Different visions from the beach
3 March 2000
MaryBeth McKenzie is an information officer for the Candian office of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), currently visiting the MSF projects in Sierra Leone. These accounts are from her journal reports of her experiences in the field.
Saturday in Sierra Leone:
Freetown, Sierra Leone
I am typing by candlelight. Although such lighting is often considered
romantic, tonight it is due to the city power being off. Noisy, fossil
fuel generators of various descriptions are the only way anyone, anywhere
has electrical current. For the local Sierra Leonese, that translates into
working about in the dark. For the ex-pat community - Engineering,
Development, United Nations, Military and Humanitarian Aid organizations - it means we are as ready as ever, with our electricity working.
Saturday is typically the 'touch base' and
meeting day at the office
in a capital city and for MSF volunteers, they work a helf day.
Freetown was no exception. The management team started off at 9.00
the status of medical programmes, security, logistics and relations with
other International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Sierra
Government. I introduced myself to everyone at the general staff meeting
and then checked in with the administration department to arrange
evacuation and rendez-vous procedures - should they be necessary.
Having just returned from the north or 'up country' in the rebel -
area, Jacqui, an exhausted
country manager with the MSF mission, decided that the beach was
where I should get my over-all briefing on Sierra Leone.
On the beach, only moments after briefing, the small group of us were
surrounded by young boys, youth and a few men, selling everything from
peanuts to clothing. My digital camera caused quite a commotion - everyone
organized themselves in an orderly fashion to see the LCD screen. A few
even requested me to take the photo. As always, everyone was so very
friendly and warm.
A young man named Rizo, who was selling cheesies, came back for a chat
after the others had left. In thick Freetown creole, he confirmed with
hope and doubt that I would remember him, and remember to give him the
photo of himself I had previously snapped.
We chatted as the waves crashed on the shore. I explained to him that in
Canada we do not have white, sandy beaches with palm trees. I asked him
'how di business?' (How is work going?) 'Same, same', he replied with a
smile. But the smile was an illusion. A mask.
As the two of us sat in a scene of paradise, he began to tell me
about his life as a 'business' (working) man, prior to invasion in January
1999. He explained, with no emotion yet looking directly at me, that since
that time, life has been very hard.
He had been forced from his house. His
house was burned to the ground. His family tortured and raped. He lost
everything. There is no insurance. So what to do. He said he was lucky.
He was able to put together 150,000 leons ($60 US) and start over 'small,
On Sundays, his busiest day, he grosses 5000 leons ($2
US). With that, he got up and walked down the empty beach to get back to