Arrival in Bo City

Trip Start Oct 13, 2007
Trip End Nov 29, 2007

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Flag of Sierra Leone  ,
Monday, October 13, 2008

Bo City  
I am writing this about 10 days after our arrival in Bo. It was all a bit of a disaster upon arrival and things have gone rapidly downhill since!

Our New House

When signing up with VSO we made our requirements for accommodation very clear i.e. we could live without running water or electricity but needed our own space and did not want to share. Before leaving Freetown it became apparent that we would be sharing a house with the other volunteers in Bo, a Philipino couple and a Ugandan guy, but that we would have a complete floor of the house to ourselves, so, in the newly found spirit of compromise we said "no problem!" However, on arrival we found that that the ground floor we had been allocated had no windows and was effectively a garage/ex cow shed.  In addition it was absolutely filthy.  The promises of our programme manager that she had inspected the property were clearly not true as it bore no similarity to the property she had described.  In order to get to the bathroom (which, I would guess was previously used by some sort of livestock) it was necessary to squeeze through a gap about 9 inches wide (with the weight I have lost, I could just about manage it !  The one good point of this property was that it was very central and close to work.
To cut a very long story short, after our programme manager had a big row with the estate agent, (who made UK estate agents look positively ethical!), we retired back to the home of the Minister of Agriculture (also the local Mr Fixit), to discuss plans for alternatives.   Overnight a new property was found, a large bungalow on the main Bo to Kenema highway. After much deliberations we agreed to share with the other volunteers provided that:
a)      the house could be separated to provide our own space,
b)      it was within walking distance of the town and,
c)     assurances were given that the Cinema in the back garden (I kid you not!) was not to be used. 

After our programme manager authorised all the works to the house and told us that the house was only one kilometre from the centre of town, the cinema was not in use and a security perimeter was to be erected, we agreed to move in.  This was on the Friday and the works (as above, plus mosquito screens, kitchen, water, electricity, fence, steel doors, furniture etc. (i.e. the essentials of life in Africa) would be completed by Monday (yeah right!).

Over the weekend, we found our bearings we found that the house was not one, but six kilometres or about an hours walk from town! (to be fair this is about half of my commute time back home so you may wonder what I am moaning about, but 2 hours of walking each day in 90f plus is not something we anticipated.

A week and a half later and the work on the house has still not been completed. I went around to the house unannounced to see how things were progressing.  There were 6 workmen at the house, 4 of  whom were asleep in our proposed bedroom! The other two were busy holding up the traffic on the main highway as they tried to connect the electricity cable from the house to the pylon across the road (scary stuff!)

More house stuff  
Ben and Alice, our two Philippino housemates, decided they could not stand African food anymore and so moved into the house regardless of the fact that it is not ready, as they desperately wanted their own food.  The first night they had to eject all the workmen from the house (they wanted to sleep there), and to chase off a number of people who tried to get into the house during the night (hence the need for a perimeter fence and security guard).  To add to their woes, the water and electricity also failed.  Our Ugandan colleague joined Ben and Alice the next day and continued with his usual lifestyle, which mainly centres on the local moonshine and women.
Considering all of these factors we decided not to move into the house. This weekend, we were certain that we had made the right decision as the cinema was back in use to show a Manchester United match. Ben took some pictures of the supporters "celebrating" in the garden about 10 feet from the house - (think Millwall supporters not on their best behaviour!) 

To top it all, a friend who lives in a secure compound just along the highway had her laptop stolen from the house whilst she was actually in the house. They used a scaffold pole to unplug the laptop from the wall, drag it right across the room and lift it out of the window - full marks for perseverance!

We have a meeting with the VSO country director tomorrow to decide what to do next.  It seems likely that we will go back to Freetown and wait for the accommodation to be sorted out. Personal security is a big issue here and not something to treat lightly.  We keep getting by the locals warned about what not to do and where not to go.  VSO in Sierra Leone appear to be have totally unprepared for the arrival of volunteers, so different from VSO UK. I really hope they can get things sorted out as we really do want to stay, but not at any price!

Carolyn has been for an interview with RADA, an NGO which looks after disabled children.  They have offered her a job on a short term (6 weeks) basis but that will be held in abeyance until we know what is happening. In the meantime she is training up a finance director here at FOWED.

My job is a lot bigger than I was led to believe. The organisation is virtually non-existent and is held together by the vision of one woman, Sophie Allieu. Sitting here in my office, I see all the women bringing in their malnourished children to be taken to the emergency feeding centres-it really is heart-rending and makes me realise how much help they need and how little we can probably do.

The people here at FOWED seem to be extremely committed but suffer from a total lack of funds and equipment.  The FOWED's activities range from Democracy and Governance - they trained women as observers for the recent elections, to health and education - they are helping out with a big campaign on breast feeding at the moment. The other area is Human Rights where we provide an advocacy service for women who have been arrested or are on remand in prison.  As far as I can make out, if someone here accuses you of a crime the police put you in prison and it is up to the accused to prove their innocence.  One of the current cases Sophie is working on is a woman who was accused of setting fire to her friend's room after she was dumped by her aid worker boyfriend. She was imprisoned simply on the word of her friend with no evidence at all.

A big challenge is financing the work of FOWED.  It seems that the smaller community based organisations rely on funds provided by the big NGOs like UNICEF, World Action etc. For their main source of funds, but corruption here is rife, it seems even amongst these organisations and everyone seems to want a slice of the action.

I have a new best friend, Ibrahim, a boy of 7 or 8 who is crippled with polio and most of his day is spent in a wheelchair. He has the biggest smile I have ever seen, and for some bizarre reason, seems to have taken to me.  He and spends a fair proportion of each day sitting on the floor of my office or on the veranda outside playing with his PlayStation controller - unfortunately there is no PlayStation attached!

We moved from the old hotel as it was way out of town and did not serve any food apart from breakfast, which usually consisted of bread and luncheon meat in pepper sauce - yum yum!   We chose a place in the centre of town where we had eaten on the night of our arrival which seemed ok and provided food (rice with chicken or rice with fish). Unfortunately, we didn't notice that it was right between two open-air nightclubs which got going at around 8, stopped at 10 when the rains come and then start again around midnight until around 4am.  They play a wide variety of music mostly reggae or rap and, bizarrely "The Macarena" features frequently in their play list - god how I hate that song!

The other benefits of being in town are that we see all the local political action, there are constant rallies run by the various political parties which always involve lots of cars with PA systems patrolling the streets. The other interesting aspect of being in Bo town is that we have seen a few of the processions of the secret societies, very scary with the leaders running through the town with head-dresses modelled on buffalo heads.  We have been warned to keep well clear of these demos and to stay indoors when they are going on.

I have tried sending a few photos but the system doesn't seem to be able to cope at the moment.  will try later.
That's about all for now.  We are now back in Freetown trying to sort out or future here in SL. 

More news later.
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