Saturday, November 29, 2014

A second look

Bereh beach, beautiful but largely deserted
My first impression of Freetown was of life going on as normal but spend a few weeks here, talk to some locals and you realise life is anything but normal. To begin with the impact on the economy is huge. Some say the Sierra Leonian beaches are the best in the world, they are certainly spectacular but currently they are deserted as the tourist industry has collapsed. One of our drivers has seen his own taxi business implode and he now relies on working for the NGO to feed his children. Perhaps when this is all over a small silver lining will be that many new people have seen the country and would love to come back and visit.

Since May all schools, colleges and universities have been closed including the nursing college and medical school. Mass gatherings are outlawed so the football stadium lies empty although curiously church gatherings seem to be except. The bars along the beach are usually teeming with people and alive with loud music until the early hours but now they are almost silent. Just a few people prop up the bar with the quietest of sound systems playing, in truth they are supposed to be closed altogether. Even the public transport has changed; in Freetown cars are used as shared taxis to run along pre-determined routes. Normally there might be two in the front and another four in the back. To prevent too much body contact they are now restricted to one in the front and two in the back. Roadblocks are common and the rules strictly enforced.

At one point I wondered whether there might be perverse incentives for some people to keep the Ebola epidemic going, what with all the extra NGO’s floating around town hiring local staff. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are in fact far fewer NGO’s here than normal because all those not working on Ebola have understandably upped and left. It is true that some staff are being paid a ‘risk allowance’ but no-one I have spoken to values this above having their country back. You often hear people saying “after Ebola it will do this and that”, there seems to be an assumption that this will all be over sometimes early next year. Looking at the statistics I think we might still be running an isolation unit a year from now.

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