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.
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!
This is the annual report submitted by the CIA school:
UPDATE ON THE SCHOOL –April 2015-April 2016
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:
- Chief Benson A. Suwu
- Eddie Moigua Senesie
- Abdul K. Kalifa
- Issa Roberts
- Fatu Jayah
- Abdul K. Sesay
- Margaret A-K Suwu
- Susan Dugba
- Fatmata Suwu
- Baindu Koroma
- Bob-Joe Sandy
Community Stakeholders include:
- Chief Aloysius Vandy Suwu
- Alhaji Bockarie Karimu
- Chief Momoh Thorlie
- Alhaji Suliaman Bah
- F K Mansaray ( late)
- Alhaji A S. Gbla
- 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.
Thank you, dear supporters and readers! You have given USD 8240 to support the CIA school in Kenema and the Ruth Vines school in Freetown, you have visited this blog 1900 times and you are coming from 54 countries! We are blessed to know you as our followers and supporters 🙂
May your new year be a happy one and may we see more generous people like you in this world!
The Swiss in me wants to apologise in advance for what I am about to write, but thankfully the non-Swiss in me is shouting the apologetic Noemi powerfully down.
Ätti, my grandfather, died this month 78 years old. In Sierra Leone people tell me that this is a very old age and it is a miracle that he lived that long. In Switzerland people look at me with a sorry face and ask if he had a special sickness or why he died so relatively young.
In Sierra Leone, it is seen as a miracle if someone goes into medical care and survives. Everything is done for the patient, where “everything” can mean some painkillers and lots of prayers. In Switzerland, you have to make an active decision to stop the hospitals and doctors to keep you alive – where “alive” can mean hanging on a drip and on thousand electric machines. My grandfather was tired of the drips and the medicines and the doctors, not necessarily of life. Ätti has been living a very down to earth life. He was an honest and hard worker, didn’t live beyond his needs and enjoyed what has been given him. He produced the *hands down* best honey on earth, had a critical mind and a very impressive nearly 60-year long marriage with Müetti. Learning how to deal with his own death was not part of his life curriculum, however, in the end he had the courage to refuse all medical treatment, despite the fear of the unknown nature of death.
Courage is needed in Switzerland to refuse medical treatment, courage is needed in Sierra Leone to accept medical treatment. As written some weeks ago in my latest post (https://naomiscar.com/2015/10/25/when-it-is-not-possible-to-be-ready-to-die/), health care is so bad, that every treatment, every surgery has the potential to kill a patient. It is like russian roulette – you never know which treatment might be your bullet. Yes, this is not the nicest Christmas message, but a very necessary one – and I do think, it is urgent enough to be listened to at any time of the year. The inequalities in this world are crying out to heaven for a response – be it in health care, living conditions or opportunities. Balancing out inequalities does not only mean that we need to get rid of poverty in this world, but also that we, the rich 5% (yes, Switzerland belongs to those), need to share more. We are too rich and others are too poor. Think about it.
And Ätti: may you rest in peace. We miss you!
“ueberleben” hat eine ganz andere Bedeutung in einem Land, wo Leute taeglich und urploetzlich sterben, die Lebenserwartung halb so hoch ist wie in Europa und unbekannte Gefahren lauern in jeder Moskito, hinter jeder Strassenecke und in jedem Tropfen Hahnenwasser. “Ueberleben” hat auch ganz eine andere Bedeutung am Arbeitsplatz, wo es kein funktionierendes System gibt, man taeglich auf Eierschalen laeuft im Versuch die Interessen des Chefs, der Bevoelkerung und meine eigenen zu balancieren, wo es keine Elektrizitaet, ultralangsames Internet und keine Toilettenspuelung gibt, und wenn es regnet, dann ueberflutet dein Buero. Meine Schwester hat mir gesagt, sie hat den Eindruck dass mein Leben hier voller nie-endenden Dramen ist. Das stimmt, aber hat auch dazu gefuehrt, dass ich mittlerweile, nach zwei Jahren eine Ueberlebensexpertin bin. Ich arbeite nun am naechsten Schritt: nicht nur ueberleben, sondern auch aufzubluehen im mitten des Chaos!
Hier ein paar meiner unzaehligen Geschichten zum Ueberleben in Sierra Leone.
Einer meiner ausgefallensten Freundinnen hier ist Theresa. Sie ist eine Sierra Leonerin in den Vierzigern und fuehrt ihren kleinen Laden direkt an der Hauptstrasse, in meiner Nachbarschaft. Ich gehen oft vorbei und sitze auf der Strasse, trinke ein lauwarmes Bier oder Wasser und diskutier mit ihr Gott, Liebe und die Welt. Eines warmen Samstagnachmittags, wir diskutieren gerade die Eifersucht von Sierra Leoner, als ich den Drang verspuehre, mich zu erleichtern. Ich frage Theresa nach der Toilette, worauf sie mich grinsend hinter den Laden fuehrt und jeden informiert, dass Naomi sich erleichtern muss (das haette mich wirklich warnen sollen). Hinter dem Laden sitzen zehn Frauen bei einer halb-offenen Tuere, die mich ebenfalls grinsend begruessen – eine weisse Frau die hier pissen muss, das ist eine kleine Sensation. Theresa zeigt zur halb-offenen Tuere und sagt mir, ich kann dahinter gehen. Hinter der Tuere ist absolut NICHTS – kein Dach, keine Toilette, kein fliessendes Wasser (geschweige denn Toilettenpapier), kein Loch, keine grafische Darstellung, die mir zeigen wuerde wie und wo ich pissen soll und auch kein Sichtschutz zur Hauptstrasse. Waehrenddem ich mich zu orientieren versuche, und jegliche Gedanken an vorherige Besucher dieser “Toilette” ausblende, Theresa kommt hinein und hockt neben mir. Wenigstens trage ich einen Rock, was es etwas einfacher macht und etwas Sichtschutz bietet und Theresa beginnt mir zu sagen, ich soll “pissen, pissen”, einfach nur “piss! Piss”. In ihrem Gesicht sehe ich sichtbaren Stolz, dass sie mit einer weissen Frau zusammen pisst – wahrscheinlich das erste mal fuer sie (und auch das letzte mal…). Und ja, fragt erst gar nicht nach Haende waschen oder so! 😉
Die traurige Seite der Geschichte ist, dass die Mehrheit von Sierra Leone in aehnlichen sanitaeren Umstaenden lebt. Kein Wunder sind Krankheiten wie Durchfall, Cholera und Ebola allgegenwaertig.
Eines Morgens schlief mir ploetzlich mein linker Arm ein. Es wurde etwas besser und dann wieder schlechter, aber ich dachte mir nicht viel dabei. Etwas spaeter ass ich zu Mittag mit einer Freundin, als mir auf einmal auch der rechte Arm, dann beide Fuesse und schlussendlich auch mein Gesicht, inklusive Lippen einschliefen. Ich bin ein grosser Fan von Dr Google und Selbstbehandlung (gerade in Sierra Leone aeussersts hilfreich, zumindest normalerweise) und google daher meine Symptome. Das erste Ergebnis, das auftaucht ist SCHLAGANFALL. Ich google weiter um herauszufinden, ob ich ueberhaupt einen Schlaganfall haben kann in meinem Alter – und natuerlich, es
gibt dutzende von Geschichten von Schlaganfaellen bei jungen Erwachsenen. Meine Freundin und ich sind mittlerweile nahe einer Panik und gehen sofort zum Arzt, der gluecklicherweise gerade auf der anderen Strassenseite ist. Beim Arzt beginne ich zu hyperventilieren und werde schliesslich ohnmaechtig. Der Doktor gibt mir eine Spritze
in meinen Hintern um mich wieder zu den Lebenden zu bringen und macht die notwendigen Tests. Nach einer Weile ist klar, ich habe “nur” Malaria – ich glaube, der Doktor hat noch nie jemanden so gluecklich gesehen mit einer Malaria Diagnose! Alles besser als einen Schlaganfall 😉
UM GNADE BITTEN
Ich war am Auto fahren und wollte einen Freund kurz absetzen. Verkehrsregeln existieren in Sierra Leone, aber werden eher auf einer zufaelligen Fall-zu-Fall basis umgesetzt. Ich dachte mir daher nicht viel dabei, als ich in einem Kreisel (es war ein grosser Kreisel, zu meiner Verteidigung) anhielt und meinen Freund rausspringen liess.
Dummerweise hielt ich DIREKT VOR einer Polizeistation. Der Polizist war mehr als gluecklich, mich wegen Verletzung von Verkehrsregeln fest zunehmen und zur Polizeistation zu begleiten um meine Aussage aufzunehmen. Es war so unglaublich heiss in der Polizeistation, dass ich kaum klar denken kann. Meine Aussage wird aufgenommen waehrenddem ich schweisstropfend auf der Holzbank sitze und von allen angestarrt werde. Ich bin immer noch am ueberlegen, wie ich am besten aus dieser Situation (und diesem heissen Raum) herauskomme, als ein Offizier kommt und mich fragt: “So, Madam, sollen wir Sie vors Gericht zitieren oder bitten Sie um Gnade?” Ich verstehe nicht ganz und er wiederholt: “Sollen wir Sie vors Gericht zitieren oder bitten Sie um Gnade?” Ich verstehe die Logik dahinter nicht ganz und finde, das ist nicht wirklich eine Wahl, aber sage schlussendlich, ich bitte um Gnade. Seine Antwort: “Gnade erteilt, ich wuensche Ihnen einen schoenen Tag, geehrte Frau!” Schnelles Urteil, unglaubliche Gnade! 🙂 ich gehe spaeter vorbei mit einem kleinen Ventilator als Dankeschoen und damit zukuenftige Verbrecher nicht so schwitzen muessen wie ich.