Exploring and making sense of Freetown

That’s a video of a drive from part of western Freetown — which is more spread out and contains the beaches and wealthy areas — over the the river channel toward the downtown area. Note the Ebola prevention sign near the end, and although the audio is bad, you can also hear my colleagues, a reporter and the driver for Awoko, talking in Krio. (A Krio sentence I heard someone say last week, and now can’t get out of my head, is “Omos o’clock i de stat?” which means “What time does it start?” I’m definitely planning on writing a post just about Krio soon.)

It’s been interesting exploring Freetown, even though it’s not necessarily designed for wandering around. There aren’t many “sights” and it’s not the most beautiful city on ground level, though from above it can look stunning. But it’s fascinating just because it’s so different from any city I’ll encounter in the US, and different from any I’ve seen even in the Middle East or North Africa. I’ll pause and show you some photos from downtown and west Freetown, with photos from eastern part of the city further down:


A mural plastered with posters downtown. It says, “What’s happening now?” or maybe “What will happen now?” but I don’t think so…my Krio is not good


Not far from my hostel. Scaffolding always looks worryingly flimsy here


Wandering along the highway, sort of toward the western area. It was a long way


And this is the view from the balcony of the Awoko newsroom

I’ve written two columns sort of about the city. The first was responding to another Awoko columnist who advocates for clearing out the slums — in my column I compared this to the city of Seattle’s recent effort to clear out the Jungle of homeless dwellers. The next column is just about my experiences exploring the city — downtown, the western and eastern parts.


Siaka Stevens street downtown

I’ll post the columns below. Here’s part of the first column, and a link to the rest:

Seattle, my hometown in the American state of Washington, has at least two major things in common with Freetown: a healthy amount of rain, and a large population of homeless people. Seattle and its surrounding County have such a problem with homelessness that it’s officially been ruled a “crisis.” Though many live in shelters or makeshift housing of some kind, it’s also quite common in Seattle to see homeless people in the streets, sleeping under doorways, begging, selling newspapers or playing music for money (and unfortunately, also the occasional alcohol or drug addict).

In a column yesterday in Awoko, writer Beny Sam decried the over crowdedness of many parts of Freetown, the houses springing up in risky locations such as under bridges, the risks of disease in places like Kroo Bay and Bomeh. Sam blames Freetown’s overpopulation for the problem, but also NGOs and civil society organizations who oppose evicting people from their homes, and instead aim to help people where they are. “What these Bodies forgot was that the locations are not ideal and will never be,” he writes. Sam instead praises the “khaki boys” from the days of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) who evicted people living in “dangerous” places.

Read the rest here, or at this URL: http://awoko.org/2016/07/20/sierra-leone-news-chetanyas-view-2/

And here’s part of my column on exploring the city, followed by a link to the rest, followed by photos:

I never know what I’ll find when I turn a corner in Freetown. It’s unlike any city I’ve been to, and I’ve unexpectedly stumbled on so many things just walking around. In fact, there are too many to list. The paved street outside my hostel turns into to a dirt road through a cluster of makeshift houses, making the city suddenly look rural. There’s the scene I saw near Siaka Stevens street: a woman hawking sandals, baskets of charcoal on piled up on the ground, and an elderly man sitting in a tiny shack, with the words “Expert clock repairer” in faded paint. Nearby, past fruit and cigarette sellers, is the CD market that intermittently blares Bollywood songs in the evenings, overlaying an Indian soundtrack on top of the West African street and its beeping horns.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around this city. The layout alone defies description. Just in the downtown area, crowded, slum-like areas made up of rusting tin roof houses fill out the city, adding bulk and masses of people to the old skeleton structure established long ago by its urban planners. Some streets in downtown Freetown are laid out in a grid and lined with sturdier-built houses and buildings. They can look brand new, faded and decaying, stuck in the early stages of construction, and everywhere in between. And that’s just downtown.

Read the rest here, or at this URL: http://awoko.org/2016/07/22/sierra-leone-news-chetanyas-viewexploring-freetown/

Here are a few photos from walking around eastern Freetown. I took them with my phone, and I’m pleasantly surprised at the quality:


This used to be a bus station, and the building here was built by the British


This clock tower marks the boundary between east and west Freetown (in this picture, west on the right, east on the left). That’s President Koroma in the poster. Oh, and the van with “Believe in the Almighty” on the front is really common. They’re called poda podas, and usually have a religious message like “Allah is great’ or “Fear Judgement Day”


This is one of the many tin-roofed house communities in east Freetown, which seem like slums, but maybe that’s not the right word 


Sunset I saw during my walk toward western Freetown


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