A Festive Season in Freetown

There are some oddities in the perspective with which we see the world. The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

Douglas Adams


Being away from friends and family is surprisingly difficult over the Christmas – New Year period. It seems I miss the family drama that inevitable occurs over this period, or perhaps it is that I am having a realisation that I simply miss my friends and family. I had this feeling on Christmas Eve, when I was sitting by myself sipping a beer at a The Hub writing a few Christmas messages to family and friends around the world. Now I am at Franco’s (Francisca’s) a quaint restaurant on the beach about half an hour out of Freetown, writing this and reflecting.


And I have realised just how amazing a year this has been and how sad I am to see it pass. Two Thousand and Sixteen has been one of my favourite years. It was filled with ups and downs of course but in comparison to 2015 – which began with 2 major upheavals in my life these taking most of the year to properly get over – 2016 was filled with amazing friends, finishing my masters – requiring that I study the hardest I ever have in my life, it was such an amazing program – and two trips to Oxford. One of which was exceptionally stressful, involving the default 24 hours’ flight to Heathrow, bussing straight to Oxford, having a quick shower and then interviewing in what was definitely the hardest interview I have ever done, and which incidentally towards the end got interrupted by a fire alarm. Then, being evacuated from the building and then having to complete the interview 15 minutes later… and backing it all up the following day with a group interview. But this all culminated in being accepted as an Oxford Policy Fellow and moving to Sierra Leone to work with the Ministry of Health – my dream job (although the dreams may have skipped the more difficult parts…). These two trips in 2016 provided me the opportunity to meet some amazing people. The 2016 Oxford Policy Fellows a group of 6 men and women who are exceptionally talented, brilliant and lovely people. An exceptionally lovely couple in Paris, who having never met me invited me to brunch at their house (which was delicious and a lovely sommelier who made a number of my nights in Paris unforgettable).


French Brunch

Yet, whilst I am sad to see 2016 to pass into memory, I am also really optimistic and excited about 2017. I have already met a number of delightful people in Freetown. The work here has been fascinating and although there will be ups and downs, I can only hope when I am writing another blog in a years’ time that I can look back and say 2017 was just as good as 2016.


Made me laugh at the local supermarket

But moving on to how I spent this festive period!

I have been to a further two concerts continuing the theme of doing things a little differently. Freetown really goes off around the Christmas period – and in saying this, apparently, the celebrations this year were still a little more subdued to how they were before Ebola, where all public gatherings were banned to halt the spread of the virus. Thankfully, both of these concerts were far more chilled out than the one at the stadium. And no tasers were involved!



Freetown over Christmas is a bit of a weird time I have found. It seems like every foreigner leaves the country and all the JCs arrive in the country. JC stands for “Just Come” – oh you and your dirty minds… – it stands for people who just come for Christmas… haha, actually, the double entendre is certainly intended apparently. Whilst I haven’t met many, they seem like an interesting crowd, they give off the impression of being very cool and sophisticated, yet seem oddly out of place. Somehow they appear to be more out of place than I feel.

At work, the week before Christmas was building to be a huge week, which promptly fizzled and resulted in it for me being somewhat lackluster. Whilst I had work to do, it is always a bit strange when you build yourself up for a huge week that never happens. It did give me the chance to go get a haircut which was desperately needed though. All in all, the haircut was pretty neat, few stray hairs were missed and the application of the cutthroat razer to the back of the neck may have left me bleeding a little but, hey, what’s the point of life if you don’t get a few scars… and the barber was using a clean razor so was not going to end up with any nasty bloodborne diseases.

Christmas Eve at the Hb was weird and is a demonstration of how awful the service can be in Sierra Leone at times. Although you just need to take it with a laugh and a lot of hope. So, what happened? Well, aside for waiting for a long time to be served every time I wanted something, they wouldn’t give me dessert! Now for some context, dessert for me is quintessentially part of Christmas. And although I knew that there would not be any pavlova – how I miss Australian Christmas and pavlova – but keeping my head held high, I attempted to replace the pavlova with another dessert. Oh, another piece of context is required. The Hub typically has two menus: an ordinary one and a Japanese one. On Christmas Eve, the ordinary menu had been replaced by a set three course Christmas menu, but you could still order from the Japanese menu – which I did, as I wasn’t up for three courses. Now, having had my delicious unagidon (eel on rice), I attempted to order dessert and asked for the dessert menu. The waitress let me know that unfortunately, the ordinary menu was not available. I then asked if I could order any of the desserts of the Japanese menu, which I was told no I couldn’t. I then asked if I could order a dessert from the set menu. Again, the answer was no. So I asked if there was no way I could have dessert to which the answer was “no you can’t”… And thus, my dream of dessert on Christmas Eve was shattered.

He second crushing disappointment for the festive season post Dessert Gate was that Santa must have also got lost trying to find me in Sierra Leone… no presents this year – although I did get to meet him at the Hub!


 Santa Gate Sierra Leone

That being said I did have a very lovely day on Christmas. I went to a local’s house who was hosting local children from her area – over 200 children were in attendance and I got to hand out presents to the kids, help give them Christmas lunch and also talk to the other guests and family. It was a lovely day and great way to spend Christmas. Everyone was very welcoming and I met some great people I will try and stay in contact with.


Musical Chairs at Christmas

The final thing to occur on Christmas was when I was getting in the car to go home, I had to kind of jump in – the car was a big jeep and parked on a steep hill, and as I got in, my jeans completely split along the seam from upper thigh to my waist, lucky it was on the way home and very dark… so now I must try and find new jeans! Oh, how some of the littlest things seem exceptionally difficult in a new country.

So now it is New Year’s Eve, originally I had planned to put this up before the end of 2016, but due to technical difficulties in I wasn’t able to. I also spent New Years Eve in bed sleeping, not terrible exciting, but I have been a little sick I suspect on accounting and hanging out with 200 children…



Pre-Christmas Lunch

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my friends and family across the world. I miss you all and hope that many of you will come visit in 2017.

Lots of love to you all,



One thought on “A Festive Season in Freetown

  1. Hello James

    Tamara forwarded the link of your block to us. This weekend I was reading all your reports and stories – it is amazing. It is hard to me, how should I express me feelings, when I read your texts. This feeling, to stay on another planet, people and situations are so strange, scaring, interesting, surprizing… What a story about your arrival. Also that special concert. It was touching me, when you shared your thoughts about the chrismas season. I hope so much, you felt not too lonly.
    I realy salute you for working on that place. I wish all the best and please be aware, you have now a fan in Germany – I will follow your block. Don’t hesitate to ask for support, if you would need any.

    Best and warm regards



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