What have I always believed? That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right.”
― Terry Pratchett, Small Gods
I have been chastised for not providing the story behind the Mormons marching photo… my apologies! There wasn’t much to what I saw, I was sitting at a café called Balmaya. And then there was a marching band playing, followed by a procession of people marching along behind them. And as quickly as they were there they were gone down a side street where they disappeared.
This segues nicely into another conversation I was having with one of my colleagues about religion, he was shocked when I said that very few Australians go to church on a weekly (or yearly) basis. For me, it was fairly humorous how shocked he was by this. Religion over here is generally fascinating to experience. The people of Sierra Leone are deeply religious, and are predominately Muslim, although with a very powerful and influential Christian minority. It is a common experience for locals not to really understand if people say they are neither – be it they are atheists or simple belong to another religion – as the understanding of religion due the prominence of Christianity and Islam makes religion very binary.
Sunsetting Over Freetown
Yet there is no real division between the two, and speaking of a division is somewhat misleading, as whilst Sierra Leone has many problems and divisions, religion is not one of them. It seems that everyone is very tolerant of the others having different religious beliefs – an example of which is how Christian individuals will go to their friends Mosque for Friday prayer. There is also a running joke about this is that they are going so they can leave work, although people I have talked to over here have said that they can be both – which is intriguing idea (although I feel probably not one that would be supported by the many of the Christian churches or the Islamic equivalents (apologies for my lack of knowledge of the Islamic equivalents, my religious knowledge is very limited). I find the gesture of people going to each other’s religious ceremonies to be very nice gestures and it seems to contribute to the religious tolerance that exists. And considering the current global conflicts and demagoguery that so pervades politics at the moment and is largely centred around religion at the moment, religious tolerance may be something Sierra Leone can help teach the rest of the world (even if you do get a strange look if you tell someone you are not Christian or Muslim). This is not to imply that Sierra Leone doesn’t know conflict, it sadly is a recent post-conflict country, having experienced more than a decade of brutal civil conflict, the scars remain deeply visible.
Down the Road Towards the Setting Sun
The other discussion I had with my colleague at the same time we were talking about religions was whether I had children. When I replied that at the tender age of 29, I did not, he was shocked and was like “Why don’t you have kids!??? I had to explain that only one of my friends my age had a child and he only had it very recently. Whilst, it was an interesting discussion, we didn’t really get anywhere because he was insistent I should have children and for me it’s natural not to at this age. Yet apparently, this is very different for people from Sierra Leone. Interestingly though, for such a religious country, children and marriage are not that strongly related here. The man I was talking to this isn’t married. And he is currently in the process of finding a “good woman” to be his wife, which has led to many lovely young ladies frequenting our office in the last few weeks… the whole office has had a lot of fun poking fun at him for it.
One of the things I really want to do at work is to get an intern on a rotating basis in my unit from the local university. I feel it would be great to have a young dedicated university student and provide them with work experience within the MoHS. Since I can’t talk about many work-related aspects of my time here and whilst this is maybe not the most exciting thing to share, I felt it was an interesting idea and one that might provide a real difference even if on a small scale.
Freetown Smog and Clouds
Work itself is a bit strange, I usually start late as we leave the house at 9 to avoid traffic (which is hideous) and I get physically kicked out of the office at 6pm (I stayed one night until 5 past 6 and got yelled at in Krio because I was still there) I have never in my life been made to leave an office at 6pm as a lawyer, it feels weird.
I am continuing to meet lovely people over here. Doctors, lawyers, foreign government employees working in the aid sector, ODI fellows and many others working for many other institutions. It is a very interesting mix of people who work across many different fields, from many different countries all seeking to implement change in Sierra Leone.
Out for Dinner with a Colleague
Yet, Freetown is such a very transient town. This is both beautiful and saddening. Beautiful in that there are always new people to meet who are fascinating, with rich stories to tell and working across many different areas. Sad, as these amazing people are in your life, you get to know them and then like a bird on the wind they fly away. I write this on the back of a lot of people suddenly leaving for reasons out of their control with very little notice and for me it really has driven this point home.
One of the side projects I would really like to do over here (after having meeting all these great people) is to write and do some profiles of people I meet here. There are so many interesting people from many different backgrounds. I would love to write and to understand why people are here, what they are doing, how they feel about their work and also about living in Freetown. And maybe a random thought or two of theirs. If anyone is interested let me know! I feel it would be a fun side project. Any thoughts or ideas I would be interested to hear them so let me know.
Up next me relaxing at the beach!