This morning’s air was a cool 77 degrees at 7:30 am and a welcome way to start the day. We’ve been having rain most nights for the past week, and there have been periodic hints like this morning’s temperature that the recent season of high heat and humidity will be breaking soon.
Last Thursday night I was awakened about 1 am when I heard, all at the same time, the slamming of my bedroom door caused by a strong gust of wind, a great crack of thunder, and the sound of something crashing outside. I worked my way out of bed through the drapes of my mosquito net and rushed to close the windows against the coming storm. As the skies burst open with water I stood at my window for a while trying to see what might have caused the crash outside, but I couldn’t see a thing except the rain.
In the morning George came by and pointed out the impact of the night’s storm: one of the coconut trees in the compound blew over and fell on top of the neighbor’s house. Luckily, the concrete wall of the compound stopped the tree from falling all the way into the house, and no one was injured.
The house damaged by the falling tree is a typical “pan bodi” or zinc style structure. I watched parts of the construction in progress last year, so the finished building was fairly new. This type of house is very common in Freetown as they are simple to build and relatively cheap. I’m told that some of these “pan bodi” houses are quite nice inside. Once the tree was pulled off the roof next door, the owner was able to replace and repair the zinc by the end of the day. The ELCSL did assume some liability for the tree and provided some financial help.
Freetown is an amazing jumble of housing: small zinc “shacks”, mud brick structures, and more expensive, concrete, 2 or 3 story buildings co-exist in every neighborhood. There are some distinct slum areas in the city, but for the most part, people of all socioeconomic levels are neighbors in a city where the pressure for land and housing is a growing problem.
Issues related to the cost and availability of land have impacted a number of the ELCSL congregations. Faith Community in Lumley has been seeking land for some time to build a permanent church structure. St. Paul’s in Kissy recently negotiated a long term lease for the land they are currently occupying, as they were not able to identify suitable land for purchase.
The house that was damaged last week by the fallen coconut tree is typical too for Freetown housing in the way that it was built against the compound wall. By building against an existing wall, the builders reduce the overall cost of construction. Every year in the rainy season, however, there are stories in the news of walls collapsing and destroying adjacent houses and often injuring or killing residents. In the scramble for land and for housing, safety and security are often sacrificed. Flood prone areas are already congested with housing in Freetown, and the mountains around the city are rapidly being deforested as residential development is rampant.
Even the shores and wetlands of Cockle Bay by my house recently have become part of the real estate market. For the past year I’ve been watching men “harvest” rocks and sand from the bay. I don’t normally pay much attention to the shores of the bay beyond the fence in front of my house, as the area is garbage strewn and smelly. Only last week did I discover what has been happening on the other side of the ELCSL compound fence. An industrious and aspiring homeowner has been building up a foundation of rocks and soil against the tides in order to make the space suitable for living. The same process is going on all around the bay. Most of the area along the shore of Cockle Bay is undeveloped wetlands, and people are basically taking advantage of “free” land. But my colleagues perceive the new foundation adjacent to the ELCSL fence to be illegal. The fact that work there only happens on Sundays (as I learned recently) does suggest that someone is trying to avoid conflict — at least for now. I expect I’ll have an update about this in coming weeks.