Sierra Leone Diary Day Two: Preperations underway for interfaith malaria workshop
"Sheikh Abubakar Conteh met us on a bridge over one of Freetown's creeks in the heart of the city. We'd met before and his greeting was warm.
Men holding hands as they walk along, a nice bit of African culture.
He took us down a concrete path, winding past an open sewer, to his compound. There was a giant tureen bubbling in the yard. Up several flights of stairs to his sitting room. No electricity he explained. But a room full of his life and the Islam of hospitality, love and warmth.
As President of the Inter-religious Council, he would opening the workshop tomorrow. He had played an outstanding role with other religious leaders in attempting to end the civil war at the turn of the Millennium. We talked a bit about protocol. The First Lady would speak last in the opening ceremony so no-one followed her before tea. He had already got the opening prayers organised.
Sheikh Conteh was going to a funeral and emerged every bit the Muslim leader in a blue gown and hat. Our colleague from South Africa, Rev. Dr. Liz Thomas from ARHAP, the African Religious Health Assets Programme, took some photos as we went over the first morning of the workshop. It took a lot of ingenuity to transmit to London at 5 megabytes a second.
There is always this sense of extremes in Africa that the communications revolution still hasn't yet overcome. True, mobile phones are a transforming miracle. But no water and no electricity are the lot of many, not simply the rural poor.
It is difficult not to admire religious leaders, national and local, in this situation facing out, plugged into international communities but, facing inward and living to a great extent the reality of their local communities. Part of global Churches and global umma yet lucky if something comes out of the tap that is drinkable.
We'll be seeing a lot of them tomorrow. We can learn a lot from them when it comes to living in a globalised world but touching ground and taking root.
Sierra Leone Diary Day one: Faiths Act Team Arrive in Freetown
Sierra Leone had definitely been en fete. The remains of the bunting and the 50th anniversary of Independence posters were still there. The little hotel at the Lungi jetty had been jollied up and there was talk of new boats for Pelican Water taxis to get you to Aberdeen Bridge in downtown Freetown. But it was the same old boat and night passage with a Kung Fu movie on the boat video, nice white wake outside with spray through the window. We had a senior serving British naval officer at the High Commission behind us, who'd come back after being with British Forces who ended the civil war in 2000 - several did - and we had life jackets which made you even hotter. One small step to SEALdom. Well, at least to Master and Commander without the sails.
The Naval officer was very supportive of the workshop we are planning on Wednesday with religious leaders. He got the idea immediately; faith leaders had the legitimacy and trust to teach people about malaria with authority and conviction. They could make a big difference. The owner of the boat liked the idea too: "you've come to the right place if it's about malaria". The rains had started and people were getting infected as the mosquitoes bred in a pools that accumulated. A mining guru at the airport pointed out a burst plastic water bag on the floor as a good mosquito maternity unit. Every other visitor until proved otherwise is a mining guru or works in an NGO.
The hotel hadn't changed either. The lock on my door didn't work: "the rain's got into the lock". Maintenance "might" come in the morning. Right. It would be nice to get in and out unattended though.
Well, when you run a workshop on malaria you definitely get the bad hex award if you catch it. We got a canister of mozzy-spray from reception and sprayed out the rooms and came choking out to sit like refugees in the foyer. It was probably a mixture of plutonium, bleach and DTT only allowed in Africa. Certainly killed the bugs but acted like tear-gas. Half and hour later the room could just about support human life.
Next day was detailed final planning and a walk through at the hotel where the workshop would happen. It was run by a giant Beijing-based conglomerate that had built bits of the Beijing Olympics. They was impeccable: flexible and helpful. Welcome to the new Africa.
To read more about our work in Sierra Leone click here.