So Freetown is not much of a town and for a capital city it is pretty dismal. It’s not a bad place though – friendly and if you take care not to step in front of a car, you can walk the streets safely at any time of day. The latter being a lot more than can be said for some of the more prosperous cities on the continent, think Nairobi, Johannesburg etc.

The Cotton tree in downtown Freetown, this majestic tree has seen quite a bit in its life. Once a venue for slave trade, it later became a focal point for the “Nova Scotians” who founded Freetown - former slaves who had fought for British during the American revolutionary war. Now it towers over the busiest intersection in the country.

My predecessor, Jenny Kim, lists some truly horrifying stats in her excellent blog entry, that give an  impression of the dire straits Sierra Leone finds itself in, eight years after the conclusion of the civil war. I strongly recommend anyone interested to give it a read. Statistics however often only tell part of the story, and as my counterpart Karen Buxton, across the border in Liberia observes: 90 % unemployment does not equate to nine out of ten people sitting around idle. Indeed the streets here are packed with every kind of product imaginable for sale, often stacked taller than the person carrying them on his or her head.

Poverty in the form it takes here in Sierra Leone is a strange thing, to the outside observer it is both shockingly obvious and at the same time largely unknowable. Even for that rare and weird creature I am, – a RangeRoverless “witeboi” living in the Western area, it can only be seen from afar. Take for instance food security, which for many people here is a very real issue, I cannot on an experiential level know this. I might conceivably limit myself to a diet similar to that of someone facing these challenges but it would be only just that, – limiting myself. At any point I found myself tiring of the experiment, my say-so and a tip would produce a meal delivered to wherever I was. Indeed fresh lobster washed down with chilled Champagne is only a cab ride away. The above does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that that I am cut off from my surroundings, in fact most things, I share with folks here: family, love of music, an interest in politics and religion, the list goes on.

Underutilized resource: Lumley beach in Freetown, by Sierra Leonian standards a second rate beach

It is my great hope that the Kiva community and the grater microfinance machinery can play positive role in helping Sierra Leone back on its feet. The abundant entrepreneurial spirit and optimism here seem to provide a solid foundation for that hope. And things are getting better, this is the perception expressed by people who are in a position to know. There is still a long way to go though and “This country is not supposed to be like this” is a statement I often come across.

Nilaus Hansen is a Kiva Fellow serving in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He divides his time there between the local MFIs ARD and LAPO SL and is well on his way to becoming a Cassava leaf connoisseur.


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