Monday, 19 April 2010

Snacks and street vendors

I’m still in Freetown, it is only 8 days until free healthcare for pregnant or breastfeeding women and children under 5 is launched on 27th April which is also Independence Day. I have been back in Freetown for 3 weeks the first two weeks were mainly spent working on our fistula project, helping an epidemiology intern who is working with us to plan a baseline survey to evaluate community knowledge and perception of obstetric fistula in Northern Bombali.

Last week I was working again with the Liverpool School/Ministry of Health, Life Saving Skills course training 28 retired midwives on emergency obstetric and newborn care. There was a great team spirit amongst the trainers as many of us had worked together on the last course in Bo. The midwives we were training have been brought back into service to help meet the existing need for more trained health personnel which is anticipated to increase further once the free healthcare initiative is launched. It was really enjoyable and the midwives all seemed motivated and committed to reducing maternal and infant mortality.

The training was held in The Princess Christian Hospital which is the main government maternity hospital in Freetown, it is across town from where I live and our journey to get there took between 30 minutes to almost 2 hours depending on the traffic. The journey across town in rush hour traffic is an experience in itself and driving this route could probably pass as an adventure sport. I am very happy that Mohammad our logistics manager was driving as negotiating the cars, poda podas (minibuses), motorbikes, people, carts, wheelbarrows and a array of street vendors takes considerable concentration and skill, many times it appears as if we are going the wrong way up a one way street as the roads are so narrow and there is constant honking of horns to alert pedestrians as we inch our way along.

The beauty of Freetown is when you drive through the city it is a little bit like a drive through supermarket/department store. Along our journey are many tiny street stalls, a constant stream of traders carrying baskets on their heads and many people pushing cold drinks in coolboxes in old prams (which I have never seen a baby in as they are always snugly tied to their mother’s backs). Here is a short list of a small number of the things which were for sale along our journey bridesmaid dresses, flip flops, bathroom scales, rubber plungers, vaseline, cotton buds and other toiletries, CDs, trilby hats, material, cold water, ginger beer, plantain chip, groundnuts, chewing gum, biscuits, mangos, bananas, mobile phone credit vouchers, notebooks, pens ….. the list could continue almost indefinitely. Being able to buy packets of cold water, salty plantain chips and small packets of groundnuts (peanuts) is great when you are tired and hungry.