Saturday, 31 January 2015

Happy New Year From Freetown


Strange choice for a title perhaps? Reason? Things in Sierra Leone are on the up. The fight back has begun in earnest. Optimism in the air. Optimism in this post. The tipping point for Ebola is behind us. The dark days have gone. More later...
 
Opening post of 2015. The previous one; ‘Freetown Christmas Hamper Delivery’, was posted 21st December. Longest gap between posts. Good to be back on-line. Good to be back in Sierra Leone. 
 
I returned to Freetown complete with my luxury items in mid Jan. Resupply of coffee beans. Check. Books on Kindle. Check. New tunes. Check. Cash (no plastic here). Check. My mother-in-laws a fruitcake. Check. I think that sentence is framed correctly. Best to last... Captain Morgan Rum. A dash with the evening cocoa, some for the hip flask out in the boonies. As I waved goodbye to my village I could see my tight arsed Scottish neighbour was visibly moved. I’ll miss Taggart...
 
Really need to do a run in this post. Been a while. Let’s go... 
 
Out of the sack 40 mins before first light. Coffee. Wake up computer and skip through the headlines on BBC Africa. What’s this. Senior Ghanaian official wears wife’s brown fur coat on Presidential trip to Germany. Hmm. Mali declared Ebola free. Kids heading back to school in Liberia & Guinea. Sierra Leone new cases down from a daily average of 100 in November, to under 20 now and falling. Tremendous news. Stretch to Kris MacCormack on Capital Radio SL 104.9 FM. Tells us listeners it’s already 25C. Thanks Kris...I’m ready... 
 
Many posts in 2014 featured exotic and interesting locations all over Africa. Today? Back to grass roots. Let me take you around my neighbourhood. The place where I live. The Maze. King Street. Wilberforce. Freetown. Western Area. Sierra Leone. West Africa. Africa. Just don’t try putting that on an envelope. Prepare yourselves for the sights and sounds...

 
0615 hrs. Still dark. Slip quietly out the large metal gates covered in barbed wire. Try not to wake security. Quiet. Fortunately we have NPA (National Power Agency or No Power Anymore – as you prefer…) this morning. No generator sounds to disturb the calm. This is my thinking time. Still reflecting on General Mosquito (as he’s known in Ghana) in his wives fur coat. I knew plenty of guys in the military who wore woman’s clothes. OK, most of them were in the band or the Royal Marines. And to be fair, it’s a little chilly in Germany at this time of year for the average African.

A neighbour comes out of his metal gate with a huge tray of freshly baked bread rolls. Smells really good. He carries it effortlessly on his head. We exchange greetings.

A good sized group of street cleaners are out sweeping with home-made brushes. The type where you bend right over. My back is sore watching them. They see me a lot. We exchange greetings.
 
  

I jog slowly down The Maze and along the Old Railway Line. Turn right, move downhill on King St. Heading north. Steep descent. Not yet 0630 hrs, people everywhere beginning the daily pattern of life. Only a few cars. Most folk moving on foot. Early morning jobs to be done. People heading to collect water from the standpoint halfway down King St. Every type of container imaginable. All very colourful. Mostly children, this is their job. You need to be up early. As they say; you snooze… you lose.
 
  
 
Plenty of stray dogs. Most are in poor shape. They seldom bark. Few are pets. The early morning sounds comes mostly comes from the roosters, also known as cockerels or cocks. There’s that large one on the usual corner. I’ve taken to calling him Archie. Not sure why. The constant cries of cockle a doodle doo ring out…
 
King St. is a mess, potholes everywhere. Either side of the road is a storm drain half filled with garbage. There is no pavement. There is no streetlight. You have to very careful not to go over the edge, especially at night...
 
Oh, hang on a minute...

 

 
I turn left at Congo Cross roundabout and head-up Signal Hill. Snap a few photos on my Smartphone (mostly on lap 2 when the light was better). My ex-Army colleagues are always asking for more pictures and less words in the blog. Many of them struggle, we were in the infantry…
 
To the left, my dry cleaners. Samuel’s place. Samuel I say, “light starch, no creases in any trousers.” Samuel likes his starch. He puts a crease in your jeans, it’s there for life. Next door, the Bureau de Change. Samuels place. Different Sam.
 
 

Time to push up the Signal Hill. Steep. Great views of the Atlantic Ocean. As I climb, and over my right shoulder, there’s RFA Argus. The Royal Navy ship supporting the Ebola crisis. Looks good proudly anchored up in the bay. 0630 hrs. Knowing the senior service as I do, these Jolly Jacks have another 3 hours in their bunks yet. On my left, the local hotel. Not sure what Trip Advisor makes of it.
 
 
 
Plenty of taxis and okadas (motorbike taxis) on the move. Little to no public transport. Vintage Nissan Sunny taxis held together with string and tape in some cases, spouting fumes, with their distinctive coloured quadrants of yellow and blue. The drivers are suffering. To reduce Ebola transmission risk they are only allowed 1 pax in the front and 2 in the back. This is about 2 thirds less than normal. No wonder they’re suffering.


 
I‘m always drawn to this house overlooking Freetown and the ocean. I round the bend and onto the tarmac road. Decent houses and offices on both sides. On the left is where many of the European Union types live. I often wonder what they do all day. Knowing these Euro types as I do, they have another 4 hours in their boudoirs yet. I was cueing up a French joke there; however, my readership in France has now overtaken Zimbabwe and moved into number 5 of the top 10 countries. The blog is a hit in France. Un grand merci a tout le monde en France qui le blog. Se il vous plait pardonnez mes jokes precedentes. Je vous aime tous. Merci.
 
As I approach the top of Signal Hill I’m breathing hard. It’s a good climb. I veer right into Wilberforce village. The reason is to come out facing east. The sunrise… A quick snap, take it in… Head downhill back towards my apartment. That’s lap 1. Feeling good, so 2 laps this morning. Time around 40 mins. Distance around 5 miles. Good run this morning. Right, get into the morning routine. Check the mousetraps (must have another word with the landlord), coffee, eggs… life’s good here in Freetown… 

 
 

The aim of this post has been to get back to running and give an upbeat assessment of the current status in the fight against Ebola. I’ve touched on some of the good news above. The indicators across the board are extremely encouraging everywhere you look. It’s moved beyond cautious optimism. The fight is being won. 13 out of the 15 counties in Liberia are now reporting Ebola free. Schools are reopening mid Feb in Liberia and in Sierra Leone 3rd week of March. Schools have been closed since July.

In Sierra Leone there are 13 districts. Two have now reported 42 clear days without new cases. Average cases this past 2 weeks are around 10 - 12. Today’s stats are fairly typical; 8 dead and 11 new cases. Yesterday was 8 dead and 8 new cases. In fact, new cases have dropped by over half from Dec. There will undoubtedly be setbacks, new flare ups and it may be a while yet before the whole country is free from new cases of Ebola. However, the indicators are undeniably good. Everywhere in Freetown still has to be closed at 1800 hrs and nowhere can open on a Sunday. This is shops, restaurants, coffee shops, everywhere in fact. These restrictions are slowly being lifted. The price of petrol was also cut by 17% last week by the government, which brought plenty of cheer. There’s talk of the airlines coming back, countries are reopening borders… there’s plenty of good news after months of bad. 

On that theme it was joyous news that UK nurse Pauline Cafferkey was recently discharged from hospital. Sadly a 43 year old Cuban nurse Reinaldo Antigua died recently of Malaria. She had come to Sierra Leone to fight Ebola. The toll medical frontline personnel have taken is horrendous. 488 medics have died of Ebola in West Africa; the highest number in Sierra Leone (221 deaths out of 296 infected). As this cruel virus is gradually defeated I’ll reflect in the next post the devastation left behind. A battered economy being the main result. 
 

What of the Food Basket Appeal? First, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who contributed. To-date we’ve raised over $12k through this blog. We still have around $5k to spend. The next post will be another contribution of some kind. The response has evolved as many others have filled the gaps, this included us with the food baskets. There remains plenty of need. One key area and a major concern is the huge number of orphans. It’s entirely possible we look in this direction, or help others who’re already working to this end. Children returning to school is another challenging area. We might do school packs or help pay fees. Rest assured the money you’ve given will be spent wisely and to maximum effect. The fund remains open to any new contributions.

I’ve enjoyed taking you all around my neighbourhood this morning. Indeed, ‘A Happy New Year From Freetown’. 2015 has to be better than 2014… here’s hoping…
 
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