Dispatch from Sierra Leone: Walking in Freetown

There are two seasons in Sierra Leone:  the dry season…and the rainy season.  Although there is some rain in the “dry” season, the vast majority of the 3 meters of rain that fall on Freetown during a typical year occur between May and October, with an average of an inch a day in August.  Some people call the rain “biblical” in scope. With all the rain and damp air, it’s impossible to dry anything – and even things that are supposedly dry, feel damp.

On Sunday morning, a brief break in the clouds – an opportunity to be seized.  I packed a camera (in a ziploc bag), umbrella, backpack and headed on foot into Freetown proper.

Here are some views of the city I saw on my way.

Freetown

Dog

Once I got into the city proper, I walked through the rain-soaked streets, many of which were lined with vendors selling different types of fruits, flip flops, and other items.  People walked through the streets with huge bundles balanced on their heads – I wanted to snap a picture of a guy with a good 250-300 eggs stacked on his head, but I wasn’t quick enough to get him from the front.

Market

There was this whole section that was under about 4 inches of water, and people were just going on about their business as if nothing was wrong. Sergeant Marsh explained why.  But when you live in a place where it’s constantly raining, you wear sensible shoes – that can get wet and not cause any issues. Unlike the shoes that have been drying in my hotel room, and are still damp, starting to get stinky, and developing furry mildewy patches…

Market

I love the picture of this little boy helping. Photographically it could have been a bit better, but still…

Help from the Boy

There are big mosques and churches all over town. And I thought about how, despite the things we remember hearing about during Sierra Leone’s horrific civil war that ended just over a decade ago, and all the religious intolerance and horror we hear about in places like Iraq, Sierra Leone is one of the most religiously tolerant places you could ever find. Seriously – take a moment to read about it in this article.  I’m sure it’s a matter of time before someone decides that this is doctrinally improper – but think of the conflicts that wouldn’t exist if everyone thought like “Saloneans” as they are called here…

Church

Mosque Turret

I walked past Freetown’s famous “cotton tree”, and I saw this odd directional sign near the tree which points the direction to the American Embassy, among other things. The American Embassy is a good 5-6 miles from here. Maybe it used to be nearby.

Signpost

Then I chatted with Victor, a security guard, and asked if I could add him to my “100 strangers” photo collection.  It was starting to rain, and I went to snap a photo of an interesting church, but a gentleman across the street objected.  He was operating a roadside snack stand, and wanted to know what I was doing.  I calmly approached him and explained that I was taking a picture.  Because “that’s what tourists do – they take pictures of interesting things they see in the places they go.”  He was a bit agitated but started to calm down, saying “we want to make sure you’re not a terrorist.”  I asked him if I looked like a terrorist, and he explained a terrorist could look like anyone.  So after I got him to OK me photographing the church, it started to rain, and the camera went back into the ziploc bag.

The rain picked up pretty quick, and a group of people hiding under an awning called me over so I could put on my raincoat and grab the umbrella out of my bag.  At this point the rain was coming down in sheets.  That’s when I looked over – bear in mind, I was in the center of Freetown – and realized this group of boys had decided to (nearly all) strip down to nothing for a game of soccer in the pouring rain.  You don’t want to get your clothes wet, right?

And that…is how I spent last weekend’s few rain-free hours.  Oh, and slopping through the rain for the hour-long walk home.  For more photos of my time in Freetown, refer to this Flickr album.

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