Today, my colleague from BRAC, Mbalu, and I went phone- and apartment-hunting. We left the hotel after breakfast, walked towards the nearest main junction, hailed a cab (a shared cab, which stops every so often to pick up/drop off folks who need to travel along the cab drivers’ preferred route), hailed another cab (shared cabs only go towards a certain point/junction in the city, then it’s time to find another cab that will help you go the rest of the way), and arrived in downtown Freetown. We shopped around for a phone (throwback Nokia, whattup!), and I was able to complete a sweet currency exchange on the street (got a great rate, seriously).
Shortly after handling my phone purchase in the city, we visited an apartment prospect: a renter of a friend of a previous Kiva Fellow – this time visiting by okada (motorcycle). Since the roads are bad near the main Murray Town junction, and in many parts of Freetown, motorcycles are your best bet (always gotta wear a helmet!). You basically wave a motorcyclist down that has a license plate and an extra helmet, and ask them to take you to somewhere nearby for around 2,000-3,000 leones, which is $0.50-$0.75.
Upon arriving at the apartment, Mbalu and I looked around, talked numbers and facilities with the renter, my prospective roommate. This was the mental pro/con list we came up with:
Clean and furnished
Ocean view (can’t hurt ;))
Safe (highest priority!)
Rent super affordable (most comparable places in Freetown charge $600+ per month, I pay a little more than half of that)
Quiet (except for the neighboring rooster and family of goats)
Some internet from home
30ish minute commute from office
A little far from shopping (groceries, mainly)
No A/C or hot water (which is ok.. though I might cry about it in a few weeks.)
We decided it would be nice that I stay at the apartment for now. If anything, I can see how the first month goes, and plan from there. We’ll arrange for a daily okada or taxi driver to come and pick me up, take me to the office, and drop me back home every day. I think it’s brilliant that you can arrange that here.
We later headed back to the hotel to grab my luggage, and hopped into a poda-poda (think of what the Scooby Doo van looks like, then imagine 18 people sitting inside) that also acts like a taxi service. Much cheaper than shared taxi, and very entertaining. Shoulder to shoulder with passengers, constantly shifting seats to let folks in and out, music blasting in the background. Never a dull moment.
Once we arrived at the hotel, Mbalu and I chatted about hobbies, family, life in general over lunch. She shared an incredible story about escaping the rebellion and war 10+ years ago, and the impact it has had on her family and the community. She shared the account of a kind man that helped them escape, and how she and her mother once had to “live in the bush” for 5 days to hide from the rebels. Friends and family members killed, houses burned, a city and country destroyed, citizens in hiding and constantly on the move. It’s one thing to hear about these stories in a book or a news article; quite another to hear from someone firsthand. She said that she will never forget the man who helped her family escape, and it is because of experiences like this that she wants to help people for a living. I wish I could capture how exactly this story makes me feel. There really are too many words.
After lunch, Mbalu and I grabbed my bags, with the help of hotel staff, loaded the car, and headed off to the apartment. It’s been a blessing having Mbalu here to help me adjust here. Everything would have been so much more challenging if it weren’t for her. I hope I can find a way to repay her for the kindness and selflessness she has already shown me in my 2 days here.