In which I observe an election.

30 Nov

As some of you may know

In which I get arrested.

29 Oct

A number of Saturdays ago Sierra Leone held a ‘cleaning exercise’. The first I heard of it was on the Friday afternoon, when a member of my office staff came around to inform us that we should not leave our houses between 7am and 12pm the next day unless our purpose in doing so was to clean our neighbourhood. Somewhat confused, my fellow ex-pat staff and I asked for further elucidation. It turns out that a couple of times a year (in theory – this was the first I’d witnessed in my year here) the government decides that the streets are simply TOO dirty, and therefore mandates the whole Freetown populous to spend a morning digging dirt out of ditches, cleaning up litter, etc.

I could not help but applaud this resolution; anyone who has spent any time in West Africa will be familiar with the feet deep piles of plastic, composting waste and old clothes that decorate most street corners. Also, the city had suffered from a cholera epidemic in recent months and any initiative that would help to do away pools of stagnant ‘water’ was therefore an entirely good idea. However, I also had things to do on that fair morning. Most importantly, I needed to go the Bank. ATMs are rare and temperamental beasts in this part of the world, and Sierra Leone has an entirely cash economy – it’s not possible to pay for ANYTHING using a card and therefore we are forced to part with wads of cash for everything from groceries to flights to 4X4s. Most people therefore spend an inordinately long time in the inordinately long queues of Freetown’s banks. Saturday morning is normally a good time to go, as a substantial portion of those lucky to have bank accounts are nursing their hangovers, and I was therefore reluctant to delay my trip. Consequently, I set off for town at about 10am. I was mildly surprised that there were no bikes or cars on the road, and that everyone outside did indeed seem to be cleaning, but with the entirely reprehensible arrogance of the white man in Africa I decided that no-one would mind if I just ‘popped into town’.

Rather unfortunately, ‘popping into town’ involved going past one of the city’s biggest police stations. And as I was sauntering past I was accosted by a rather affronted looking policeman. He asked to see my ‘international observer’ pass. I thought briefly about (a) claiming I’d left it at home or (b) flashing a Blockbuster video rental card that I’ve been pointlessly carrying around for the last year, but he had this sort of glint in my eye that suggested to me that he would fall for neither. I therefore admitted that I did not own such a thing, and that I was simply on my way to the Bank. He puffed himself up into a picture of righteous indignation (rather comically tempered with delight – a misbehaving white girl was almost certain to have financial pay-offs for him in one way or another) and said that in that case he would be obliged to take me into the police station.

I had not been into this fine establishment before, and two things immediately occurred to me. First of all, Sierra Leone had an absolutely amazing amount of policemen. There were genuinely about 100 bored looking ‘law enforcers’ lounging around in this 3 room building. Secondly, the cell into which I was deposited was rather comfier than most of the $100/night hotels that are Freetown’s only accommodation option. Budding travellers take note! Four policemen of varying seniority (but identical status-indicating paunches) soon joined me, all of whom had dollar signs for eyes. One of them commenced by writing out my ‘charge sheet’, which started as follows:

“The criminal, Katherine (sic) Parry, was arrested on Lightfoot Boston street at 11:21am for the crime of Cleaning Exercise violation…”

They informed me that either I would have to go to court, or I would have to pay a Le500,000 ($120) fine. Neither seemed like tempting options, so I politely asked if I could see the statute book in which my misdemeanour was declared illegal/my punishment was detailed. After some discussion, they admitted that they did not have such a thing, but that I could probably buy it in the nearby publications office. Which was shut. After a twenty minute hiatus in which I sat patiently waiting for someone to prove to me that I’d committed a crime the most senior of the police officers said that we could probably forget about the whole thing if I ‘helped to cover the administrative costs of my arrest’. I said that seemed fair (I’m really against bribes in general, but just couldn’t be bothered spend much more of my Saturday making a point of principle), they closed the door so that none of the 96 policeman outside could see what was happening, and 20 seconds late I had bought my freedom for an embarrassingly low price. I was even allowed to keep my charge sheet as a souvenir – it’s now one of my most treasured possessions; everyone needs a ‘that time I was arrested…’ after-dinner story, and I reckon I got mine pretty cheap.

I emerged from the police station at 12:01pm to find a city that had somehow immediately returned to previous levels of chaos and filth. Miraculous.

And the Bank was closed, just in case you were wondering.

A selection of recent happenings.

26 Sep

I seem to have slipped into a bad (or good/restrained?) habit of posting just once every month, and therefore have a number of incidents to recount.

(1) The time I rescued a sea turtle: I like that as a title. It makes me appear to be some sort bizarre mixture between Dr Doolittle and Florence Nightingale. (Advance apologies to my family, who have already had this story recounted to them at length via email. One has to make the most of these positive PR opportunities). I was walking along Lumley beach by myself at about 5pm (I do this often – it’s about 7km all the way down so a pleasant hour and a half stroll) when I saw something in the distance ahead of me that looked like a couple of men playing with a giant flying saucer. As I got closer I became increasingly convinced that what I was looking at was not, in fact, a UFO, but instead was a sea turtle. It was about 70cm across the shell, and very much alive. I managed to glean from the fishermen that it had got stuck in their nets, and done considerable damage. They were being horrible to it (turning it upside down, kicking it etc), and planning to eat it, but through extensive shouting/bargaining I managed to bribe them to release it back into the sea. It looked a little stunned, but did swim off. They’re very odd creatures, and I kept having flashbacks of the turtles in the brilliant animated film ‘Finding Nemo’. For the next hour or so I walked around in a haze of self-congratulation, until one of my more cynical friends pointed out that my intervention probably made no difference because one of the following probably happened: (a) they were going to release it anyway, (b) it did not survive the ordeal and died slowly and painfully at sea, or (c) the fishermen just went out and caught it again. Said ‘friend’ implied that I had probably just been scammed out of $10. Note to self: find less cynical/realistic friends, and surround self instead with turtle-loving optimists.

(2) The time it got cold in Freetown: Any of you who read this blog with any sort of regularity will know that complaining about the weather is one of my favourite pastimes. Life in Freetown segued seamlessly this year from being too hot to being too wet, with nary an appropriately weathered moment in the middle. I complained about this. A lot. Well, on Sunday it did not rain, and is was not too hot. It was, in fact, too cold. I had ventured to the beach for the first time since June and was forced to sit in a shivery and inadequately clad heap, rather than indulging in a little swim and then poncing around in my new rather-fetching kaftan. It was horrible. I shall never complain about Freetown’s customary weather ever again. (Well…). My food also took over two hours to come, which improved my mood not a lot. I’ve never been good at being either cold or hungry, so I suspect I may have to spend a large portion of my remaining time here making up to various friends for spending the whole day being a miserable sod.

(3) The time I lost my sole: This story may contain a sense of urgency missing in the two above because this time is, well, today. I ventured to Congo Market for the first time yesterday. I actually hadn’t heard about it last week, which, given my (self-professed) status as Freetown’s Premier Shopping Expert was really rather surprising. It is basically an amorphous collection of the stalls that are usually spread across the city in one place at one time. It’s manic. I was jogged and heckled more than I have ever been in Sierra Leone, but I also found more TREASURE than on any other single expedition. I’m going through a silk phase (it’s just so cool, and it feels so nice!) and I bought eight silk tops, two skirts (one silk), a pair of silk trousers and two pairs of shoes (one suede Russell and Bromley flats and one pair Italian leather heels). Today I wore the last of these to work. I don’t wear heels often, and am therefore not very good at navigating the hazards of doing so, but I rather enjoyed the unfamiliar teeter-y sensation as I left the house. As I got off my motorbike (NB I was not driving) outside the Bank, however, I slightly kicked a flagstone and basically knocked the entire sole of my shoe. I ummed and aahed about going home to change vs. soldiering on, but eventually decided on the latter (the traffic at that time of day is dire). By the time I got to my desk I was basically forced to kick up my sole in front of me on each step to avoid tripping over it, which entirely spoiled the unaccustomed ‘heel wiggle’ that I’d been so enjoying. Serves me right. I have been desk-bound all day, making increasingly bizarre excuses as to why I cannot go to see the Governor/go to lunch/fill up my water bottle. Back to the trusty flats tomorrow I think…

(4) I am moving house this evening. I took a load of stuff home with me when I went on leave in July, and therefore fondly imagined that 2 suitcases would be easily sufficient to transport my possessions to my new residence. Not so; the volume of my clothing is really quite staggering. Perhaps I’d better not make too many more trips to Congo Market…

In which I have a difficult decision to make.

31 Aug

Life has been fairly quiet since I came back from leave. After five wonderful weeks in the UK and Romania (about which I may write more at some future stage) I returned to a country still in the grips of one of the wettest rainy seasons on record, grappling with a cholera outbreak and gearing up for elections which have caused companies seeking to take on new international staff to delay their arrival for a few months. All this has meant that there has been rather less going on than in usual in Freetown, for which I am rather grateful; not only is going outside when it’s absolutely pouring with rain not that much fun, I have also enjoyed the time to rest and recoup after a busy and rather hectic few weeks away.

This weekend, however, I have committed myself to taking part in an activity that has caused (and is continuing to cause me) considerable angst… I am going to a beauty salon. This activity may not inspire fear and conscience-wrestling in the vast majority of the population but I have three distinct grounds for concern:

Firstly, this is my first visit to a ‘beauty salon’. (I can practically feel the editors of women’s magazines running whole gamut from Vogue to Closer emitting a sigh of disbelief and falling lifeless to the floor). Yes, that’s right, I have never had a manicure, pedicure or facial. I have always been vaguely aware that these are all important monthly or biannual milestones for most women, but I’ve never really questioned my inherited belief that natural is best, or my personal conviction that if you’re six foot, wearing a yellow and orange fish print dress and spouting almost continuous nonsense then no-one is likely to be critically inspecting your toenails. This, apparently, is naïve. I have periodically been told that my feet are a disgrace (which they are – I’ve always cultivated hard skin so that I can walk around barefooted al summer), that my nails would look much better shaped and polished (I’m not so sure about this; wouldn’t that just draw attention to the fact that they’re rather stubby and square after 23 years of being bitten?) and that I will wake up at 50 wrinklier than a bassett hound unless I develop a skin-care regime a little more sophisticated than ‘occasionally splashing my face with cold water’. Last night my lovely friend Katie, who would never be so crass as to comment on any of the above, asked last night if I’d like to go to Freetown’s one beauty parlour I was taken rather by surprise. But now that I am at, at 25, Real Adult with a fairly decent Disposable Income (until I change jobs next month, that is, but I may as well make the most of it till then…) perhaps the time has come to make this (expensive) leap into (cough) ‘true womanhood’.

Secondly, whilst it seems that most other women have a detailed and thought out explanation and justification for why they spread gold dust and algae over their face every thirteen and a quarter hours, I do not have any sort of ‘beauty philosophy’. All I currently possess is a decent(ish) grasp of personal hygiene. So I’ve been giving the matter considerable thought today (again it’s important to make the most of down time in my current job to practice self-indulgent introspection; it’s highly likely I won’t have this luxury at the next one). And what I have come up with is serious cause for concern. I have noted a definite trend in my attitude towards the purchasing of services: I like to get my money’s worth. So far, so normal, but I define ‘getting my money’s worth’ in a very particular way; I like to leave the person who has performed the service a shadow of their former self. This is true in many situations, but I want to demonstrate my point using two particular examples:

(1) Massages: Again, I’m no connoisseur, but sometimes when I’ve been to parts of the world which have considerably cheaper labour costs than my own (Thailand, Syria) I have succumbed to one of the hundreds of badly spelt signs offering a body pummelling. In Thailand I had two. The first was one of the most painful experiences of my life; a deceptively tiny thai lady walked up and down my spine, cracked joints I did not know I had (and possibly did not have before she got involved) and left me with several friction burns. It was wonderful. The second played beautifully relaxing tinkly music, covered me with jasmine petals and then waltzed out of the room. I left feeling as if I’d be robbed; if I am paying someone to massage me then I want them to be exhausted and gasping for breath when they finish. Yes, I may also be experiencing considerable discomfort, but at least I have to peace of knowing that I’ve purchased their sweat and toil – that I have purchased their exertion. (Syria was also very satisfactory in this respect – my sister and I were in a communal bath and, on agreeing to the full treatment, were grabbed by a naked elderly lady, stripped and scrubbed until we were devoid of every single cell of non-essential skin.)

(2) Art Exhibitions: Although there is superficially little in common between purchasing a massage and a ticket to an exhibition I think the same thing applies. I recently went to the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate, and found it hugely disappointing. Sure, the shark and cut-in-half-cow were cool, but in general it seemed to be a horribly laissez-faire approach to art. And what was with all the dot paintings (which must have taken about 20 seconds each), or all the times he’d just taken all his spare toiletries and just arranged them in no particular order in medical cabinets? This is not all consuming, soul-sucking art creation. You could ‘create’ any of these things whilst eating a mars bar and listening to the sports news on the BBC World Service (which, incidentally, I’m doing a lot of at the moment – even hours of droning on about the transfer window are preferable to the monotonous sound of another foot of rain falling). As I left I deeply begrudged the £15.50 I’d be charged to get in. (The butterfly room was cool though. I’d heartily recommend that. But FYI the one at London Zoo is much bigger.) For contrast, I’d like to draw your attention to the works of John Martin. The Tate Britain recently hosted an exhibition of his work, titled ‘Apocalypse’, which was basically a staggering number of enormous and minutely rendered ‘epic’ canvasses spanning the past (and future), and the rainbow. His attention to architectural and historical detail is startling, and his two most famous paintings (depictions of the end of the world that have inspired generations of science fiction writers) took him several years to create, and caused several bouts of depression. Now I am, of course, sad to hear of his trials and tribulations, and I would not wish mental illness on anyone, but as a result of what he had suffered for his art I in no way begrudged the entry fee. (In the interests of full disclosure I have to admit that someone else might have paid for me, but this is strictly irrelevant.)

So my philosophy on paying for services is ‘the greater the exertion, the more satisfied the customer’. And I do like to be consistent. But I’m just not sure that I can apply this same precept to someone giving me a facial… it’s well known that the skin on our face is very delicate, and it’s highly likely that rigorous pummelling would leave me bearing a closer resemblance to something from by Picasso than something by Titian. (And, to add insult to injury, Picasso definitely features on my Damien-Hirst-led black list of artists.). Something to think about…

Finally, I mentioned ‘nonchalantly’ to a friend (ie in an attempt to demonstrate how sophisticated I am) that I am going to be popping down to the Chinese Beauty Parlour (yes, I pronounced the capital letters) on Sunday, and did not get at all the reaction I suspected. He (Imran) looked aghast, and said he assumed I did not know that ‘concerned citizens’ were boycotting that institution, on account of the fact that they are keeping a chimpanzee as a pet. Tacugama, the wonderful local chimpanzee sanctuary, has apparently been to visit them to ask them to give it up both for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of the chimp, but they have refused. Apparently said chimp is taken to restaurants, and generally treated like a favourite child. I was entirely split. On the one hand, I know chimps are generally unhappy in captivity, can become aggressive to humans and are seriously endangered. On the other hand, I have something of a hankering to see a chimp wearing a nappy and clothes. And yes I KNOW that the latter is unworthy, but I’m finding my curiosity hard to stifle. I have even today found myself considering whether or not the chimp might be involved in giving me my pedicure.

Who knew that deciding to visit a beauty parlour could be so fraught with difficulties?

In which I head home…

13 Jul

I have been in West Africa without a break, but the time has finally come for me to venture back to cooler climes – I head to the UK for a month on Sunday (before – never fear – coming back to Salone).  Several things have happened recently that have really made me realise that I need the break – that I need to get away for a little while:

 

 - I woke up recently desperately wanting a Gregg’s Sausage Roll.  I have had plenty of bakery based dreams in my time here, but never have they descended so down the ‘patisserie’ scale.  I need to go and remind myself quite how horrid that particular chain is.

 

 - I’m not sure I remember how to use a clutch.  My control of this particular technological item has never been strong at the best of times, but 9 months of driving an automatic have left me profoundly uncertain about every aspect of driving a manual.  And I fear that driving in Sierra Leone more generally will not have improved my already hazy knowledge of road rules, nor my ability or willingness to follow them.  If I am ever to be a semi-decent driver I need to go home and unlearn some of the terrible habits I have picked up.  (MOTORISTS OF SCOTLAND – BEWARE!)

 

 - Olive and I need to take some time apart.  After a rocky start to our relationship we had had a strong few months recently, but last Sunday undid a lot of the good work.  My boyfriend and I had planned to go and stay at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary for the night, never suspecting that Andy Murray would choose that particular day to make his debut at the Wimbledon final.  We were forced to leave the match at about 3:30pm (which, with hindsight, was just about perfect timing – we saw the first two epic sets, but not the time when it all started to go wrong), and rather reluctantly climbed into Olive for the drive to the Chimps.  I turned the key and… splutter, splutter, splutter, die.  Doom.  Despair.  I called her every name under the son, and called a pox on her only-slightly-scratched green paintwork.  My boyfriend gently suggested that I had perhaps run out of fuel.  I was incensed.  RUN OUT OF FUEL?  How dare he?  Does he think I’m some sort of idiot?  He wordlessly took a couple of bottles, filled them up at the nearest petrol station, put the fuel into the car, and drove us to Tacugama.  It is a mark of his extreme self-control and good nature that he did not crow at all, but merely suggested mildly about an hour later that my fuel might have been siphoned.  Which is definitely what happened.  Obviously.  (In my defense, my fuel gauge does not work, so petrol management is trickier than it might be.).  Why, you may be asking, do I therefore need a break from Olive?  She did not, after all, fail me.  The fact is that I am now too embarrassed to face her having doubted her to such an extent.  She strikes me as the sort to hold grudges, so I imagine she’d break down at the next seriously inconvenient moment.

 

 - I have run out of cash.  In any sensible country this would merely prompt a trip to an ATM, but this is not possible here…  The small number of ATMs in town are not currently functioning, and the only place where one can withdraw cash on Visa charges a not-so-small fortune.  (Cash shortages are seriously affecting my present buying, so if you are expecting something from me and I don’t produce anything when I get home it is because of this problem and this problem along.  Clearly.)

 

 - I have slightly lost my sense of humour/tolerance to having 50 random men per day shouting “white girl”, “baby” or, worst of all, “Mummy” at me.  Up until very recently I have managed a wry smile, or not of acknowledgement, but I currently ignore people entirely or even scowl at them.  This is not acceptable, because excessive frowning will lead to wrinkles.  And also because it’s terribly bad manners.  Four weeks of crass anonymity in the UK will doubtless reawaken my (currently-hibernating) inner attention-craver.

 

 - I am simply not prepared to go another week without seeing my friends, my family and, particularly, our new puppy Delilah…

 

I reckon I’ll just have time to post this before turning off my computer, packing up my desk and leaving my office  for 30 whole days.  Truly the best feeling in the world…

In which the heavens open.

29 Jun

I make no pretence of being a scientist.  Technology baffles me, and l’m simply not one of those people who had to know ‘how things work’; as far as I’m concerned what happens when one turns one’s key in the ignition is magic (or, with my car, nothing whatsoever).  Over the last few weeks I have, however, been pondering a scientific problem or, more accurately, a meteorological problem:

 

How is it possible that the sky can hold as much rain as has fallen on the baking streets of Freetown in the last month or so?  HOW?  I simply do not understand how it can be non-stop sunny for 8 months, and then non-stop rainy for 4.  Where is the evaporated water being stored?  And, more importantly, WHY? 

 

I read somewhere that in the UK we have 13 commonly used words for precipitation, but none of them are apposite for rainy season in West Africa.  Deluge probably comes closest, but this to me implies a sort of brevity of phenomenon which is fundamentally lacking from weather patterns here.  Compared to Sierra Leone the UK of my memory is an arid wasteland.  Probably the most helpful analogy here is that of the shower.  The power shower.  Imagine a state-of-the-art showerhead that is about 300 miles across, and you’ll have some idea about Sierra Leone in from June to September.  Yup, that’s right.  This is just the beginning…  August is, apparently, far worse.

 

At the moment it does not rain every day, and only about one day in five is a complete right off.  Most days involve just an hour long shower in the morning, and then rain in the evening and/or during the night…  A welcome side-effect of the rain is that sunsets, having simply involved the sun vanishing behind a haze or dust for the last six months, have suddenly become a spectacular riot of blues, golds and pinks.  I have taken, of an evening, to strolling the 3-4km along Lumley Beach and back to enjoy the breeze and marvel over the daily gift that is the sinking of our life-giving ball of flaming gas.  This routine change is proving to be both good for the soul, and may even end of being good for the waistline.  It is, however, also hazardous.  Last week as I walked, eyes fixed on the glorious horizon (I think I was attempting to spot cloud dragons), I reflected on how wonderful life was.  Sierra Leone, however, was reluctant to let me wallow in self-congratulation regarding my life decisions… I suddenly became aware of ‘a presence’ at my back, and turned to see an entirely different world behind me – where the sky to the west was lit with a soft, gentle powder pink light, that to the east was as menacing a prospect as I have ever seen.  The sky was a harsh powder grey, and liberally dashed with black clouds that were definitely heading in my direction.  The sky was, well, brooding.  I was exactly half way along the beach, and had therefore virtually no chance of getting any sort of lift.  In a stunning volte face, I reflected that life well and truly sucked.  But, yet again, Sierra Leone had other ideas – the rain that had seemed so inevitable simply and unbelievably melted away, leaving a sky that was once again placid.  This happens so frequently (though not frequently enough!) that there is a phrase for it in Krio – “di rehn mek magigi”, which means “the rain looks like it’s going to come but doesn’t”.  Rather neat, I think.

 

The uber-deluge poses all sorts of day-to-day difficulties – one has to learn to be incredibly flexible about meetings and social arrangements, spaces in a taxi become much rarer than precious stones (this is, after all, the land of Blood Diamond) and it’s almost impossible to take a step indoors without tripping over a drying umbrella or slipping in its accompanying puddle.  More serious (obviously) is that the change of season requires a significant wardrobe adjustment… 

  • It is suicide to leave the house without a waterproof jacket and/or umbrella.  Particularly if wearing a white shirt.  (And yes, I do speak from experience).
  • Footwear decisions become impossible.  Normal (leather) shoes quickly become ruined, but flip-flops simply spray mud and water of questionable cleanliness all over the back of one’s legs.  Many resort of the wellington boot, but these are rather warm (rain does not mean cold, but instead that dry heat is swapped for a lovely sauna type heat), and walking sandals are both horrid and not kosher for work.  I recently found the perfect pair of plastic jelly-shoe type slip-ons, which I have been wearing everywhere, but yesterday I spotted a little tear in the plastic and I fear they’ve on their way out, and that I shall therefore be plunged back into the abyss of lack-of-suitable-footwear-gloom.
  • The problem is not just confined to the clothes that one does wear… the clothes that one does not wear present similar difficulties.  Such is the level of humidity that anything made of natural fabrics (ie leather, silk, wool, untreated cotton)is inclined to grow a charming layer of mould.  MOULD.  I love my belts a borderline unhealthy amount, and it is therefore torture for me to see them suffer and sicken in this way.  I plan to take all non-essential items home with me next month, and to bring back litres of protective spray for the remainder.  Until then I must simply continue to fight off the nightmares of disintegrating clothes that plague my sleep.

 

All of the above may seem rather depressing, but (with the exception of the mould, which has no silver lining whatsoever) I am rather enjoying the challenges of the new season.  The mood of plucky optimism has been considerably enhanced by a recent purchase; one of my standard ‘junks’ perusals last week hit the jackpot – I spotted a promising corner of canvas, which I pounced on and, after removing the approximately 2 tonnes of clothing on top of it, I was soon the proud owner of a bright yellow hooded mackintosh with a lining of green spouting whales on navy blue.   This garment is, if I may say so myself, both functional and adorable, and I now feel ready to face whatever rain this country can throw at me.

 

And if this new purchase optimism should begin to fade I can always comfort myself with the thought that current weather conditions seems to be even worse in the UK…

A very sad day.

21 May

One of my colleagues died on Friday.  He was ill for a short amount of time, was sent in for an appendicitis operation, and never regained consciousness.  It’s not clear what exactly went wrong.  I’m no doctor, but I thought that such operations were relatively routine.  This appears not to be the case here, as no-one seems particularly surprised at the manner of his death.

Sheriff was about 40, and had a wife and a large but unspecified number of children.  He was one of the nicest men I have had the pleasure to meet in this country; he went out of his way to ensure that I felt at ease when I first arrived, was permanently upbeat and never failed to greet me with a cheerful “Hello Mummy Kate!” every time he saw me.  His absence leaves a huge hole in the department.

My employers, who fortunately have a generous policy of providing for the next-of-kin of employees, arranged for a group of us to go and pay our respects to his family today.  He lived in the middle of a little settlement of sturdy two room dwellings near the centre of town, and such was the number of mourners we were not all able to get into his house.  His hollow-eyed widow was very gracious, and seemed to appreciate the prayer a friend of mine said as much as the cheque she received.  I found myself praying in a way that I rarely have before.

Quite apart from my own feelings about this particular death, it has really brought home the precarious nature of life here.  It is not just the numerous babies of poor and ill-educated women that lack access to decent medical care; even those with a decent job and a decent wage simply do not have access to reliable healthcare.  If I were to become seriously ill I know that my UK insurance provider would arrange for me to be flown home, but for most people here even a comparatively small complaint can be life-threatening.  I don’t want to start spouting clichés; I don’t want to rant about the injustice of it all, or to record for the millionth time that every death represents a person.

 

But it’s true.

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