Sunday, January 15, 2012

First week in Freetown Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is about the size of Wales and sits between Liberia and Guinea on the southwest corner of West Africa. The capital Freetown is on a mountainous peninsula that emerges from the Atlantic on the Rokel Estuary.

My first view was at night approaching across the river by motor boat as Lungi airport is on the far shore of the estuary. The lights of the city filled the horizon and rose to fill the 1000 foot hills behind.  Then a wooden gangway: Organised confusion as bags are identified and transferred and then a ride up twisting bumpy roads to accommodation in the hilltop suburb of Wilberforce.

This is one of the spectacular views across the town from the road that descends for my apartment.

|The children's hospital is on the coast and on this picture is in the furthest distal part of downtown . Every working day I leave with others from the project in a Land  rover at about 7 AM.  it takes about 30 minutes to cover the five miles at that time of day. The only way to the hospital is through the old central district of Freetown. It is a grid of small streets each full of cars walkers motor bikes and traders. In the evening it takes 90 minutes to return if we leave at 4.30. Later than that and the congestion slows the journey to 2 hours which is less than average walking speed. here is a shot from the car on the way back. The congestion is a lot worse than this and particularly at junctions.

As a final shot here is the view from my apartment. I am on the second floor of quite a modern apartment set among simpler single  houses  in a patchwork of compounds.

In the foreground an older 2 story clap board house of colonial period

the orange shed is a shop.
In the distance more of the hilltops of the peninsula.

I wish my eyes were cameras. There are so many things here I would love to have on film to illustrate life here. People are sensitive about photography and so I have chosen to be very discrete and sparing with use of camera. Hopefully when I know the layout better and  feel comfortable i can capture more images.

Personal feelings: It is a huge readjustment to change every aspect of working and personal routine and I am still settling in. Early starts and long days. There is plenty to do but I do miss my family and cosy home comforts. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

End of course celebrations

I wish I could remember the name of this restaurant, as I am really uncertain how to pronounce the letters about the shop front in green. Any way it is a famous one opposite poly clinic 1 where they take all the tourists It is really beautifully looked after and full of museum pieces of Tajik culture. Here i am with the clinic team after a lunch full of laughter and pictures and kind words.

I get to hand everyone a beautiful certificate imprinted back and front Tajik and English. And then I have to dress up and tie on my leaving gift. This is the sort of knife Crocodile Dundee would be happy to carry in the mean outback but which is not legal outside a circus in UK

Oh and I supplied the cake

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Good by and thanks for all the plov

Tomorrow is my last working day at the poly clinic. The major event will be the handing out of course completion certificates at a cafe in town. This week the course evaluations have been positive and people want more. Who knows what could be arranged in the future. The cafe is my link to plates of the national quick meal. The Big mac of Tajikistan is Shashlik. Lamb meat or mince fresh char coaled on a spit with onions herbs bread and green tea. However the fish and chips is plov. (pronounced ploff)
Which comes as a mound of oily rice and carrot shavings spiced and topped with fried meat. Most cafes can dish this faster than any macdonalds. But it is also served to visiting guests at home. This is a picture of Dilafruz bringing us a plate of Plov when Elaine and i visited her house in Konibodom. I know now that no matter home many sweets and biscuits are on the guest table when i arrive: And no matter how tempted i am to guzzle the soup: Always leave room for a huge plate of Plov which follows.

Anyway back to the cafe tomorrow. I promised to bring cake. There will be pictures and kind things said.

This country is rich in kindness. In cafes and buses now i realize people are beginning to recognize me and make conversation or speak a few words of English before i even knew they knew I was not a Russian.

Today was national flag day. It poured all day and still classes for students marched down to the government buildings to wave red and green flags and sing. traffic was grid locked because the main bridge was closed.

This evening i have been out for a meal with two other VSO volunteers, Mike and Jonathan who are both placed at the Free Economic Zone. Jon is flying to Dushanbe tomorrow for in-country training part 2. Mike is going back to the UK via Moscow because of a family bereavement. On Monday i am flying to Dushanbe to link with my flight home on Thursday. So we sank a glass of Moldovan Cognac
Rock on boys

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Walking home on air this afternoon after a very productive morning,  I could see a very active football match ahead of me across the granity gravel. I loved how the pitch was framed by the blocks of flats with the snowy peaks like a theatre backdrop behind.

All you need is a ball and your mates. But in this case they had some metal goals too. Perfect. And the soccer mums can see that their kids are safe and they can hang out the window and yell supper.  Here schools have a morning or an evening shift. Either way you get some day light play time during the winter. Good idea.

Having taken some candid shots I though maybe they might pose for me. So I walked up with my camera making photo signs. Lets try to communicate I thought.

'Manchester United' I shouted: - some response.

'Chelsea':  Much better; smiles and cheers and everyone lined up for the squad shot. Except one kid who hid behind everyone.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ishfara clinic visit

We set off for Ishfara this morning at 7AM in an old but shiny silver Mercedes Taxi. It was two hours on good roads east past the huge Kairakum reservoir and then gradually up hill through orange and purple desert.
The purpose was to meet the clinical team at the Poly clinic as they are about to start a teaching program in child health for 200 rural family doctors
Here are most of the local team. I wrote down names but only phonetically and did not get everyone as people came and went. However in the picture L-R are : a GP , a Speech therapist, physiotherapist, paediatric neurologist; myself; a psychistrist, a psychologist and Saboat the head of the NGO which has organised and funded the training. Introductions were made and then everyone got down on the floor to plan the training sessions
This is a large sunny physiotherapy room. It was cold as the hospital central heating was not working but there were two electric fires doing their best. They said they expected the power to go off at mid day. The clinic itself is bare concrete but this room is carpeted and clean and every one had shoes off. See if you can spot who was given the pink slippers in the photo above.
Then  a mother came in for some physiotherapy for her son who has Cerebral palsy. The therapist has a very warm coat and after putting him through his paces they asked me to examine him and discuss his treatment. 

This 4 years old girl came next. She also had cerebral palsy although it mostly affected he legs. She had beautiful red boots but we had a good discussion about how to give her more support for her ankles and help her to stand and walk as she probably would be able to in the future. 

Then we had lots more discussion about what would be done if someone had a fit: and should they be allowed to have therapy if they had a tendency to have seizures. 

And from this more discussion about schooling for both these children. Local schools are not set up to take children with disabilities and particularly those who have seizures. Everyone knows this must change but it is going to take some time.

And after two hours it was back in the Merc; job done. Here is a last shot of  walking away from the front of the poly clinic. 

L-R: Shoira, an english teacher at the university who translates for me: Saboat my boss: Ramo the local administrator who is sorting the teaching and travel logistics; and Manija who does the NGO finances

I was really happy to make this visit because I was finally face to face with the reason Saboat wanted me out here. That is to Beef up this training program:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Panshambe market

This is the square between the main Mosque and Panshambe market. It was a slow Thursday afternoon and the place was nothing like as crowded as the weekend.

I was struck by the immense size of the bazzar hall and how how many food items were spread out

visiting Sainsburies will never be the same again.

I visited the Mosque and felt exactly the same astonishment at the inspirations of the architects builders and caretakers as at any european cathedral.

And beyond the square a load of cobblers who could i am sure fix anything.  

Classic tajik loaves 1 Somonie  (about 20pence)
a piece. tastes pretty good warm or old

Even if you dont think you want anything there is hours of entertainment to be had walking and looking

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Khujand City

Kuhjand is twice the population of Bath (150,000) and 300 years older, having been founded By Alexander as a furthest outpost of the Hellenic empire. It straddles a very large river between craggy granite mountains. This is the main bridge looking to newer parts of the town. What's left of this river after massive water extraction for agriculture and industry drains into the dwindling inland Aral Sea. This is a warm October day

I cross the bridge every day on the way to work. Every joint is a gappy bump for speeding vehicles. I cant imagine the chaos if it were closed for any reason.

Here is the view across the bridge to where I live yesterday. It had snowed which locals say is really unusal and the temperature hovered a few damp degrees over zero. Just past the second lamp post in the distance is a huge plinth which used to support one of the largist statues of Lenin in the Soviet Union. The town was renamed Leninobod in 1936  but  reverted with independence in 1991. Lenin has been removed from his pedestal and replaced by...........
King Ismail Samani who is now the preferred local Legend. He has money and the national airline named after him. He was king for a few years 892-907 BCE during the 200 year Samaid rule which was the first indigenous dynasty in what had been Eastern Persia. It was a seen as a golden age of art literature and science. 

Lenin's statue was not destroyed but simply moved up the road. The Soviet era is remembered here as another golden age. During this time Tajikistan became for the first time a named Soviet republic. Albeit not every one was thrilled with the final map. The Soviets provided Industry, hospitals, schools, housing full employment and structure to a level which has not been regained after independance and the civil war.

So Samani is the symbol of the republic and its dreams for the future. Lenin stands next to a field by the river in an unfinished concrete stack looking purposefully in the direction of King Ismail

A standard part of many Tajik weddings is to have photographs taken near the Samani statue.  On any day there will be bridal cars waiting at the bottom right by the Olympic size ( 50m) swimming pool and new sports complex. I have yet to see a bride by Lenin
though maybe when they have finished the plinth and surroundings he could be a tourist attraction too.