Hospital-stories from the Lion Mountains

“Less drama than in 2016”, was Monika’s and my New Year’s resolution for 2017. Ten days into the new year and I was laying on the floor in my house in Freetown with the worst back pains of my life. It took me 20 minutes to move back inch by inch to the mobilephone that laid 2 meters away. The ambulance of the best private hospital in Freetown came within 20 minutes with the relieving morphine injection. Elias came to the rescue and called a welder to break the door – I wasn’t able to move at all, the 10 meters to the door felt like an ocean. The following three weeks were spent laying down and with lots of opium containing painkillers, that kept me happy and hallucinating every now and then. I had to fly back to Switzerland to treat the disc hernia properly and was allowed back after many hours of physiotherapy. Some happy weeks in Salone later, the next set of pains started, this time something was wrong with my kidney. To keep the long story short: I have spent the last three months in Switzerland with several surgeries under full anesthetics and a very slow recovery process.  The risk of life threatening complications was big enough to keep me grounded in Europe!

Well, you see that I have been a bit busy the last few months taking care of my health and dealing with my interrupted life in Salone – apologies for all the silence this created! I thought this might be a good moment though to tell some of my hospital stories…

 

Hospital facts

I have a very generous health insurance, thanks to my employer. That means I can access the most expensive and supposedly best private hospital in Freetown – sounds good, but can’t really be compared to hospitals in Europe. The leading doctor (a kidney specialist who couldn’t diagnose my kidney infection properly) is a very nice and kind man, but recommends medical evacuations for basically any illness – he knows his’ and Sierra Leone’s limitations. Thanks to my regular hospital stays (I have slept in all four patient rooms already), I know the staff and they know me. When I was back in March for another visit and spent my waiting time saying hi to the nurses, I was approached by another patient who waited for his term and he said “Sorry, I have some questions around the documents that I need for my treatment – you work here, nottoso?”. I knew then that I have definitely spent too much time in hospitals this year.

Being fed delicious Lebanese food and lots of Morphine during my back problem in the hospital in Freetown.

Being fed delicious Lebanese food and lots of Morphine during my back problem in the hospital in Freetown.

It made me calculate: I have spent the same number of evenings in hospitals, as in Restaurants in the first five months of 2017. I have also received in total 42 injections – they are liked a lot in Africa, where the rule is: no matter what sickness, to get better, you need as many injections as possible, in as many different body parts as possible. The nurses are all very friendly, apart from one, who after 20 minutes of bloody failures to get my vein was as frustrated as I was. I told her that this is not very comfortable anymore, to what she replied: “pull yourself together, if you can’t take this pain, you will never be strong enough to give birth to a child”. Something that childless women hear every now and then in Salone!

 

I might not have a child, but I had a goat! His name was Nyandeyama and he sadly died at my birthday.

I might not have a child, but I had a goat! His name was Nyandeyama and he sadly died at my birthday.

Alternative medicine

Alternative medicine does exist in Salone as well – just maybe a tad more alternative than our alternative medicine. During my third visit within few weeks, one of the nurses recommended that “it really is time now to sacrifice a chicken, it just isn’t normal that you keep being sick”. She also told me she can recommend someone, with high success rates. Or she can also ask her pastor to come and pray, he also prays for the sick. Nice to have options!

We don't really use chickens for medical treatment - but for Hen's nights! Jayne is starring here with cockerel Nathan.

We don’t really use chickens for medical treatment – but for Hen’s nights! Jayne is starring here with cockerel Nathan.

My hospital, my source of information, my work experience

I am trying to use all my visits in the hospitals to expand my knowledge of health systems, and see them as “field trips” – hopefully helpful in my work at the Ministry of Health. I like asking for costs of equipment, medicines and procedures and it is shocking to realise how expensive the health system in Switzerland is. The machine used for a kidney function test costs one million Swiss franks (about 1.1 million USD) – with that money you could pay 5700 nurses in Salone for a year (therefore hiring 5400 more than what they have now). There have also been lots of interesting discussions with the nurses about my work and Sierra Leone – the nurses in Switzerland are usually fascinated, but also thankful to be working in Switzerland. Even in Salone it isn’t easy to feed a family with an average monthly wage of USD 180, that a nurse earns.

It has been nearly four years now that I have worked in the Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone, working on projects to strengthen the health system. I know the facts, numbers, the theories and reports, but it still hits me at the core how inexistent and incapable the health care is. If I would be a Sierra Leonean with the same kidney problem, I would probably have died before the age of 35 of kidney failure – just because Salone is not able to diagnose and treat it.

Women's March in Freetown: affordable care for everyone.

Women’s March in Freetown: affordable care for everyone.

Advertisements

Lachende Geschichten von den Lion Mountains

 

Es ist als ob ich mich total aus-erzaehlt habe an der African Night im Mai in Weinfelden – danke vielmals fuer die umwerfende Teilnahme! Mein langes Schweigen seit dann, hat aber auch mit meinem neuen Job zu tun. Ich habe eine neue Position angenommen wieder im Gesundheitsministerium, aber mit etwas mehr Verantwortung und damit auch mehr Arbeit. Das heist aber nicht, dass ich nicht weiterhin Geschichten gesammelt habe, die wurden einfach noch nicht aufgeschrieben. Sorry!

Ich habe kuerzlich mein dreijaehriges Jubilaeum in Sierra Leone gefeiert, wer haette gedacht, dass ich mich so verbunden fuehlen wuerde mit diesem einst unbekannten Land! In meinen ersten Monaten in Sierra Leone hatte ich den Eindruck, dass die Bevoelkerung grundsaetzlich optimistisch in die Zukunft schaufe (“alles wird besser”), bis Ebola kam und ein fast zweijaehriges Chaos startete. Seit dem Ende von Ebola ist die Situation weniger rosig, die Aussichten duesterer, der Bevoelkerung geht es schlechter. Der Praesident hat kuerzlich Sparmassnahmen angekuendigt, weil die wirtschaftliche Lage gar nicht gut ist. Diese Massnahmen werden in der Bevoelkerung laecherlich gemacht, zu Recht, sieht man doch weiterhin den Praesidenten jeden Tag zur Arbeit fahren mit seiner 15 Autos langer Karavane, wofuer die Polizei den ganzen Verkehr stoppt. Dabei verschwendet er genuegend Benzin um ein ganzes Haus mit Strom zu versorgen fuer einen Monat. Die lokale Waehrung, der Leone, hat fast die Haelfte seines Wertes verloren – in 2013 habe ich 4000 Leones fuer einen Dollar erhalten, jetzt erhalte ich 7500 Leones fuer den gleichen Dollar! Schrecklich, wenn man bedenkt, dass die Wirtschaft hauptsaechlich von Importen lebt, die jetzt teurer und teurer werden. Wir koennen also dankbar sein, leben wir nicht mit solch hoher Inflation!

Trotzdem gibt es immer wieder etwas zum lachen in Salone, lies selbst.

LACHENDES STRASSENLEBEN

Einer meiner Lieblingsbeschaeftigungen in Sierra Leone findet auf der Strasse statt: die vielen zufaelligen Begegnungen, lustigen Gespraeche, unerwartete Szenen man sieht auf der Strasse, ist faszinierend. Wenn immer ich einen Spaziergang mache, treffe ich mindestens einen Bekannten oder mache zumindest eine neue Bekanntschaft – das Sozialleben findet auf der Strasse statt. Es fuehlt sich fuer mich an wie in einem Dorf, aehnlich wie Weinfelden, wo ich aufgewachsen bin. Der einzige Unterschied ist, dass Weinfelden 10’000 Einwohner hat und Freetown 2 Millionen. Aus unerklaerlichen Gruenden ist jeder und jede immer unterwegs, die Strasse ist der Treffpunkt!

Ich habe auch staendig das Gefuehl, ich bin inmitten einer Modeshow. Sierra Leoner haben einen unglaublichen Modesinn und auch keinerlei Scham, absolut gewagte Kombinationen zu tragen, die immer irgendwie toll aussehen. Sierra Leoner tragen Socken am Strand, was ich unglaublich cool finde und daher zu einem regelmaessigen Ausflug gemacht habe. Socken am Strand – kann ich nur empfehlen!

 

Street fashion in Freetown

Socks on the beach!

Es sind aber nicht nur Menschen unterwegs, ich habe auch jeden Tag eine unglaubliche Auswahl von Voegeln vor meinem Balkon. Kleine blau schimmernde, grosse graue mit gelben Schnaebeln, Raben, Elstern, es hoert nicht auf. Zwei Spechte leben in meinem Strommasten, die haben sich ein schoenes Loch hineingehaemmert. Sierra Leone ist ein Vogelparadies und Vogellieberhaber kommen extra hierhin zur Vogelbeobachtung. Die Voegel wissen, wo das Paradies ist…

LACHENDES KRIO OEFFNET TUER UND HERZ

Es ist immer wieder erstaunlich, wie viel es hilft, die lokale Sprache Krio zu sprechen. Ich bin im Juni wieder in Salone angekommen mit vollen Koffern und hatte Respekt vor dem Zoellner – man weiss nie genau, welche Gesetze noch erfunden werden. Ich habe mit dem Zoellner auf Krio zu sprechen begonnen, mit meinem besten Laecheln, das er leicht erstaunt erwidert. Es ging so:

Noemi: “Hello sir, aw yu dey do? Aw di bodi?” / Guten Tag, wie geht es Ihnen? Wie laeuft’s?

Customs officer: “Eee Ma, di Krio sound na yu mot. Udat lan yu di Krio so?” / Wow, dein Krio ist fliessend! Wer hat dir das beigebracht?

Noemi: “Ar dey get mi padi dem. Dem bin lan mi smallsmall.” / Ich habe Freunde hier, die haben mir das gelernt.

Customs officer: “Wow, ok, fo di sake of mi brother, go go. Yu na mi sista now.” / Wow, ok! Na dann lass ich dich gehen, meinem Bruder zuliebe. Du bist jetzt meine Schwester!

Noemi: “No wahala, tenki sir!” / Kein Problem und Danke!

Wir sind beide laechelnd weitergegangen, ohne je ueber mein Gepaeck gesprochen zu haben…

 

LACHENDE KRANKENSCHWESTER
Wir haben kuerzlich ein Leistungs basiertes Finanzierungssystem fuer alle Gesundheitskliniken in Sierra Leone beurteilt. Unter anderem wollten wir wissen, wie die Krankenschwestern ihren Patienten Verhuetungsmethoden anbieten und erklaeren, da in Sierra Leone nur 16% aller Frauen irgendeine Art von Verhuetung benutzt. Die beste Andwort kam von Krankenschwester Isatu: “Na, wir sagen normalerweise allen Frauen, die am gebaeren sind, dass diese Art von Schmerzen einfach zu vermeiden sind mit anstaendiger Verhuetung. Das wirkt normalerweise.” Da habe ich keine Zweifel!

 

 

Nurse Isatu at her clinic

 

LUSTIGE SCHWEIZER

Die Abstimmung zum Grundeinkommen hat weite Wellen geschlagen. Regelmaessig triff ich wieder Sierra Leoner, die total erstaunt sind, dass die Schweiz einfach jedem Bewohner Geld geben wollte – und sie staunen dann aber noch mehr, wenn ich ihnen erzaehle, dass genau diese Bewohner gesagt haben, sie wollen dieses Geld nicht! Das Grundeinkommen hat mehr Wellen geschlagen als jegliches anderes Thema aus der Schweiz und ich finde es immer lustig, wie jede und jeder anscheinend davon irgendwie gehoert hat!

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.

SMILING STREET LIFE

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!

SMILING KRIO OPENS DOORS AND HEARTS

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…

SMILING NURSES DURING LABOUR

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

Strassen Geschichten von den Löwenbergen

Das Leben in Sierra Leone findet draussen auf der Strasse statt, und man fuehlt sich nie einsam draussen. Ich liebe das pulsierende Gefuehl, die impromptu Gespraeche, der Geruch von Rauch, Essen, Benzin, Schweiss und Parfum gemischt und die kreativen Anmachsprueche (hier eine kleine Auswahl: “Heute ist Internationaler Frauentag, ich muss eine internationale Verabredung haben. Kann ich dich zum Abendessen einladen?” oder “Ich mag dich. Du magst mich. Komm, wir gehen tanzen.” oder “Kann ich deine Nummer haben? Keine Angst, ich bin ein im Ausland lebender Sierra Leoner, ich werde dich nicht oft belaestigen.” oder “Du geniesst das Leben zu sehr, du musst endlich anfangen zu teilen. Ich bin bereit, es mit dir zu geniessen, Baby.”) Ich habe in den letzten Wochen begonnen, kurze Filme von Strassenszenen zu machen, weil das wohl den besten Eindruck von Sierra Leone vermitteln kann. Hier ein paar Geschichten dazu.

2016-03-26 10.46.48

Das Leben findet draussen statt  – Freetown Stadtzentrum

STRASSEN-GEBURTSTAG
Wie ihr sicher wisst, geniesse ich Geburtstagsfeiern sehr, je unterschiedlicher, desto besser (erinnert euch an Geschichten-Email Nummer 11…). Dieses Mal habe ich unter dem Motto “Geburtstag auf der STRASSE” gefeiert. Wir haben mit einem Sonnenuntergangsdrink auf der STRASSE am Strand gestartet, sind dann an die HauptSTRASSE in ein STRASSENrestaurant, das natuerlicherweise zu klein war, weshalb ich dann meine Geburtstagsrede von der STRASSE aus gehalten habe. Anschliessend sind wir an einen STRASSENmarket rund um das nationale Fussballstadium. Um hineinzukommen, musst du ein Eintrittsbillet kaufen, das zwei Meter weiter verrissen und an den Boden geworfen wird. Warum wurden dieses Billet ueberhaupt gedruckt, wenn dessen Lebensspanne gerade mal zwei Meter reicht, bevor sie auf der STRASSE landen?! Immerhin hat es zu meinem Geburtstagsmotto gepasst. 😉
IMG_1330

THANK ZOU JESUS – DANKE JESUS – für schöne Strassen!

KAPRY, KOENIG DER STRASSE
Ich benutze immer noch regelmaessig Okadas, Motorraeder, die importiert wurden von Indien, billig produziert fuer Entwicklungslaender. Bei diesen Okadas versagen die Bremsen regelmaessig, die Gangschaltung funktioniert zwischendurch mal nicht und die Spiegel werden verloren. Bevor mein Okadafahrer also einen Hang hinunter faehrt, frage ich zur Sicherheit nochmals schnell, ob seine Bremsen gerade anstaendig funktionieren, man weiss ja nie, und es ist mir doch schon einmal passiert, dass die Bremsen defekt waren, was dann doch etwas aufregend ist, diese ungestoppte Beschleunigung.
Mein persoenlicher Okadafahrer heisst Kapry, er ist Vizepresident der lokalen Okadafahrer-Vereinigung und sehr zufrieden mit seinem Leben, was ein angenehmer Kontrast ist zu den ueblichen Beschwerden, die man so hoert. Kapry lacht nie, wieso auch, er fragt mich: “Findest du nicht, ich sehe auch ohne Laecheln gut aus?”
Er ist DER puenklichste Sierra Leoner, den ich kenne, und besteht auf regelmaessige Uhrenabgleiche, um sicherzustellen, unsere Uhren zeigen exakt die gleiche Zeit. Wenn ich dann etwas zu spaet bin (und das ist fuer ihn 30 Sekunden und drueber), dann erhalte ich sofort einen Anruf. Ich habe mittlerweile einen schlechten Ruf bei ihm weil ich immer zu spaet bin und er findet ich bin afrikanischer als er.
Als ich gestern von Hill Station nach Hause wieder bei ihm auf dem Okada sass, und er mich durch den drueckenden Verkehr durschlaengelt, immer wieder beschleunigend und abbremsend, dabei fast einen Brotverkauefer auf der Strasse anfaehrt, ein Lastwagen umfahren muss und dabei auf den Fussgaengerstreifen ausweicht, erzaehlt er mir von seinem aelteren Bruder, der seit zwei Wochen vermisst wird. Er verliess das Haus “nur schnell” und kam nicht mehr zurueck, seine Frau und zwei Kinder sind am verzweifeln. Kapry hat alle Polizeistationen abgeklappert, alle Spitaeler und hat nun gestern stundenlang in der Totenhalle Leichen durchsucht. Er ruft mir dieses Geschichte durch seinen Helm und meinen Helm zu, in der Mitte der verkehrsreichen Strasse, und sagt, er ist bereit, seinen Bruder aufzugeben, er ist mehr besorgt ueber seine Schwaegerin, die nun in eine Depression hinein zu rutschen scheint.
Das Leben passiert und wird verarbeitet auf der Strasse, sowohl die guten Zeiten, also auch die schlechten.
2016-03-19 18.31.41 HDR

Kapry mit seinem Okada – Motorrad

Und ich bin mir sicher, die Strassen in eurem Quartier sind etwas leerer als hier, ich teile also gerne etwas: Downtown.

Living in Sierra Leone made me an angry woman

Sierra Leone is currently experiencing such a water shortage, that the human rights commission issued a worrying statement, saying that especially the capital Freetown is lacking water, largely unexplained and beyond the usual seasonal fluctuations. Fetching water from one of the community taps is usually task for the young children, who now have to get up as early as 4am to find a running tap or stay up late at night, roaming the streets for water. They are exposed to all manner of risks: drunkards, rape, injuries. At the same time, one of my international friends just excitedly announced that her swimming pool is up and running now. Disparities like this are part of everyday life in Africa, and they are difficult to digest, making ignorance a blissful alternative.

Or when the mid-level manager of a big UN agency, who regularly boasts of its humanity and printing posters of big-eyed black children receiving another dose of life-saving vaccination or food ratio, when that mid-level manager writes you in an email that you should really not put too much effort into this evaluation, as “in Sierra Leone, we don’t aim for perfection” and whatever effort you put in is “enough for this country”, after that manager has been in country for four months. A story, that the big-eyed black child on the poster could tell anyone who comes back after the intensive photo session, that actually there is no vaccination left at the clinic or the supposedly free food is sold on the market, because “in Sierra Leone, we don’t aim for perfection”. Sierra Leone should be more selective in what kind of people they allow to work on key development policies and programs, in the interest of their people.

Over dinner table with lots of food and wine, everyone complains about the inefficiencies and corruption within the UN system, a system that is immune of all national laws and can therefore not be audited. Money to the UN agencies is handed out based on political motives, not on performance, such as to give donors a bigger say in the UN. But yet, after dinner, we all gladly call our office sponsored drivers in white shiny SUV cars and let our alcohol-infused self be driven back home to our AC-powered bedroom. The next morning, in the office of our well-equipped NGO, we discuss again how to save Sierra Leone, having no idea how 90% of Sierra Leoneans actually live, because we remain in our little bubble, not willing to open our eyes and let go of white neo-colonialist privileges.

And in our nicely cooled down white shiny cars, we drive along nicely paved roads that were not built with our tax money, because internationals do not have to pay taxes here. We enjoy the roads, the best (even if still patchy) electricity supply of the country, pools filled with water from the public water company, but don’t feel like we should be paying for these public services. At the same time we rant about how government seems incapable to finance even basic social services, but we are not willing to contribute our own money to rebuild it. “Ah, they are too corrupt, you can’t give them any money”, is the standard excuse, turning a blind eye to the industrial corruption that is happening in the development world, where aid money is channeled through massively overpriced consultancies back to where it came from. Nobody questions an evaluation report about a big system change introduced by government that took the Western evaluator nearly two years to complete, who flew in and out of the country regularly, apart from the Ebola time, when it apparently was too dangerous to stay in luxury hotels and analyse data. Nobody questions the price tag of that lengthy analysis of secondary data, where everyone knows the quality thereof is questionable and primary data collection would have resulted in much more defined answers. Nobody questions that the outcome is a report where every page costs 3000 pounds and nobody in government is going to read it, even if they probably should. However interesting the findings are, does it justify the costs?

We also happily turn a blind eye to the privileges given to international staff because of “security reasons” or because “otherwise we wouldn’t be able to find good people”. Do we really want people to come and work in development who are primarily attracted by the prospect of an AC house with 24 hours electricity, a salary high enough to pay back the mortgage of a house in a year and a car with driver, sending back all the aid money he is living on to his international bank account? Or do we want to attract people who are willing to integrate into local communities, live like the ordinary middle-class Sierra Leonean with regular blackouts, the occasional water shortage, the joys of public transport and actually sharing the aid money that is financing all of that with its intended beneficiaries? I think the answer is a no brainer. Only if we live by example, we can claim to take part in the development process of this country. Actions speak louder than words, which is probably why the common man and woman on the street mainly associates NGOs in Sierra Leone with fancy cars, highly paid expats who are enjoying their weekends on the beach and the locals chance to get some job experience, even if only as support staff.

Their frustration for NGOs and the UN is only topped by frustration about the government. Understandably, when all they see government doing is putting flower pots in the middle of the street and installing traffic light signals, while the majority of them don’t have electricity, nor water, their housing is too crowded and not rain proof and there are no jobs. It explains what made one of my okada motorbike riders recently stop when he saw some government workers replenishing the flower pots, and shout at them that they are “pwel we moni”, misspending their (tax) money. I felt sorry and angry both for him and for the probably very low-level government workers, who were just doing their job. The people who took the decision, the people in power, hide in tainted glass vehicles with shaded number plates, they hide in their mansions on top of the hills of Freetown, or they hide in their relatives’ houses overseas, visiting their kids who go to school there. There should be a law that Minister’s children need to go to public schools and government officials have to use public health facilities – both would probably  improve in no time. The incentives that are set now are wrong and not encouraging progress.

Angri man nor get voice, angri man nor get choice. Emmerson, the Sierra Leonean social justice artist, sings about the fact that the man and woman on the street have no voice, because they either are not listened too or they are too scared to speak out. The song has become such a hit because it does exactly that: it gives a voice to the people, who sing along the song in the taxis, the cars, the streets. That also counts for me; I am an activist by nature, I want to move things, I want to change things, I want to be involved in politics and policy making, in moving and shaking. One of the statements that made me the most angry in the recent weeks, is when a Sierra Leonean man told me “you are not allowed to discuss politics, as you are not African”. How can I be silent, if I see the injustice staring at me everyday, either out of white shiny cars, or from the new traffic light, or from the neighbours’ house? How can anyone be silent and just ignore the water shortage, the power cuts, the housing and education problem, and keep swimming in the private pool?

My anger about the development sector is only topped by my anger about the Sierra Leonean police regulating traffic in the roundabout, stopping one lane, to let the other one pass for a while and vice versa. Don’t they know that roundabouts were built to be SELF-REGULATING and what they are doing is causing massive traffic jams?! Africa really made me a very angry woman. What gives me hope is that the best civil society movements started out of anger: anger about the treatment of blacks in the US, spurring women like Rosa Parks into action, anger about the prolonged detention of Nelson Mandela in South Africa was the beginning of the end of Apartheid, anger about the insufficiencies of the communist state of East Germany led into the falling of the wall. As long as there is anger, there is hope for movement and change, as soon as ignorance sets in, a blindness about injustice, the only hope remaining then is judgement day. Which also makes it very understandable that religion is opium for the people, keeping them calm and praising God for life, when what is needed is Sodom and Gomorrah. Sierra Leone is a very religious country, probably at least partly accounting for its peaceful and very friendly people. However, I also think it is part of the reason why civil society’s voice in politics is very quiet and a real quest for change missing. If all focus is put on life after death, heaven on earth becomes unnecessary. Which, again, makes me angry. We should never get to a point where we accept blatant injustice in front of our eyes. Never. Sierra Leone deserves better leaders, better international institutions and it also deserves, that I will be able to turn my anger into action, and not just ranting about it. I expect you to hold me to account for that!

2016-04-26 18.36.38 HDR-1

…di sun hot…

A personal account from the CIA school

This is the annual report submitted by the CIA school:

UPDATE ON THE SCHOOL –April 2015-April 2016

BACKGROUND:

Community Initiative Academy started as a community concern expressed by 80% of parents in the Nyandeyama Community on the following grounds:

  • The growing number of primary schools and JSS Pupils within the locality
  • To rid these children from the long distances they cover to attend secondary schools outside the community, and the flooding of streams at crossing points between Nyandeyama and the Kenema City.
  • Above all, to reduce the burden of overhead transport costs on parents, as well as the risk of road accidents to which pupils were exposed.

ACTIVITIES: The inaugural meeting for the establishment of the school was held by the founding members and key stakeholders of the Nyandeyama community on the 7th April 2010; the founding members include:

  1. Chief Benson A. Suwu
  2. Eddie Moigua Senesie
  3. Abdul K. Kalifa
  4. Issa Roberts
  5. Fatu Jayah
  6. Abdul K. Sesay
  7. Margaret A-K Suwu
  8. Susan Dugba
  9. Fatmata Suwu
  10. Baindu Koroma
  11. Bob-Joe Sandy

Community Stakeholders include:

  1. Chief Aloysius Vandy Suwu
  2. Alhaji Bockarie Karimu
  3. Chief Momoh Thorlie
  4. Alhaji Suliaman Bah
  5. F K Mansaray ( late)
  6. Alhaji A S. Gbla
  7. Francis Koroma

The foundation for the Three-classroom block was laid on the 8th May 2010, with funds raised from contributions made by founding members.

The structure was raised to wall height and roofed in August 2010 with funds from the proprietor and donations from appeal letters sent to community stakeholders.  Initial fund for the fourth classroom was donated by Hon. P. C Madam Mamie G. Gamanga (Le 1,000,000.00). This four-classroom structure was used for classes in it unfinished state for three years.

The payment of stipend for teachers and finishing of the school building remained a huge challenge for the school Management.

The Management of the school continued to send out appeal letters to various organisations and individuals. It was such a letter that was responded to by Noemi Schramm.

They have raised support among friends and family in Switzerland and have subsequently been able to support the payment of stipend to 12 teachers in the school since May 2015 to date. They also funded the finishing of the four-classroom building in April 2015 and supported the one-side facing of the school compound and fixing of the gate at the entrance in 2016.

The generous donors from Switzerland also made a special donation of one million Leones towards the excellent performance of pupils at the 2014 BECE National exams.

In cooperation with Noemi, we have also sent in an application for school Library to African Library Project of Rise Network.

The Section Chief has promised to provide additional land space for the construction of the Library.  Several other stakeholders have given their support to the development of the school. Skilled personnel like masons, carpenters, painters and plumbers have rendered their services. Community youths have also provided unskilled labour.

Parents, through their PTA organisations have supported the school in their own way.

The Section Chief has promised the people of Nyandeyama, the provision of quality Education for the children in his community. (I will continue to lobby for support he lamented)

The teachers remain committed to teaching as a result of the payment of stipends. They are still awaiting Government recruitment / approval for payment of salaries. It is yet too frustrating for teachers who have taught for six years without Government approval. Had it not been the support from our good friends, we wonder what would have been the situation. We just say thank you.

There had also being a steady increase in the enrolment of pupils in the school. This could be looked at as achievement, but the other side is the need for expansion; additional classrooms, more furniture and more teachers.

The National exam (BECE) is coming up in July for this year. It is the fourth set of pupils for the exam and with the highest number of pupils. This means more efforts on the side of the teachers, which also demands adequate incentives.

However, amidst all of these there is great hope ahead.

Faithfully submitted

Margaret Suwu

14-4-2016

Madam Suwu and Chief Suwu

The brain behind the CIA: Madam Suwu

Street stories from the Lion Mountains

Life in Sierra Leone happens on the street, and you will never feel lonely outside. I love the buzzing, the chitchatting, the smells of smoke, fuel, food, sweat and perfume all mixed up, and the random pickup lines you hear (some of my recent favourites: “Today is International Women’s Day, I need an international date. Can I take you out?” or “I like you. You like me. Let’s go out.” or “Can I have your number? Don’t worry, I am diaspora Sierra Leonean, I will not bother you much.” or “You enjoy life too much, you need to start sharing that enjoyment. I am ready to enjoy with you, baby.”). I recently started collecting short movies of street scenes, as I think streets give you the best impression of life here in Salone – and there is so much great people watching to do! Here are some written stories.
2016-03-26 10.46.48.jpg

Life happens on the street – downtown Freetown

BIRTHDAY ON THE STREETS
As you might be aware, I enjoy celebrating birthdays (remember story email no 11…), preferably different every year. This time the theme was “on the STREETS” and we started with a sunset drink on the STREET at the beach, went on to have dinner in a Senegalese STREET restaurant, where the space was too small to fit us all, we shared chairs and I ended up standing half on the STREET to give my birthday speech. We then went on to the trade fair which was happening on the STREET around the national stadium. To enter, you buy a ticket, which is then again taken away from you two meters ahead, ripped apart and thrown on the ground. Why even bother printing those tickets, if their lifetime is about 1 minute before ending up on the STREET?! But you can imagine, it was fitting for my birthday theme ;).
IMG_1330.JPG

THANK YOU JESUS – for nice roads?!

KAPRY, KING OF THE STREETS
Since I still do not have my car back from my mechanic who had an accident with it (a different story that fills a whole email in itself), I keep using Okadas, motorbikes, imported from India, produced as cheaply as possible so that it is affordable in developing countries, but that also means that breaks fail regularly, gears sometimes get stuck and mirrors get lost all the time. Before my okada rider goes down a hill, I normally ask about their breaks quickly, just to be sure, because it has happened before that the breaks were actually broken. A very nerve-racking experience, going down hill with broken breaks.
My personal bike rider is called Kapry, he is the vice-chairman of the local okada bike rider association and he is very content with his life, which is a nice change to the usual “ah this is bad in my life and this is not working andandand”. He also is the man who never smiles, not even when I ask him to: “why should I smile, you don’t think I look fine without smiling?”. Kapry is THE one most punctual Sierra Leonean I have met, he would call me if I am 30 seconds late and he insists on doing phone-time-checks, making sure our phones show the same time, so that we both are on time for pickups. I have got a really bad reputation with him for being notoriously late, making me feel more African than he is.
On our last bike ride, he told me about his oldest brother, who went missing two weeks ago. He just left the house “quickly” and never came back, leaving his wife and two children in total agony about his whereabouts. Kapry has checked all police stations and hospitals in the area and spent yesterday at the mortuary, looking at dead bodies for hours. He shouts over to me all this information through his helmet and through my helmet, while speeding on through evening traffic, making us nearly hit a breadseller on the street, cruising on the pedestrian way around a big truck blocking the road, telling me about how his brother’s wife is having mental issues now and how he is ready to give up on his brother, just keep on living. Life is happening and being processed on the street, the good side of life and the bad one.
2016-03-19 18.31.41 HDR.jpg

Kapry on his okada – motorbike

And I know that the streets in your countries are much more likely to be rather empty, so you might enjoy this insight.