10 things you didn’t know last week*

We’ve been back in the UK and Ireland for three weeks, enjoying home comforts thanks to the hospitality of family.

Power cuts and water shortages seem to belong to another lifetime, or parallel universe. And the relative ease of things here is such that I fear a second bout of culture shock on our return to Africa later this month.

I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t made me consider why on Earth we’d chosen to make life difficult for ourselves. Thankfully, flicking through photos serves as a reminder of the more colourful aspects of life in Sierra Leone that make for such a fun and fascinating experience.

So, with a nod to my former colleagues at the BBC News Magazine, I offer 10 Things You (*probably) Didn’t Know Last Week about Sierra Leone, sliced and diced for your convenience.

1. Wooden scaffolding is used by builders. While Freetown is undergoing a construction boom, you’ll rarely find steel or aluminium tubing on sites

2. Advertisements are hand-painted in many cases. Technological constraints mean that organisations from Coca-Cola to the United Nations might well use hand-crafted signage, rather than mass-produced logos20160705_112918[1]

3. Vimto is massive. Sierra Leoneans are mad for fizzy drinks. Coke, Fanta Orange and Sprite are among the most popular, along with local alternatives. I’ve never seen any of Pepsi’s brands. However, that northern English Marmite of the drink world, Vimto, seems to be everywhere, which is a great thing in my book.20160705_111841[1]

4. Public urination is commonplace, with fellas thinking nothing of relieving themselves on the beach or at the side of the road. It’s prompted many landowners to daub walls with slogans reading “no urination”, the Krio “Nor Pissa Ya” or – for those who still haven’t got the message – crossed out pictorial representations of phalli


I once saw a man emerge from behind this wall doing up his flies

5. Union Flags are everywhere: on taxi mudguards, advertisements, flip-flops, you name it. I’ve yet to establish why20160706_132828[1]

6. People leave stickers on cars after importing them, so it’s normal to see US political slogans, European national oval markings like “CZ” or “NL” or the advertising from a business the vehicle once served


A poda-poda (taxi-bus) converted from a van, featuring the driver’s nickname, original Norwegian owner’s name and business, and a Union Flag for good measure

7. Work gangs pack onto the backs of lorries. Often they’ll be catching 40 winks on a huge pile of sand, though the guy below left is the only one I’ve seen clinging to the outside

8. Telling a woman her “hips have widened” is a compliment – not that The One With The Common Sense would thank you for it


No-one has ever complimented me on my widening hips [Pic adapted from versageek, flickr – link below] *May not actually feature writer

9. Cash is dirty, quite literally. Banknotes can be so filthy that it’s difficult to discern their value. In particular the lower-denomination 1,000 and 2,000 Leone notes – often handed over screwed up in balls – truly stink. The government reportedly campaigned a few years back to stop traders storing them stuffed in their bras and underpants


Notes in varying states of malodour and decay

10. Men, women & children join forces to fish from Freetown’s main beach by walking out with huge nets, circling their catch before sharing out the spoils20160705_135834-1-1[1]

Flickr photo of man in shorts c/o Versageek

Tickled? Read 10 more things you didn’t know.

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