 9 months old Yaya and family. You may remember Yaya from a recent post, 'Farewell to Conakry'. KAB had also collected toys and clothes for Yaya. 

In Yaya's extended family there were 16 members. 8 are dead, including the parents. The grandmother was the first to die after caring for a sick relative. The father was next, then the mother, and other family members. 3 children, including Yaya, never tested positive for Ebola. You may remember Yaya was breastfeeding when his mother passed.

5 of his older siblings were tested positive after caring for their dying parents. Miraculously        all survived the virus after receiving early treatment. Yaya, along with his surviving siblings, are being lovingly cared for by his aunt. A nice place to finish...

Forget rewriting Band Aid 30. Rewrite 'If' by Rudyard Kipling...

If you can dream - Sierra Leone could even have a rudimentary healthcare system;
If you can dream - politicians can think beyond themselves;
If you can dream - all people could have access to Ebola treatment centres after 6 months of waiting;
If you can dream - all quarantined homes could all have food, and quarantine means just that;
If you can dream - specialist monitoring teams all over the country - there isn't

If you can meet with Disaster... that's what this is...

Thank you - to all the team today. Outstanding. Not easy stuff. KAB - did 90% of the work on this one, particularly in the preparation. That's where the hard work is done. Baby Diva, once again conquering fear. Senior Diva for keeping our business afloat during these absences. Kofie M of Camserve, who generously loaned us a truck for the day, and supplied the charcoal and water. Isha and her team from the Catholic Church in Lunsar. To all of you who've donated, and battled through MoneyGram, you've made a difference in plenty of lives. 

Not about any of us though, it's about the poor souls in these photos and the countless others suffering at the moment all over the country, as well as in Guinea & Liberia...

Follow on Twitter: @roadrunnertns

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Marooned in Monrovia

'Marooned in Monrovia'

The deserted beaches in Monrovia.

I should open with an admission. The last post, 'Freetown Food Basket Delivery', with nearly 1,000 viewings is a difficult act to follow. This post lacks the power and punch of last time out. 

Yep, stuck in Liberia. Came for 4 days. Looks likely now 11. Perhaps longer. Every child should know a couple of good jokes for school, and to occasionally entertain us adults. Postscript at the end... using the word 'marooned'...

Let's begin with good news. In Liberia the rate of new Ebola infections appears to be declining. The death toll from the outbreak had remained under 5,000 for quite some time, relatively speaking. However, as I put the finishing touches to this post, it has risen to 5,160. Exponential increases have at least stopped, for now... 

Liberia has been the most affected country. Nearly half the cases. Nearly half the deaths. Thankfully, the recent numbers are far better than the projections of a few weeks back. 

As a result there's quiet optimism, here in Monrovia, at this downward trend across different parts of the country. No one is claiming this particular war is won. A false dawn? A turning point? Time will tell...

My heartfelt thanks to those who've pledged. Even greater thanks to those who've both pledged and donated. Talking of donations...

Where many of you are sat, in great comfort, maybe with a glass of chilled wine, some nibbles, flicking through 100 channels complaining there's never anything on, having a snooze on the lazy boy after a hard day at the office, newspaper across your lap... maybe you're relaxing in bed with your iPad or Kindle...

Darling? Have you sent our pledge? 

I've tried honey, doesn't work on line, what's with this MoneyGrab thing? It's not straightforward sending money to West Africa. The bank is sending verification emails. Africaland is full of crooks. I bet they all have the same mobile number. Africa 419419.... a complete pain...

Darling, calm down; Mark says you have to persevere, it's actually easier taking cash to an outlet. Somewhere like a Post Office. 

Honey, a post what, a post box... why can't we do this on-line, or bank to bank, don't they have internet banking out there?

Darling, you're right of course. But, just for once... take the cash to the MoneyGram outlet, say the recipient is Mark Reading. He's in Freetown, Sierra Leone. They'll convert the cash to Leones. They'll give you a code which we'll email to Mark. He'll need it when he collects the money. Darling, one more thing...

Yes Honey...

Darling, I love you even more when you're all hot and bothered, put that iPad down...

Sorry readers. Becoming carried away. Come on, in all seriousness, get sending. More than half of you have worked through it, everyone can. I've collected nearly 20 MoneyGrams. The system works. Johnny A... you can pull your finger out as well...

Liberia's largest treatment centre.

Funny how most global crises attract celebrities. None here yet, that's if you discount Julia Greening, and Philip Hammond. I know, Julia who... 

Photo ops aren't exactly plentiful. Who looks good wearing a zombie suit? We've had... no Hollywood types. No world leaders. No George C. No David B. No Bozo. None of the usual suspects. As some say in Ireland, what's the difference between God and Bono? God doesn't wander around Dublin thinking he's Bono. 

Come on world leaders, let's have someone here who can help give this more oxygen. It's slowly disappearing from the news again. However, some leaders do deserve a mention. President Obama - take a bow. You've been a voice of reason. David Cameron and the UK - slow, but you're making up for it. Bill Gates Foundation - brilliant. Bill Clinton Foundation - same. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg - outstanding. China - reasonable effort. Russia - do you ever do anything on the world stage. Mainland Europe - where have most of you been? France being a notable exception. 

Special mention time. Lifetime achievement award. Goes to Cuba. What they've done in areas that really matter should be recognised. Thank you Havanna. Their contribution has been real, and greatly appreciated.  

Celebrities do though have a modern way of inserting themselves into a crisis. Like it actually matters what they think. There's 2 ends of this scale. There's the 21 year old singer telling his followers on Twitter his thoughts on Ebola, someone who couldn't find these countries on a map. At the other end of the scale there's buffoons like Donald Trump. He tweeted in early August, "The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected back. People that go to faraway places to help out are great - but they must suffer the consequences!" 

I did meet a real local celebrity, the former mayor of Monrovia; a celebrity, no question. Mary T Broh. Aka, 'The General'. Mary is worth numerous Hollywood types. Fantastic character who really shook up Monrovia during her tenure. She had allies. She made enemies. Look her up on-line. Africa needs more people like Mary. Fight the status quo. Fight the good fight. Fight vested interests. Make a difference. She did all that and more. Two hours in her company was priceless. Some love her. Some not so. But so, so passionate and energetic...

This was my second visit to Liberia. The idea of the blog was founded here in Jan this year. Post No 1 was Monrovia. In the past 30 days I've spent 10 days in Guinea, 9 days in Sierra Leone, and 11 in Liberia. The ultimate trip through Ebolastan. 

I like Liberia. I walked near my hotel at the weekend and passed someone who called over, "Hey, White Dog, whatsup?" In these situations, what do you do? He had plenty of bling and looked fairly sharp. He joined me on my walk. He was about "5.6". I asked him what he did. Basketball player came the reply. Shouldn't basket players be tall? He told me he had a great spring. He demonstrated along the roadside with an imaginary basketball. Whilst no salmon, he did get up high. Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you Vincent. 

He asked where I was going. I told him to take a few snaps for my blog. I'd been out for a run earlier from my hotel in Paynesville. The Golden Key. I now wanted to capture Liberia's largest Ebola treatment centre, and then the national stadium. I had run to both and around the local area earlier. Vincent was now my guide. He told me he was also a gospel singer who wrote his own music. Sing me a song I suggested. Vincent wasn't the bashful type. Actually he had a pretty good voice. Then out of the blue he demonstrated his leap again. When the camera came out, it was difficult to get him out of shot. He's in most photos. Liberia isn't short of characters. 'White Dog' enjoyed his company. We've been in touch since by email. He wants to sell me some diamonds... Vincent was high on life, or perhaps Peruvian marching powder...    

The photo of Vince was taken at Samuel K Doe Stadium. A pitch that George Weah would have graced a while back.The stadium has seen better days, but fortunately I had Vince to light it up. Samuel Doe was a former President of Liberia. He gained power in a military coup in 1980. He killed the then incumbent President Tolbert, and later had 13 member of Tolbert's cabinet paraded naked through Monrovia before they were executed by firing squad on the beach. 

What happened to Doe? Well, not unsurprisingly he lived by the sword, he died the same way. He was overthrown in a coup in 1990. He was stripped, tortured and died in the custody of Prince Johnson, a factional rebel leader allied to Charles Taylor. The torture included cutting off his ears and fingers. During which Johnson was famously filmed drinking a can of Budweiser and being fanned by his aides. Remarkably Prince Johnson rehabilitated whilst in exile in Nigeria came back and ran for election in 2011. He finished third. He's currently a serving senator in Nimba County.  

Let's get back on track to the 'Food Basket Appeal'. The amount pledged is nearly $9k. A major delivery is taking place tomorrow, hence the need to push this post out (managed to depart Monrovia after 11 days last Thurs). $4,000 has been spent from the fund this week. We are heading to Marampa Chiefdom with a truck and 2 cars early tomorrow. This effort is huge compared to Freetown. We'll also be catching up with Yaya the young Ebola survivor mentioned in a recent post from Conakry.

Postscript: The joke for kids. There was a purple family who decided to take a purple holiday. They embarked on a purple boat across the purple sea. The purple boat sank. They were washed up on a purple island. The purple dad walked along the purple sand in the purple sunrise... he looked up at the purple sky and shrieked... we've been marooned...

See you again soon in Marampa Chiefdom...

Follow on Twitter: @roadrunnertns

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Freetown Food Basket Delivery

A day on the Ebola frontline. Well, more behind the lines. Freetown. Western Area. Ebola pockets everywhere. The real frontline is the East of the country. What a day. Remarkable. Glad to have witnessed with my own eyes. 

Today we truly launched the 'Food Basket Appeal'. Today was achieved with no overhead. Today wasn't exactly straightforward. Today interference and bureaucracy was overcome. Today we fought a few battles. Today everything was delivered by ourselves straight to source. 

We planned. We shopped. We packed. We sweated. We delivered. Every dollar you pledged counted. Really counted.

A real team effort. Driven by 2 awesome ladies, both divas by the way, they should take most credit. One is well known to regular readers - Baby Diva. The second was introduced 2 posts back. KAB. She describes herself as 'Diva With a Heart'. Both have been absolutely wonderful. Couldn't have managed this without them. 

Some photos capture the pathos and confusion first hand. Focus on the eyes, it's all there. Misery. Bewilderment. Fear. They need help...

OK, let's get to it. Today was pretty serious. In fact, very serious. The overall spirit in the face of this adversity is unbelievable and uplifting. Look at the children's faces, a difficult pull for the parents amongst us.  

This first family was in Josiah Drive. A mother died (the house in the photo) 2 weeks ago. The house was placed in quarantine, as well as the house adjoining. In these two modest homes 16 souls live. They've been in quarantine more than a week. There's a policeman nearby who's unsure of his duties. Men are noticeably absent from both houses. They are probably hustling for money to feed everyone. Means the virus is potentially being spread further. What does quarantine really mean? No food has been delivered to this house since they were placed in quarantine. An organisational disgrace. Tens of millions of dollars are pouring in, there's several hundred NGO's here. Many of them housed in the best hotels and resorts available, who wouldn't know a quarantined house if one bit them on the arse. They need to get out more, in their comfortable 4 x 4's, and see what's really going on.  

We delivered 2 baskets here. Huge bags of rice which is the main staple, a large charcoal bundle, fresh bread, dried fish, garri, tins of sardines, milk mix for children, salt, sugar, pepper, washing powder, toiletries, soap, water, cooking oil, onions, noodles, cheese, tea, sugar, luncheon meat, and other items. There was little joy, no speeches. There was plain weariness. The first real food they'd seen in more than a week, probably longer. One junior NGO in the Radisson, probably doing sweet fanny adams, her room rate per night would feed several families like this every day. Ahh, but I'm not seeing the bigger picture.... yeah, right...   

There were government people out with us today, doing their best, of this I have no doubt. However, their collective best just isn't good enough. This crisis didn't start yesterday, it began here in early July. Incompetence everywhere I looked. How difficult is it? Really, how difficult? Yes, put people in quarantine. But bloody well feed them. Quarantine must mean just that. The lack of resources argument, Government of Sierra Leone, is wearing thin. It's lack of organisation and leadership at every level. Pass responsibility down.

I'm going well in this post, must be the vino veritas. Blast the NGO's - check. Don't spare the Government - check...

Overreaction on my part? Maybe just one house? No, it wasn't. It was each and every one. The same story. Not quite true. Actually one was different. The house of a young doctor. He was a colleague of Dr. Khan, the first doctor to die in Sierra Leone and a national hero. This doctors 12 year old son became infected at another relatives house. He placed his child into a treatment centre, then quarantined himself and family. The other house was also quarantined. That was 2 weeks ago. Today was the first time he'd stepped out during this time. 

He'd received no food from government or from the NGO circus. A bright articulate young man who made a major call. The right call. His child has survived and should be released next week. He and his family are fine. The words of thanks he gave from his heart were among the most moving I've heard. This was the happy ending to the day when I was beginning to despair. 

Does anyone really care? Care enough? Surely if they did, then things wouldn't be this bad?  I repeat, it boils down to leadership and organisational skills. Both seem sadly lacking. I return to the point of overreaction. I won't accept this one bit; this isn't my first rodeo, I've seen plenty. I know bullshit and tomfoolery when I see it.

There was plenty more from today. 12 baskets were delivered to 12 families. We went into 4 areas - Regent, Two Slabs (honestly), Bell Air Park (not to be confused with...) and 76 Dwzark and Dwzark itself. Areas, with the exception of Regent, I'd never seen before during my 3 years here. The total fed, for over a week, probably longer, is 56 people. Some of the food, in particular the rice, will help feed others I suspect - that's a good thing.    

Right. Now I need money. Thanks to you all who've pledged (all mentioned in the last post), I appreciate your patience as I've worked through how to get my hands on your cash. I've messed around with PayPal long enough (can send but not receive funds in Sierra Leone), a 'Just Giving Page' doesn't work, we are not a registered charity and have no intentions of becoming one. We're not an NGO - heaven forbid. We are a small private appeal hoping to do some good, where 100% of the money you give will go directly to the point of need. You have my word. We can't help many, but we can help a few. It's worth it. 

I've decided strip things back and keep it simple. We'll use MoneyGram. It's fast, effective and safe. I've used myself before to pay my divas salaries when I've been back in London.

Below is what you need to do. You can do online or through outlets all over the world. This lifted from their website.


How to Send Money

Sending money with MoneyGram is easy, affordable, and fast. See below for step-by-step instructions to help guide you through the process.

Send Money Online

Sending money online is fast and easy, even if it's your first time

   1. Enter the amount you want to send and where you want to send it. You will also be asked to provide the recipient's name.
   2. When processing is complete, we will send you a Reference Number to share with your recipient.
   3. Your recipient can pick up the money at a MoneyGram Location

Send Money from a MoneyGram Location

   1. Find a MoneyGram Location
   2. Visit your MoneyGram location. Remember to bring some person identification* with you.
   3. Present your MoneyGram Rewards card to the agent or complete a simple Send Form and hand the form to the MoneyGram agent along with the money you want to send and the transfer fee. You may also include a free 10-word message on the form.
   4. You will be given a Reference Number.
   5. Contact the person to whom you're sending the money, and give the receiver the Reference Number.
   6. In just 10 minutes the money will be ready to collect.

You may be required to provide personal identification, usually one or more of the following: passport, driving license, national identity card or a government issued identification. You may also be required to provide proof of address (bank statement or utility bill). 

Requirements vary by country so please ask your local MoneyGram branch for acceptable identification formats.


There you have it - EPLS. Please start sending those who have pledged. Of course anyone else, please jump aboard. We've raised nearly $5k so far, my secret target. I want to do more now. We spent just under $1k yesterday. We filled a flat bed lorry. Use my name as the recipient. Mark Reading. My email for notifications is

Follow on Twitter: @roadrunnertns

If anyone in Freetown wants to help in cash, or in kind (give us foodstuffs, rice, loan a vehicle / truck) then please email, or text me (+232 76117358).

Some personal thanks to finish. Angelina J, step aside...

- to everyone who has pledged money or support

- to my partner on this project, KAB - a woman possessed, such energy

- to Baby Diva - brilliant work yesterday. You overcame fear. Yesterday wasn't for everyone I realise. I know you started to believe that my Kraft cheese slices and After Eight Mints idea, with a long pole, wasn't so far fetched after all...

- these 2 ladies did everything, the hard yards. Shopping all over the city, in the markets, to get the best prices. Even went into east Freetown where the likes of their heels and handbags are rarely seen. Then the sorting and packing...

- to Senior Diva who held down the fort for our business yesterday while we were 'gallivanting' around Freetown. A day where plenty of stuff was going wrong. She was super stressed when we returned, and didn't really want to hear just how useless NGOs are... also a little shocked to see me have 2 cold beers at 1600 hrs in the office. She's never witnessed that before in 3 years. That sort of day. Don't worry, when we're successful I'll introduce an Alcohol & Drugs Policy, ha...never...

- to Flash Motors who kindly loaned us a 4 x 4 and driver for shopping on Thursday and delivery Friday

- to the Government department who loaned us a flat bed lorry - many thanks

- to Sylvia and her harassed local government team who led us into the areas, showed us the houses - no criticism of you intended. It's above you - you're foot soldiers doing the best you can

- to Ed - thanks for coming out at short notice and looking over things for me

To anyone else I've missed off, I'll get you next time.

P.S. EPLS? As I say to my little acorns. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy...

P.P.S. Off to Monrovia tonight, another post from there...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Farewell to Conakry - FBA Update 2

Straight into the update for the 'Food Basket Appeal'. A marvelous response. Thanks everyone. Total pledged currently stands at over $4,500.

First, let me set the scene. A successful shopping trip in Conakry has garnered some half decent French & South African white wine, crackers, biscuits, salami, chorizo, Ivorian chocolate, and 3 different cheeses. Big deal you might think? Well, treats take on a whole new meaning here. I'm sat here like a lucky self satisfied cat who's won the lottery - yep, NPA (electricity), water, & Internet - at the same time. Stevie Nicks & Fleetwood Mac on the travel speaker... brace yourselves, there's more. Later hot chocolate will be served with a dash of Capt. Morgan with those enticing French biscuits - seriously now, does life get much better...

Corniche area in Conakry. Let's do those name checks...

I thought reverse order, from the smallest amount pledged and upwards?

That means Sporran (Scottish next door neighbour, the man tighter than a photo finish) - 10 Guineas, 7 shillings and sixpence.

OK. Perhaps, on reflection not the best way to proceed. Random order instead... 


'Tea Cake' (2 month's pocket money)
'H' (as above)

My 5 special Canadian Brothers: 'Escargot' - first guest runner in Conakry, 'Man Product', 'Blackjack', 'George', & 'Calgary'


'Italian in London'

'Vancouver Island Lovebirds' (JH & KH)

'Peter Pan', 'Wendy' & family - Dallas based

Ali Baby

'Little Pammy'

'Lifeline' (4 time guest runner) & 'Queen Vics' - from Harare

Robert Mugabe (enjoys the jokes)

'Mags' & 'Sammy' (older sister & my favourite neice - don't tell the others)

'Agent Z' (thanks for breaking convention, and for intro to Jo)

'Offshore Les' (thanks mate)

'HNMPO' (folk of a remote northwestern Lake District village will know these 2 stars) - they live in a home, and have donated each others birthday gift allowance

'NYC Risk Management'
'Inspector Clouseau'

'Sporran' & 'Suzy' (2 mentions)

'Yorkie' & family

Brian T - Ghana

'Frankie Valli' (Calgary's ultimate diva - SL divas take note...)

'The Foxes' (aka younger sister & family)

'Dr. B' (wealthiest guy I know), Marie Louise and family

'Potent lawyer' & 'Ranger Bear' - Jimmy B, what memories 

'Barber of Seville'



'Femme Fatal' (come back...)


'Wildcard' (aka Johnny Admin) - come on now, how many people have appeared in a James Bond movie? Quantum of Solace - Tea Cake & H you know this scene well... 

'Our man in Khartoum', 'Ops', 'M3' & 'M2' - special memories of sharing that apartment back in Sudan days.. 

'Hartlepool Lass'

'Ed B'

'Mann Alive' & Linda

'Sister 1' - best HR professional I've ever worked with

'Pivot 1664' - ex bootneck and guest runner in Makeni

'Charlie Rupert' in Kurdistan


'Gorgeous Kev'

Thanks all. If anyone would like to contribute to the 'Food Box Appeal' (see last 2 posts) you're most welcome. Now back from Conakry I will be pushing forward this week with KAB. We hope to make the first deliveries in Freetown. It has proved impossible to set-up a PayPal account in Sierra Leone so I'm looking at alternatives (with Jo's help), I'll let you know.

Good to see the smiling faces of Freetown again. Forget for a moment the terror and hysteria gripping the US after one death and a handful of cases. Think about the 4,500 poor souls who've died here. The number of orphans, the poverty, the hunger, the fear, the collapsed economies, the schools that should have opened weeks ago, I could go on...

This outbreak began back in March with barely a mention by the mainstream media. However, we now have hysteria in certain parts of the world. I think my mother-in-law started all this. Declared she wouldn't hug me for 21 days after I returned - every cloud... 

The Ebola outbreak seems to have gone through distinct phases. 

Phase 1 - People dying in Africa from something or other - what's new?

Phase 2 - MSF (brilliant organisation) shouts early from the rooftops.

Phase 3 - WHO asleep at the wheel - says MSF exaggerating and to calm down.

Phase 4 - Spreads rapidly from Guinea into Liberia & Sierra Leone.

Phase 5 - WHO remains asleep at the wheel.

Phase 6 - Incredibly brave work being carried out by the few with very little. West African governments overwhelmed. Shout from the rooftops. 

Note: A little rich as they'd been painfully slow to react themselves and had downplayed the initial outbreak. They didn't want Ebola. Indeed, President Ebola Conde (as some call him in Guinea) visited the forested regions in May, shook hands with everyone and declared the emergency over. Lack of resources is no excuse for lack of leadership and inspiration. 

Phase 7 - 4 weeks ago - WHO, CDC and others awake from slumber, bit too late the genie is out of the bottle.

Phase 8 - Cases & death rate increasingly exponentially. This is serious.

Phase 9 - Two weeks ago - WHO & CDC competing for who can present the worst worst case scenario. No good news, no perspective. Hardly inspiring. Creates panic.

Phase 10 - Last week - a few cases emerge in US & Europe and the world is now in the grip of hysteria - the fear of fear of EBOLA. Death toll here passes 4,500. Welcome to panic in the social media age.

Phase 11 - Next / current phase - now officially really bad, Czars being appointed, airport screening everyhwere. Bill O'Reilly says, ban travel to or from Africa for the next 25 years as a precaution. He and others claim it's all Obama's fault. The corporate 'Blamethrower' is now out of the box; the CDC head, the incompetence of WHO (and that's just their own report)... could well lead to scapegoats this week...  

'Day in the life' Ebolastan...

0600 hrs - wake up, check news. International and African networks. BBC first. Check Twitter. Digest everything sat in the bathroom 'office'. Reply to the 3 most important emails.

0630 hrs - early morning run from the Ratoma guesthouse. Around 30 mins.

0730 hrs - get ready for the day, listen to the BBC World Service. Breakfast of coffee, fantastic fresh bread & jam, discuss Ebola with other guests. Take daily anti malarial (Doxy) - can't afford to become ill with anything. Malaria is the biggest killer in sub Saharan Africa, not Ebola. 

0815 hrs - leave compound. Set off on foot. Tell the driver to pick me in 10 mins. Try to get some steps in. Exchange a few knowing nods with locals who've seen me walking or running in their neighbourhood. Monsieur Ben, my Togolese French teacher, you'll be proud when we meet up next week...    

0830 hrs - good to see things at street level, I avoid all human contact, Abdul picks me up.

0900 hrs - arrive at an office for first meeting. Wash hands in chlorinated water. Have my temperature taken. 36.4. Spend the first 10 mins of the meeting discussing Ebola. We don't shake hands. 

1000 hrs - drive in heavy Conakry traffic to a meeting at the British Embassy in the Corniche area of the city.

1030 hrs - take coffee and set-up temporary office in L'Avenue restaurant. Wash my hands in chlorinated water. Have temperature taken. 36.8. Get stuck into morning email (good wifi). Walk 500m to the compound where the Embassy is located. Wash my hands in chlorinated water. Have temperature taken. 32.3. I'm dying, not good news.  

1100 hrs - arrive at the mini compound of the Embassy inside the main compound. You've guessed it. Wash my hands in chlorinated water. Have temperature taken. 36.9. That's better. I'm recovered. Don't shake hands in the meeting. First 20 mins of meeting dominated by Ebola.

1230 hrs - walk back to L'Avenue to find my vehicle. Check emails, messages and texts. Answer a few. Make a couple of calls. The SL Ebola daily text comes. States 11 dead and 26 new cases. Confirmed cases in Sierra Leone now past 3,000. We get texts a couple of times a day - utilising modern comms and data reasonably effectively. I always check for Western Area first, I live there. My neighbourhood.

1300 hrs. Drive over to Patisserie Le Damier. Wash hands in chlorinated water. Afternoon office. Lunch. Excellent food and good coffee. Paris prices, but worth it. A haven of tranquility out of the heat and madness. Oh, and good wifi. Coffee & wifi, exactly what you need on the road. The few patrons, mostly French & Lebanese, are friendly and we discuss... Ebola. There's no escape. They want to hear news of Freetown.

Conakry is raw. Extremely raw. A hard place to like, not alone love. Freetown is easy in comparison. Drive to Le Damier around the corniche, some of the photos were taken en-route. 

1700 hrs. Productive. A couple of expresso's as the afternoon wears on. Time to head over for the 'aid package' at the big supermarche. Have a walk first through the main downtown core. Crowded. Dirt poor. Baking hot. Stinks. As Kipling said, "The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it." As I'm thinking about the pong, I become aware of ambulance sirens. You immediately think the obvious... you hear them all day...

Wash hands and enter the supermarket. A deli and wine store - feels surreal.

1800 hrs. Drive past the national stadium. It was here 5 years ago that at least 150 people were killed while protesting against the junta government. They'd seized power in a coup d'├ętat 9 months earlier. Demonstrators were murdered by undisciplined security forces who opened fire. Mayhem ensued. 

1830 hrs. Arrive at Palm Hotel. 5 star hotel with Geneva prices. Worst Internet of the day. Wash hands in chlorinated water on the way in. Great surroundings (see last post) but average food and highly priced beer.

2030 hrs. Head back across town to my guest house. Wash hands in chlorinated water. Soles of shoes sprayed. Temperature check. 37.1.

2040 hrs. Into my room. Back to the news and reading of US hysteria. Read and work until midnight. Early start tomorrow... 

Well over my word count. Return to the Food Basket Appeal in the next post. Also Liberia coming soon. Already thinking of Christmas back home in England. Must get booked up. Flights are under pressure after events this past week. Only 2 options from Freetown. SN Brussels & Air Maroc. Could possibly drive to Conakry for Air Chance to Paris. I suspect though, may well end up being via Morocco with Air Croc.

Talking of Christmas. Quick mention of our (group of neighbours and family) Turkeys currently being fattened back in Cumbria. They were pretty small when I last saw them. This year we have Sandy, Amy, Bruce, Archie, and Peter coming on nicely. Peter is developing quickly and is by far the fattest.

That's all from Conakry...

Given the current circumstances a couple of quotes below from Simon Sinek. They somehow seem apt right now.

Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options. 

A good leader shares information, even if they don't know the whole story. Without any information, people create their own, which causes fear and paranoia.

Couple of photos left over - some strange monuments in Conakry, here's one...

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Back to Conakry...

"I went to Lunsar this morning to check on the 7-month-old baby (now 8 months old) with his family. His name is Yaya Bangura. Miraculously, Yaya was not only alive but was much better than the last time I saw him on 11th September. And guess what! He has not been infected with the Ebola virus. Remember, Yaya was nursing from his mother’s breast milk when she died of the virus. I was so delirious with joy I couldn’t contain myself! I wanted to pick him up and dance out of sheer relief. But I didn’t and it broke my heart a bit. Two other siblings also did not contract the virus."


The remainder of this email (above) to follow...

I've run Conakry before. 21-March 2014. Post number 7. Now we're at Post 25. So much has happened in the intervening 6 months. Who'd have thought both countries, along with Liberia, would be in the tight grip of national crisis. 

I first became aware of Ebola when last here. Initial reports had begun to emerge from the forested regions of southeast Guinea. A quick Google search confirmed a deadly virus, linked to bushmeat, which had first surfaced in Congo in the 1970s. Named after a river in the affected area. Ebola had never reached a major city before. Nothing to worry about then? Wrong. This time would be different. Very different. 

I did a run early this morning around the filthy streets of this impoverished West African capital. Provided space for thought. Time for reflection. Some of the run was quite fitting, and funny in parts. Matched my mood. For instance, I've never seen a good sunrise in Conakry. Too hazy. Smog. Fumes. Regrettably, I can't paint a picture of galloping east into the rising sun. Instead of carbon monoxide poisoning...

When you run, or so they say, you add time to your life. Albeit with knackered knees, stiff achilles, and hip replacements. I'm never sure in Conakry the value of running. Is my life being extended or actually shortened? Sacre bleu... as I ponder this thought I'm nearly taken out by an errant taxi driver. Fortunately, I have no hip replacements, I manage a sidestep Welsh rugby legend Phil Bennet would have been proud of. Good job too, or I'd have inflicted more dents on the taxi.

An out and back run, from my guest house in Rotamu. In the dirty streets and haze of early morning Conakry you have to wonder when the best building you pass is the Korean Embassy. About this point, I fall into a set pace behind two locals. We run about 15 minutes at group pace, without them realising I'm here. Then, as African runners sometimes do, they started doing things with their arms. One arm stiff by their sides, the other up in a jogging motion. Then windmills. For some reason, I'm doing the same thing. Some locals are smiling. They start running with both arms up in the air. So do I. Not sure why. Actually more difficult than you think. I laugh thinking this must be a French legacy?

Let's get serious. I travelled Freetown to Conakry by road last Wednesday. 314 km. 6 hours. Seemed longer. Border procedures on a closed border... that's for another day...

Since my last post, things have deteriorated further. Yesterday was yet another red letter day in this Ebola battle. The death toll moved through 4,000. This is increasing exponentially, which has always been the real danger. When's it going to stop? In Sierra Leone things are bad, Liberia far worse. Here in Conakry seems better, but what's happening upcountry?

In Sierra Leone, there are reportedly 304 beds for Ebola. The country needs at least 4 times this amount. Last weekend saw a record day. 121 new cases. 5 an hour. Unbelievable. It has genuinely penetrated all of Freetown, including Western Area. You remaining expats don't get too comfortable. Spot those symptoms early, get tested. Better still don't contract in the first place. Keep doing the right things, don't become complacent. Maintain discipline.

Trip down memory lane as the British Army arrives in town. 700 troops coming, about 100 in-country so far. The British Government has committed huge funds (thank you from all in Sierra Leone) and will build hospitals and treatment centres with 700 beds. Hopefully, they'll move quicker than some aid agencies. 

In my day we'd (Army) turn up to save the day, to rescue the 'damsel in distress'; it was a case of, 'relax, the army's here' - followed by 'tea and medals all round' following the necessary deeds of daring do... We all wish the military every success in this deployment.

'Food Basket Appeal'. I launched this in the last post with a personal donation of $500. I asked if any of you, with absolutely no pressure, would like to donate up to a maximum of $100 to what was then the 'Food Box Fund'. I hadn't set-up an account on Paypal or anything. 

The inspiration came from a lady whom I'm now about to introduce. It happened the day I wrote the last post. This pocket dynamo stood up in a meeting I attended at Balmaya Restaurant. It was hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce to discuss how the private sector could best support the crisis. This lady's name is KAB (initials). She was passionate. She had energy. I liked her immediately. She'd got off her backside and contributed. She delivered food by herself to quarantined houses over the 3-day lockdown. All from her own resources. I had to first track her down which took a couple of days. We finally met the day before I moved north to Guinea. A real ball of fire with a passion to burn. I knew instantly I'd made the right decision. Let's work together. We are. 

We've finessed the 'Food Basket Appeal'. KAB has shared her ideas. We now have an inventory of 2 different sized boxes. Some houses will require a box A, some B, some both - depending on occupants. Included is the staple food - rice. Other food and cooking oil. Foodstuff for babies, including milk powder and nappies. For children (schools should have opened weeks back) there's toys, notebooks, crayons etc. Baby Diva has volunteered to source what we need as cheaply as possible. We want to get these boxes packed and begin delivery as soon as possible. Freetown will be first.

To all of you who've sent emails of support, to those who have donated generously, either in cash or in other ways, I'm incredibly grateful. So far the pledges have reached nearly $3,000. We'll do as much as we can. Of course, I'd like to raise more. Please pass this to your own contacts. Let's see what more we can do?

I promised I'd mention everyone in the post who has donated. I've written and replied to you all I think. Some original codewords have also come in. These will be covered in the next post. I want to first get this one out as quickly as possible to keep up momentum. Payment details also to follow. Also, please feel free to contact directly:

The opening paragraph is part of an email from KAB to me, received 2 hours ago from Freetown. Here's the remainder...


"I wanted to take some food but didn’t out of fear that he might not be there and it would have been too emotionally draining for me. I did give money once there.

Five of his older siblings (2 girls between 6 and 8 years old and 3 older brothers) contracted the virus, but all five have survived. The two girls have been sent back home and were there today when I visited. The three older brothers are still at an Ebola treatment centre in Hastings and doing well. I spoke to them on the phone, and they said they are likely to be released next week! I couldn’t believe all five survived the virus. How beautiful!

Unfortunately the eight siblings—ranging in age from 20 years old to 8 months old—have lost both parents and their maternal grandmother to Ebola. A woman name Kadiatu is presently acting as guardian and taking care of Yaya and his siblings. She seems to care a great deal for Yaya. When I arrived, she was playing with him. She had no idea that I was coming. I had no contact number for the family. So it was not a set up for my benefit. All the same, eight children are a lot for her to care for. Therefore only God knows what is going to become of these children, especially the younger ones.

Of course, I wish I had the money and energy to take Yaya and raise him. I don’t. However, I thought perhaps we could use some of the proceeds from the 'Food Basket Appeal' (I love the name - brilliant) to set up a scholarship fund for the children, especially the girls and Yaya. What do you think? If even one of these children makes it to University, imagine how great the human story.

Also, Yaya desperately needs clothes, diapers, toys and of course food, as the rest of his siblings. I would like to propose that we use some of the US$500 to purchase the items the baby needs and food for the family. Oh, Mark, you have got to see this blessed child!

If ok with you about using the $500, perhaps we could travel to Lunsar next week so you can meet Yaya and the rest of his siblings. A 7-month-old nursing baby who lost his mother but didn’t contract Ebola despite feeding on his mother’s breast milk at the time of her death.

I would have like to have sent you a photo of Yaya, but sadly, my stupid phone died before my arrival in Lunsar. Oh so happy about Yaya… can’t wait until you meet him!"


KAB - you won't know I'm using this email until you read this post. Hold yourself together. Enjoy your glass of wine. You deserve it. See you when I get back to Freetown at the end of the week.

Emotive stuff. Beautifully written - by KAB that is, not me! 

P.S. Did my tight-fisted Scottish neighbour donate? This guy is tighter than a camel's backside in a sandstorm. However, the moment I knew this appeal was going somewhere. He gave over the fence in my home village the sum of 10 Guineas, and 7 shillings & sixpence he had in loose change. 

P.P.S. Thanks again everyone, fantastic effort. Brilliant. Proud of you all.  

Everywhere has at least one good watering hole where you can be inspired. Even Conakry...