Before I write anything else dire about Sierra Leone, I should point out that some parts were wonderful. Everyone was amazingly nice and friendly--so much so that it was hard to believe how violent, awful and recent the civil war was, even though the whole reason I was there relates to the war. And now I'm accidentally writing about terrible things again (I'm going to go back to my original point, but in case you want to read more about the war, here's a BBC special report from 1999, just as the peace agreement was signed).
From My Hotel Balcony
Anyway, Saturday afternoon I was feeling really alone. I'd originally planned to leave Saturday night, but work decided I should stay a bit longer to meet with someone else, who turned out to be unavailable. I had been trying to make a phone call all afternoon, but the phone which hotel guests are supposed to use to make local calls wasn't working (when it still wasn't working on Sunday, I bought a cell phone).
Since I kept walking through the lobby, one of the employees kept saying hi, and eventually we started talking. It was nice to talk to someone about something other than work--he told me how the Christian Children's Fund paid for his education, how he'd like to move to Australia (where a friend has gone already) so he can send money back to his family, and we commiserated about Bush. He was very concerned that my husband might be jealous that we were talking, and offered to email him to make sure it was OK.
Also on the plus side, if you look beyond the ramshackle buildings (and the sock obstructing the view!), Freetown is beautiful--on the ocean, surrounded by hills, with beautiful beaches. Right now, the coast isn't very built up, so it's available to anyone. The majority of buildings near the water are beach bars (mostly without wall, so you're essentially on the beach), and there's plenty of open land between them.
In addition to the sock, I worked on a Christmas present for one of my sisters, and read 2 entire books in gigantic bites. I've been listening to the Forgotten Classics podcast, which just finished The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer, so I brought An Infamous Army. And I've been wanting to read The Historian for a while, so I bought that to bring as well. Luckily, I realized a vampire story might not be the best idea in a country where the lights might go out at any moment, so I read with a flashlight handy!
And I got important investment advice from a minister! You know those email scams, where the family of a deposed rules needs your credit card and bank information in order to get their money out of the country? The State Department website warns about these scams on their Counsular Information Sheet about Sierra Leone. That always struck me as funny because wouldn't you be safer from email scams in a country where you can barely access your email? (No joke--I had the business center at the hotel, but the national commission I was meeting with had to go to an internet cafe around the corner in order to send emails! Only half of their offices had electricity.)
But, it turns out that you can be email scammed in person! Right after my nice conversation with the hotel employee, I fell into the clutches of Joseph (in the hotel lobby, so I wasn't in any danger). He wanted 2 things: for me to wire money to him so he could take an online class to further his religious education, and for me to tell everyone I know that if they wanted to invest in diamonds, they should email him. Apparently, you can get an export license for only $5000, which will allow you and 7 of your closest friends to export diamonds legally. If you are interested, he will arrange for you to visit the diamond mines, and take care of all your security needs. You don't need to bring any money, since it's so risky to travel with money, he can just take your credit card information.
It was fascinating! He went on and on and on, while I just murmured encouraging things. He never actually asked me to invest in diamonds, just to tell my friends about the investment opportunity. So: let me know if you want his email address!