New Year’s Eve in Sierra Leone dawned this morning with cool temperatures, remarkably low humidity and a stiff breeze. The harmattan weather continues (dust included), and I can’t help but smile whenever I see people wearing parkas, gloves and hats against the cold. That said, I also have felt almost cold upon occasion recently , and laughed with my friends during a recent beach outing when we found the usually warm Atlantic waters a bit chilly for floating on the waves.
The ELCSL offices closed for the holidays on December 21 and will reopen on January 9. Traditionally, many people travel to their home villages over the holiday period, and there is definitely an atmosphere of relaxation and partying these days in Freetown. The traffic has been crazier than usual as it seems there are more cars on the roads — possibly because so many Sierra Leoneans return from abroad this time of year. There have also been fuel queues for the past month, and sporadic shortages of both petrol and diesel. Apparently, fuel speculators have been creating artificial shortages by buying up the supply and then re-selling at inflated prices. So far I’ve managed to stay ahead of the game and I’m hoping that the challenge of getting petrol for my car will ease in the new year.
Another challenge arose for Freetown residents in the days before Christmas: local banks ran out of money. So many people were cashing checks and withdrawing from their accounts in preparation for the holidays that many banks simply did not have enough cash on hand to meet the demand. Having heard the stories about this situation, I went to the bank before it opened on the 22nd of December, and by the time the doors opened, a queue of some 25 people had already formed outside the door. The line had grown considerably by the time I left. Fortunately the bank had cash on hand to meet the crowds that morning.
My own Christmas celebrations this year were diverse: a program of lessons and carols at City of Rest, a residence for people with addictions and mental health problems; a neighborhood Christmas party for kids and parents sponsored by friends; a Christmas Eve bonfire at my house, and Christmas day worship at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Kissy. While Christians celebrated Christmas with worship, non-Christians partied through the nights of this season, and daily life (traffic and traders….) continued as normal. Tonight many Christians will attend Watchnight services and ring in the new year with their communities of faith. I will stay home and spend the evening with Freetown friends. I wish friends and family far away a very happy new year!