It just occurred to me (thanks for the questions, Uncle Bill!) that I haven't actually written much about day to day life here in Kenema. So, here is a snapshot of my life here.
The house I am living in is a neighbourhood called "Reservation" on Turay Street. It is an upscale neighbourhood for Kenema, and the houses are large, new, and usually occupied by doctors, professionals and expats. My house is surrounded by a wall topped with razor wire, so it is very secure (although it still bothers me that there is razor wire everywhere). The compound, much to my disappointment, is concrete throughout, so I am unable to have much of a garden. I have managed to cultivate tomatoes, papaya and watermelon in large cracks in the concrete and in my compost heap! It would be really nice to have a BBQ and patio furniture, but that's just not in the budget.
The road to the house is just dirt, and is bounded by deep ditches which are needed to manage the huge amount of water that comes out of the sky when it rains here. As I walk toward the city centre I have to be careful to watch my footing as the road is very uneven and rutted all the way to the main road. Hangha Road, which is the main drag, is paved through Kenema. The pavement ends on the east side of the city, but the highway to Freetown is paved all of the way. It is a very busy road, with pedestrians (no sidewalks), bicycles, okadas (motorcycle taxis), cars and SUVs (mainly NGO vehicles), poda-podas (public van taxis), large transport trucks and a variety of carts and other conveyances. I'm told that there are traffic laws but they are not apparent. Pedestrians have no rights. Okada drivers ignore rules and common sense (there have been over 120 okada accidents this year, including 8 deaths). Larger vehicles have the right of way always. So, it is, in short, chaos on wheels.
Walking along Hangha Road is always interesting. Vendors of every description set up on the side of the road, selling everything from cooked food to shoes, and most of the other businesses occupy the buildings that line it. They are stores, but not as we westerners are used to. There is some logic to the sections of commerce. One area has mostly diamond buyers, another has vendors selling shoes, or used clothing. There is a vegetable market. There are two supermarkets, one run by a Lebanese family, one by an Indian family. There are restaurants (some good, some not so good). No big box stores, no coffee shops, no malls. It is a very different marketplace than we are accustomed to!
Most of the other roads in Kenema are not paved, and the centre of the town is devoted to commercial enterprises. There are many mosques and churches here, and a lot of religious tolerance. The population is probably about 60% Muslim, but there is literally no conflict between Muslims and Christians here, and it is common to have both religions in every family. Every meeting starts with prayers in both religions, or silent prayers. Religion is very important here, and one of the first questions I'm usually asked is "Are you a Christian or a Muslim?, and then, "do you go to church?". There is no reluctance to discuss religion here, and it is always interesting to hear the various perspectives, but no one pushes their own religion or agenda.
To get to my office you have to take Maxwell Khobe Street through the central market where you can buy rice, oil, salt, peppers, onions, fish and various other food and non food products. This is one of the most congested market areas in Kenema. It is always abuzz with activity, crowded and noisy (and smelly because of the fish). I don't usually shop here as I find it rather claustrophobic, dirty and hot and unhygenic, but it is always interesting to pass through.
The IFAD office is located in a compound in a less crowded area past the main market, across a creek and up a small hill. It is not very large, so we are quite crowded. I share a space which contains four desks, four filing cabinets, one large cupboard and (yay!) is airconditioned. We have 4-10 people working in this space most days. There is a also 3 small toilets, an IT office, and reception area, the Finance/Treasury Office and the Manager's office which is also the boardroom. It is a busy place, but everyone gets along quite well (a very good thing) and it is a good place to work. I have adjusted to the overcrowding and noise, and have come to enjoy the camaraderie here.
When I am in the office I usually go to a restaurant called Yeane's for lunch. There is a menu, but it is usually best just to ask what they have, as they don't actually have most of the stuff that is on the menu. Local food is usually rice and soup (two varieties daily) which is what the Sierra Leoneons usually have. I'll have local food when there is groundnut soup with fish, or jollof rice with onion sauce. Otherwise I usually have chicken and fried rice or chips. There are no vegetables (ever). Cold water or Coke. Not much variety. But they seem to actually cook properly and conditions are more hygenic than most other places so the risk of typhoid is reduced. I figure that rice is boiled and the chicken is fried in hot oil, so it is pretty safe. So far so good. When I did get typhoid we had been eating at another place - haven't been back there since!
Work is from 8:30 to 5:30 when I'm in the office. An IFAD driver picks me up and drops me off each day, as it is at least a 45 minute walk between the office and my house. When we go to the field I like to start earlier (and we often don't get home until dusk, so the days can be long. I'm grateful for air conditioning, especially on field days! The drivers are very good and very professional. They take very good care of me, and often run errands for us when we are in the office. I don't often have to lift or carry anything heavy, and always have help when I need to buy something (they are very good negotiators!). We don't have assigned drivers, so I've come to know all of them fairly well. At present the youngest of the group has been taking me to the field, and I've come to really enjoy his company. Ibrahim is Jessica's age, and in many ways he reminds me of her. He is a very good driver, likes music and is as passionate about basketball as she is about soccer! We have had the most interesting conversations, lots of laughs, and he now calls me Mum. He's a very sweet boy and I shall miss him when I come home, but will stay in touch with email. All of the drivers have said that if I ever need anything (day or night) all I have to do is to call. They are very protective of me, and were worried when Susan moved out and I was alone at home. I rely on them for information, too, as they always seem to know everything that is going on in Kenema!
With the rainy season starting things in Kenema are lush and green, and there are small vegetable gardens on every plot of land possible. Some of the trees have beautiful flowers, and there are one or two landscaped properties that look particularly good right now.
The days are cloudier now, but the sun is still searing when it breaks through, and the humidity makes it hard to bear. I've noticed that the clothes don't always dry on the line, and will need to buy an iron to iron them dry so that they don't get mildewed. The recent rains have brought out the bugs, too. Some wickedly big cockroaches, spiders and lots of mosquitoes. Frogs are "singing" every night and the swamps are downright musical with frogs and birds and bugs all making noise together.
Time here is winding down. It will be hard to leave dear friends, but will be wonderful to see familiar faces and places. Will post as internet allows....and one day there may actually be enough bandwidth to post photos!