Smiling-stories from the Lion Mountains


It is as if I told enough stories at the African story telling evening in May 2016 (thanks so much for coming, it was glorious!) in Switzerland that I had to hold on for a while… That is not the only reason though, I have also started working in a new position, managing a team working on improving the health worker situation within the Ministry of Health, which has proven to be a LOT of work and not much time for anything else! However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t collect stories in the last few months, they just had to wait a bit longer than usual to appear in written form. Forgive me!

I have recently celebrated recently celebrated my three year anniversary in Salone – who would have thought I would be enchanted so much by this country to keep staying. My impression over the first few months (before Ebola) was that generally everyone thought things are getting better. Then Ebola came and it was crazy for nearly two years and now, after Ebola, the general atmosphere feels negative – people think things are just going to get worse. The president has announced “austerity” measures, a word that is now mocked everywhere on the streets. No wonder, given that the president still goes to work everyday with his 15 cars caravan, stopping all traffic and burning enough fuel to keep someone’s house electrified for a month. The Leone, the local currency, has lost nearly half its value since I came, which is horrifying to watch. In 2013, I received 4000 Leones for every dollar, now they are giving me 7500 Leones for my dollar. Terrifying, if the whole economy depends largely on imports, which just get more and more expensive. It is horrifying personally, and interesting for me as an economist to experience such high inflation. I guess my English friends understand this feeling a bit, now that the Pound is giving in so much… Sorry oh!

Nevertheless, there is always something to smile about in Salone, read for yourself.


One of my favourite things about Sierra Leone is the life on the street, which you see best when walking from and to places. It is rare that I don’t meet someone I know, or at least make a new friend, while walking outside. It makes me feel like I am living in a village smaller than my hometown – Weinfelden has about 10,000 inhabitants, Freetown has 2 millions. Out of some unexplainable reason, everyone always seems to be out and about and therefore the street is the hotspot!

The other thing I love is the constant feeling that I am watching a fashion show. Sierra Leonean have an incredible sense of fashion and no shame to wear crazy things, that look absolutely fantastic. One of those habits is to wear socks to the beach, which we now copied and turned into a regular socks on the beach outing.

Street fashion in Freetown

Socks on the beach!

Human beings are not the only ones out and about – I also have a bird paradise in front of my balcony, everyday. Pretty small shiny blue birds, big ones with yellow beaks, some of them living in my electricity pole (they picked a nice hole into it), it is absolutely gorgeous to watch them. Sierra Leone boasts of over 2000 different birds and bird watchers come specifically to Salone for that purpose. They know where the party is playing!


It absolutely amazing, how much some knowledge of the local lingua franca, Krio, helps. I arrived back in Salone in June with full bags and was dreading customs – who knows what laws they would come up with! I started talking with the customs officer assigned to me in Krio, smiling my best smile, which he returned positively surprised. It went like this:

Noemi: “Hello sir, aw yu dey do? Aw di bodi?” / Hello sir, how is it going? How are you?

Customs officer: “Eee Ma, di Krio sound na yu mot. Udat lan yu di Krio so?” / Wow, your Krio is great. Who taught you?

Noemi: “Ar dey get mi padi dem. Dem bin lan mi smallsmall.” / Well, I have some friends, they taught me some.

Customs officer: “Wow, ok, fo di sake of mi brother, go go. Yu na mi sista now.” / Wow, ok! For the sake of my brother, you can go. You are my sister now!

Noemi: “No wahala, tenki sir!” / No problem, thanks a lot!

We both left smiling, without having had any conversation around my full bags…


In a recent verification of a performance-based-financing scheme we have been administering to all health clinics in the country, we asked nurses how they are promoting family planning, as only 16% of women use any modern family planning methods. The best answer came from Nurse Isatu: “Well, we usually tell the women when they are in labour that they need to take family planning in the future, to avoid such pains. That usually works quite well.” No doubts, very effective sensitization strategy! “You are sick and tired of labour pains? No problem, just take a condom next time!” 🙂

Nurse Isatu at her clinic

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