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Published: April 20th 2013
Only took a week to get this shot...
Thank you again to those who have written. It is great to hear from home.
We last blogged in Dakar, whilst staying with an ex-pat friend, and we are now in a similar situation in Freetown, staying with an old school friend of Jo, Lynn and Tim, who have been looking after us royally! thank you!
We are spending a few days in the city before heading to Masanga at the weekend. Jo has been trying to meet as many of the four physios that work in Sierra Leone as possible, and we have visited the national rehabilitation centre and the military equivalent, as well as doing a few touristy things, and we have met a whole bunch of interesting people so we are feeling up to speed with politics, mining, religion, traffic laws, sources of power, water, EU funding, health promotion and the goings on in the ministry of finance.
And yes, we have discovered and visited The only surf break in Sierra Leone, and yes, dem waves do mak ya feel fine!
This blog has been a bit of a joint effort written over several days, so apologies if it does not
The Guinean letter
The only piece of paper required to get through guinea!
read too fluently....
Guinea is a stunning country, though we are biased...having a lot of its land mass above 1000m helps considerably with heat and Mosquitos but the people are really what made it for us. Despite the capital having considerable difficulties at a balanced and fair election, the rest of the country seem to just want to get on with it and make some money. We bumped into a couple of American Peace Corp volunteers who in turn introduced us to some inspirational Guineans who have thought provoking plans of what the country needs and how to achieve it. The problem holding them back is the unstable government and until it is peaceful, they cannot get on with their eco/agro- tourism projects. However Guinea is a country to watch and once (hopefully) the politics are decided and peace settles, it will be an amazing place to visit.
From the border from Senegal, we had a interesting 190km pisted road down to Labe. The road is currently being built by the Chinese but it seems to have protruded about a mile outside Labe at the moment so we arrived very hot and dusty with Rhubs
Carb heavy petit dejeuner.....
crying out for some Tarmac.
The rest of the time in Guinea was spent trekking in the hills and swimming in a lot of waterfalls. I am still not entirely sure whether swimming in all these Guinean rivers is an intelligent thing to do but I am travelling with a doctor....so he should know best.....! We will see, i will keep you up to date if I see any worms. Accommodation was generally basic in most places, with a bucket shower and intermittant electricity but with the cooler temperatures after the cauldron of senegal, it was a refreshing change. Coming off the plateau into smouldering hot southern Guinea made us realise that we are indeed going to be hot, really hot, for 5 months as Masanga is at the same altitude. The rains may change that though....
Having spent a wonderful few days in Guinea, the 20 km prior to the Sierra Leone border bought us back to earth with a bump with the most blatant police attempt at extracting money to date. There was no small talk, chit chat or beaming smiles as per usual, just six armed police with a fresh faced
The ferry que!
The cow eventually gave on the less than nutritious children's shorts
chief sitting on a bench. " vous me donnez l'argent" or words to that affect. We couldn't contain our smiles as we started our well practised French gesticulating, flattery and reference to the premiere league. However, He went on: " vous avez un infringement" suggesting that driving in flip flops was illegal. As ever, Jo came to the rescue, removing her flip flop to demonstrate the dexterity of the human foot, at which point he became all smiles, started stroking her foot, marvelling at her nail varnish, and asking if we could give him some food. We duly handed over a huge bag of recently picked, but quite revolting ground nuts that we had been gifted by an aged female hitchhiker and we were waved on our way.
However, as we approached the Guinea border armed with our hand written letter by "Sherif", the chain smoking police chief from the Guinea embassy in Dakar, addressed to his brother, the chief of customs at the town where we entered Guinea, we had a familiar cold sweat that our admin was as holey as the mosquito nets found in our salubrious hotels. An official laissez passé with numerous stamps was
duly requested by a staggering five separate customs officers, all in different buildings,who read our letter with disbelief that this could be an official document, but with Jo's flattery (you speak English tres tres bien, voulez vous un biscuit?) a few shrugged shoulders and a lot of broken French (nous sommes la meme de medicine sans frontiers, oui, un organisation humanitarian, non, nous n'avez pas les medications dans le voiture) and four targeted medical histories with spot diagnoses on their various children/backs/knees, we were signed out of Guinea.
Jo: So we have arrived! After 64 days, the welcome sight of Sierra Leone's barrier (made out of string and plastic bags) greeted us, as did the border guards whose beaming 'hello's' were a comforting sound, after all the bonjours. They were immediately friendly, having been trained by the British, and despite not having a laissez passe, once they knew the purpose of our trip, assured us it wouldn't be a problem.... One charismatic soldier decided to escort us all the way through, probably thinking there were some biscuits in the deal. He proved very useful and the best bit was when he declared 'you are free' when we had managed
to "navigate " all the various custom guards, by which we mean he jumped in the car and shouted at his mates to let us through.....the aforementioned plastic bag barriers were lowered and we were in.....
So we were indeed free and felt amazingly jubilant to be eventually in our final country. Its immediately apparent that Sierra Leone has been touched by the NGO hand. In 8km of newly tarmaced road (courtesy of the EU) we saw more health signs than we have seen on our entire trip....from drinking water to sexual health, it is all unashamedly preached on the road sides. We have yet to see whether its sank in. Our first stop was a place called Kambia, where a friend of David's worked in the hospital. The charity, Kambia Appeal, is a maternity charity which aims to provide the local hospital with UK Doctors. Unfortunately all the doc's were away on holiday but we were put up in the compound by the caretaker Moses.
On arriving to Kambia, it was apparent that some sort of celebration was going on. After being shown the entire town by a 16yr old on his motorbike
(which kept on running out of petrol so obviously we offered to fill it up) we were taken to a suitably seedy drinking hole and told that the new chief was being 'crowned' today. The chief of a 'chiefdom' is basically a mayor but with a much more intense initiation ceremony. He first goes for 40 days into the 'Sacred Bush' and is visited by 'soothsayers' who foretell his future. Teaching also takes place from more experienced chiefs and other wise men about leadership etc so all in all its 40 days of intense training and preparation and a little bit of 'juju'. The aforementioned soothsayers then joined us in our seedy bar and seemed to be in very high spirits (no pun intended) especially when david offered them all cashews nuts. Did they see that coming?! The rest of the town then celebrates for a couple of days by dancing around the streets and generally having a great time. Their drums and chanting are heard until dark when the generators come on (or not) and drown out all natural sounds. What is really interesting, and what we haven't really got to the bottom of yet is the secret societies.
Well, they are secret....Groups dance around the town dressed similarly with a 'devil' out in front dressed in a various concoctions of animal and grass garments. These groups all belong to separate secret societies who have separate initiation ceremonies. The most well known is a female one than practises Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or cutting, an ongoing thorn in the side of visiting healthcare professionals.
David: So we are looking forward to starting work after 10 weeks on the road, and given the sparse interweb access at the hospital, this may be the last blog for a month or so. Please leave us a message, and if you have read this far, thank you and well done! One last addendum: in the process of converting her phone to be compatible with the Sierra Leone networks, Jo unfortunately lost all her contacts. So we have a Sierra Leone number 00232 77897646, but do not have any of your numbers, so at some point please email us your telephone number...... Love and hugs X
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