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.

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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.

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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 markc.reading@gmail.com

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... 

'M1'

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

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

'Treefrog' 

'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...)
'Shabs'

'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'

'Rocketeer'

'Agnetha'

'Femme Fatal' (come back...)

'Sid'

'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

'Rich'

'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...

First light: 0657 hrs
Time start: 0642 hrs
Time finish: 0724 hrs
Weather: 24C 
Circumstances: Saturday morning, weekend 

"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."

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

I've run Conakry before. 21st 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 actually 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. Rather into 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. Never quite sure in Conakry the value of running. Is my life really being extended or actually shortened? Sacre bleu... as I ponder this thought I'm nearly taken out by an errant taxi driver. Fortunately 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 grimy 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 smile thinking this must be a French legacy?

Let's get serious. I travelled Freetown to Conakry by road last Wednesday. 314 kms. 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. Country needs at least 4 times this amount. Last weekend saw a record day. 121 new cases. 5 an hour. Unbelievable. It has truly 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 straightaway. 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 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 for 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 possibly. 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 extremely 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 imaginative 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 direct: markc.reading@gmail.com

There will also be updates on Twitter: @roadrunnertns

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

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"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 was thinking that 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 make 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 prior to my arrival in Lunsar. Oh so happy about Yaya… can’t wait until you meet him!"

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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...







Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Lockdown in Freetown (Part 2)

First light: 0640 hrs
Time start: 0700 hrs
Time finish: 0743 hrs
Weather: 24C
Humidity: 89%  
Circumstances: Ebola Crisis: Reflections on 3-day lockdown in Freetown (Part 2)

Always keep the first paragraph short. Hook the reader.

Escaped from 'Lockdown in Freetown' nine days ago. I'm not pretending a major hardship. It wasn't. Always try to count my blessings. Glass half full. I was fortunate to reside at the Radisson Hotel. Little did I realise I'd be pitched into a remake of the much loved Brit sitcom from the 1980s. Hi de Hi. Funny and surreal in equal measure. Each day began with a flyer under the door with the daily programme. 0900 hrs: aerobics at the deck side restaurant. 1100 hrs: run in the hotel grounds with Nunes, the hotel manager (a real star - thank you Nunes). 1400 hrs: water polo in the deck side pool. 1500 hrs: film matinee 'Cry Freedom' in the cafeteria. 1700 hrs: nobbly knees and fattest arse competition in the Bawbaw Bar. Remember 'Escargot' from the Conakry post? He took the honours. Happy hour between 1800 hrs... live music at the.... OK, you get the picture...   

Joking aside, fantastic effort by the hotel. The aerobics part wasn't true. Made it up...

As flagged in the last post (10 days ago), a two parter this time around. I think there's a run in here somewhere. We'll see...

Following the release I was so pleased to see my divas again. Straight to the office from the hotel, there they were. And here they are (pictures below)... they've developed something of a cult following; with my daughter 'Cup Cake', elder sister, and favourite niece (don't tell the others) leading the way. 'Cup Cake' is only eight and too young to read this blog, but she adores stories of Africa, in particular the divas. 

When I'm home I let her train with me twice a week (15 mins max); lo and behold she wants a guest runner slot. The beauty of this electronic 'diary', it's here for ever. In 25 years time when I'm probably in a nursing home, with a blanket over my knees, being fed soup, and telling anyone who'll listen, about Africa and the Ebola crisis of 2014; this will serve as a record. My acorns can read it to their own little acorns. Some other elderly person nearby will say, 'what exactly is that Tombola thing you're talking about there'. Can't wait... 

The SL divas are pictured below. I've had a number of requests to bring them to life. Let's start with Senior Diva, aka 'Eagle'. I've talked them into this. I've taken 10 photos of both, they've chosen for the blog. 


Let's go to Baby Diva, aka 'Cobra'. They've both said they want to remain mysterious. Or was it anonymous? 



On a more serious note and returning to the lockdown. Close your eyes and imagine. Imagine this takes place in your home town. Imagine being locked down for 3 days in your home. No freedom of movement. 7,000 teams going door to door looking for possible ebola victims. If they find anyone... your house is quarantined. 



Can you really begin to imagine? Your world? Mine? Completely different. 

What's it really like to survive on 5,000 Leone's ($1.25) a day. You have to hustle for this amount. No-one is going to give to you. No social safety net. No welfare. You have little money. There's no rainy day fund. You don't live monthly paycheck to paycheck. You don't have a paycheck. You live day to day. Forget the future. It's about today. You have insufficient food. You have no running water. You have no electricity. Your children are at home because all schools are closed. 

The tail end of the wet season. There's malaria, typhiod, cholera, TB, dengue, and plenty of other tropical diseases. Your little bit of money is worth less because prices are increasing. There's a crisis. You can't panic buy, you can't afford panic. You're confused because you don't know what's going on. You don't have TV. You don't have Internet. You speak to neighbours who've heard something on the radio. You've plenty of neighbours because your area is densely populated. You can't become sick, you can't afford sick. Sierra Leone has fewer than 200 doctors for 6 million people, that before this crisis began. 

If that's not bad enough... you now have EBOLA. Africa gets the shitty end of the stick every time...   

This isn't the bottom 5%. More like over 50%.

It's a huge triumph this extremely poor country pulled off lockdown with such compliance and success. Imagine this was your town or city? Seriously, think about it...

I've worked, traveled, or soldiered on every continent, in every corner of the world, and I continue to blame a serious bout of malaria last year as reason for co founding a business here. What was I thinking? Ebola hit within 5 months. This wasn't in the business plan. However, my short term woes are nothing compared to the ones people face here. And, do you know what? These people are amongst the happiest anywhere in the world. So humbling to witness. My time again (?), wouldn't change a thing. 

I've wondered (at least for a minute) about this next point. Read on, I mean this to be low key. The world is throwing money at this crisis. I'm convinced the battle will be won. The world's institutions, NGO's, and governments have been extraordinary. It's taken too long, but this situation is unprecedented. 

If anyone reading this blog is thinking they'd like to do something to help out, perhaps make a small donation? Easy. Send it to me (rubbing hands!), kidding, if you want to, and please don't feel under any pressure, just tell me through the comments section of the blog, or through email (markc.reading@gmail.com), and simply say how much you'd like to donate. 

We'll worry about mechanism for collection later - I haven't thought this through. I don't want anyone to pledge over $100 equivalent (OK, if you make a special case I'll take it...). I'm starting this tomorrow with $500 of my own cash (that's the budget gone for 'O's birthday present, which incidentally I missed 3 days ago). This will also keep me out of the Chinese casino here for a while. My partners, well, I'd like you to match? 

I can guarantee the money will go straight to the point of need. I'm here on the ground and will ensure this. I know the right people, driven people, who will maximize to the fullest extent. There's no overhead. I don't have a name for this. Maybe the 'Food Box Fund'. The money will be used for food boxes for homes quarantined. Imagine being quarantined with nothing to eat or drink. 

I've never done anything like this before. I make my own quiet donations in Sierra Leone, as well as to service charities at home. This is completely new ground.



In future posts I will publish the amount raised and how used, complete with photos. I've no shame, if this isn't successful, then the amount in the next post will still read $500. Johnny A, help me out here... Oh, 'Cup Cake' & 'H' your pocket money is officially donated for the next 4 weeks, you've no say. Remember at all times; we're a family, not a democracy. 

Let's keep it low key; max of US$100, British Pounds 60, or 27 billion Zimbabwe Dollars, equivilant. Each donation will be properly administered. You have my word. Baby Diva is my Finance Manager, she's a pain and will account meticulously. If through this humble effort we can raise a few thousand dollars it will make a decent impact. I hope my miserly Scottish neighbours are reading at home... come on you're still in the Union after 307 years... raise your kilts, undo the wallet combination... celebrate.

Let's finish with a run. The hotel run I promised. No time. 

Let's finish positive regarding Ebola. This virus will be beaten. Over 3,000 have died already in West Africa, but the international community is now fully engaged. The Sierra Leone government is doing its upmost. This country is overflowing with silent heroes doing truly remarkable work. All day, every day. This tide will turn.



Some countries are reopening borders and more flights are becoming possible. The strangle hold is being released. I'm here to Christmas (sorry 'O') and looking at R & R in Abidjan next up - that'll be a special post. This tide will turn. 

The wet season is nearly over. Another morale booster. Down now to short voilent rains, I like to think of them as Welsh. This opposed to incessant rains that just go on and give in abruptly. French rains as I like to call them.   

On a serious note; if you'd like to donate I'll put in the pot. We'll sort out out later. Neighbours - just pass over the fence. Everyone who donates will get a namecheck, it won't be in person - give me a codeword that might mean something special or someone special. You'll know when you see it. This is post 24 in the series, you'll start to be included in post 25. 

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