Updates from Freetown | Zejeplay's Journal Part 2

Still in Freetown and doing my stuff. As promised, I do have additional updates on what is happening in our nation's capital. Healthcare: The spate of deaths here in S/Leone is alarming to the outsider. We are losing more friends and relatives at a faster rate than we could make new ones. Yesterday, as I drove through Kissy Road between “Up-Gun turntable” and Savage Square, I noticed at least five funeral processions passed us on their way to the Kissy Road “berring gron”. Three of the corpses were evidently younger people who were probably no older than 30. People are getting so used to burying their dead that even the Okadas hardly pause for a second from their speeding, in respect of the dead. As I noticed several Columbia Davies vans ( they seem to have increased their fleet) transporting the hearse; the “business instinct” in me told me how profitable funeral parlors are increasingly becoming in this part of the world. Healthcare is no doubt the major contributor to untimely death. But even more importantly, we have not done much to educate our folks on basic preventions. “Boborbelehism” is still perceived here as a “sign of good living”, and alcohol consumption among those who can afford it is almost at an all-time high.
Social Life: Our young men and women are embroiled in European soccer, Nigerian movies and sporting bets. And these have significantly altered our social lifestyle. Nearly everyone here supports a football team in Europe, much to the detriment of our local games. My biggest shocker was the sporting bet which has rendered the national Lotto useless. Mr “driver” spends a significant amount of his money betting on Manchester United games. On another note however, the appreciation for our local songs is very encouraging. In poda-podas, poyo bars and almost everywhere, Freetonians are increasingly loving and appreciating their music. The quality of our songs have no doubt significantly improved and contributed to this new cultural appreciation. Lifestyle: Luxury items such as cars and cell phones are in no short supply here in Freetown – I am not sure whether this is good or bad. There seem to be a close proximity between poverty and ostentatious goods. There is virtually every type of expensive phone and luxury car here. Even as gas prices skyrocket, everyone here yearns for a “jeep” not only because they are roadworthy (in a city where there are virtually no good roads), but also because their visibility no doubt serve as a status marker. Here, you are certainly judged by the car you drive. A very good-looking jeep is all a young man needs to pick up beautiful girls. This takes me to a more interesting phenomenon – CHINA. If anyone was wondering why China is economically out muscling America, and probably will for a long time, then you probably need to look no further than Freetown.
Our nation’s capital is flooded with cheap Chinese products – ranging from wall clocks, soccer jerseys, auto-parts, electronics to virtually anything), for a fraction of the cost in any advanced country. To the unsuspecting eye, one could hardly discern the difference for most products. China is providing the supply for a nation ( continent?) whose appetite for technology is unmatched. There is no question that these are watered-down versions of what we would buy in the United States & United Kingdom. But the Chinese know that our cab drivers can’t afford to buy good quality tire for US $80 or more, even as much as we need those tires. Social Status: Many people (educated or otherwise) are unemployed here. With a few exception, the majority of educated folks clamor for government/govt. related jobs. As many may be aware, securing govt. related jobs here is closely linked to one’s political affiliations. Many of my friends who have lost their jobs or been transferred to “un lucrative” areas see themselves as victims of our politics. However, other folks who have achieved college education and are thinking outside the box (engaged in private enterprise) appear to be “doing well”. 'Doing well' here is relative. It basically implies a decent car, your own apartment, and been able to take care of your family. You are even better-off if you have additional “homes” where you pay rent and drop chop money – a very normal thing here amongst married men.
Religion: The churches have taken over the better part of our social life. Disco Rama banners have now been replaced with “Let My Gate Be Open” & “Your Enemy mush Give Up” crusade banners. Victor Ajisafe’s Sanctuary Praise Church is the place to be. Interestingly, not only young women go there these days for quick answers to their usual prayers ( man, pikin, America, etc), but the young bro[ther]s are flooding these churches to get their jobs back. But realistically, this is also where they can find the girls these days. Ironically, the pastors are richer, fatter, better dressed, than the majority of their congregation. And most of them are Nigerians. They now have mega churches like those I see in Texas. Religion strives best in poverty. Despite all of these challenges, I still think our country is a beautiful place to be. Not because we have good roads or houses, or government, but because our people. They are resilient in the midst of such difficult situation. Will send more updates on road construction, housing ( my research), the price for kolonkos, and my trip to upline, among others. -- Zej, Freetown

Zej is the pen name of Steven Rogers. a Ph. D. Candidate in Urban Planning and Public policy and a Research Associate at the Institute of Urban Planning, University of Texas, Arlington.

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