Postcard from Freetown: “Random Hysteria towards Nation Building”

It has been raining heavily in Freetown lately as the monsoon rain finally takes its toll. There is not a single day that goes by without heavy rainfall. The beauty about the rainy season in Freetown is that you are never short of fresh vegetables and the city is green as you overlook the mountain right above you. We have special delicacies – like “Cucumber Ground Soup, Pepper Soup, Hot Groundnut Soup” – with some hot chilli spices mixed in with all sorts of ingredients, sure to keep your nose running and all the nerves in your system working over time!

I must say Sierra Leoneans love chilli. If I may go by my history books, we copied such tendencies from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, because we share some heritage and culture.

In the midst of some of my personal issues, I am “enjoying” being at home in Freetown. Those of you that know me know my love for technology and its convenience. Surprisingly, I have developed a coping and rationing mechanism to stay in touch with the virtual world that I am so accustomed to.

The Internet is still a luxury in Sierra Leone and people think I’m a strange creäture from Jupiter when I rant about the poor internet and communication facilities in Freetown. The bug has not caught up with Sierra Leoneans and I can’t wait for the planned fibre optic cable that will be laid across the Atlantic to aid for better internet connection and communication. This couldn’t happen soon enough!

The fact is Sierra Leone lags behind in almost all areas of its political, technological, economical, social and vocational life. This can be contested by some but judging by what I have seen in the past five months I have been here a lot still has to be done. There is a lot of work ahead for this once-glorious nation – that is recovering from war – to do to stay abreast with the world and the raves of the 21st century.

If you thought that the Nokia 3310 was dead, think again! You are mistaken because in Freetown it is a “hit”! Funny enough guys pose with it to show class or to impress the girls. If PEP Stores was in Sierra Leone they would be making loads of money with their cheap and entry level Samsung and Nokia phones – a rampant sight in Freetown. I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom, or make it seem as if Sierra Leoneans are backwards in any way. That is not the case. We do have smart phones but the number of users is quite small and the communication facilities not as advanced as they should be for some of these gadgets. They are high maintenance so only the haves can afford using them.

The Chinarization of Freetown has also cut across the telecommunications sector deeply. Chinese phones with two, three and even four SIM cards are readily available. Cell phones named “Nokai”, “SenQ”, “Samsang”, “BlueBerry” and “Soni Errikson” are everywhere. This always leaves me in stitches. The government policy of an open market with China is to blame as the Chinese are using Sierra Leone as the dumping ground for some of their substandard products. Considering their availability and low-cost people have no choice but to buy them.

Another interesting observation is that, Freetown girls are yet to discover the Wonder Bra. Some of the girls in the east end of Freetown, especially the Fula and upcountry girls don’t wear bras. As you walk along the streets of the eastern part of town, you’ll find dangling breasts and pointed nipples galore. The fashion colour commotion is another torture I face daily. If you think the Rainbow Nation has issues, you ain’t seen anything! The situation is a catastrophe as girls break and reinvent fashion rules that would have my fashionista friend Dumi Gwebu paralyzed in hysteria!

The social life in Sierra Leone also needs some serious upgrading. There are not many clubs around town so you have to travel to the outskirts of Freetown to the west end to places like Lumley Beach and Wilkinson Road. This is the only way to experience real night life. Pubs are everywhere but not up to the standard in Johannesburg.

What gives me hope about this city is that the people have embraced the present and are working tirelessly for a brighter future. So much has to be done but each day as Sierra Leone rises with the sound of the cock crowing the people face the day head on. The challenges are there but the people keep working to restore what is left of this city and that is my joy.

As I put my pen down it is fair to say that many of these things are new. Sierra Leone has been out of touch with the world for over ten years. Bu finally we are back in the grind. Peace reigns and yes it will take some time for this nation to catch up with the modern world. The challenge that remains is to maximize and combine the work that is being done as we march forward on this path of nation building.

@DanteBello on Twitter


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