Cameraman based in Edinburgh, employed by ITN, working for ITV's Good Morning Britain covering stories all over the UK and the world. War Zones, World Cups, Royal Tours and many other less exciting assignments, like interviewing current and ex Prime Ministers have kept me busy over the years working in Breakfast Television since GMTV came on the scene back in '93 and regional TV before that. In 2009 I began to record what it is like to work, the often strange and long hours needed to bring the hard news, human interest and fluffy fun to the UK's TV screens in the morning, mostly broadcasting live.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The slums of Sierra Leone with Save the Children and Ranvir Singh

Sunday 19th May
Sierra Leone

After our seven hour overnight flight from Heathrow we landed into the dark sticky heat of Freetown’s Lungi airport.

Daybreak presenter and newsreader Ranvir Singh, senior producer Emma, Daybreak viewer Rachell Pirie and I had flown in to do reports on the plight of children in this now calm West African country.

We were met at our hotel by Malcolm Douglas ex-head of news at GMTV, now media consultant for the charity Save the Children and Heather Kerr the charity’s country director.

That was after our interesting transit from the airport to our hotel in an area of Freetown with a nice familiar name, Aberdeen.

We crossed the inky blackness of the Atlantic Ocean estuary heading towards the twinkling lights of the city in a small but fast and sometimes bumpy water taxi.
Ranvir and me kitted out for the ride in the water taxi 
One of the boats we arrived in..
.. the one the gear arrived in
We were unable to check into our basic hotel as the rooms were not ready so I got my kit organised in Malcolm's room and did a quick change of clothes.
It was then time to be briefed by Heather Kerr, Save the Children's country director.

After the safety and country briefing we had time to grab some breakfast.

We were surprised to see a few normally very shy antelopes wandering around the grounds of the hotel.
One of the hotels nonpaying guests
During breakfast we were also briefed on what had been organised for us to film for the rest of the week.

This brought up something that gave me pause for thought.

A fair amount of what we would be doing would be in some of the little, dark, cramped shacks that a lot of large families and friends called home.

There were two problems that occurred to me. The first was the probability that there would be no mains power for lights. The second, I had not actually brought any mains lights with me.

I did have my camera light, which would be fine, but was not ideal.

Our local fixer, Silas told us that there was a form of mains power albeit variable in current, voltage and was prone to going off at unpredictable times.

So, on the way to the slum area we stopped off at an electrical shop to see if we could get a light that would do the job.
The electrical store we stopped at..
..where the guy wired up a floodlight for us..
..and sold Muslim and Christian clocks side by side..
..the one on the left, a mosque
No this is not in the slums, just an average Freetown street
Sure enough, when we arrived at our first location in the middle of the chequer board of corrugated steel roofed shacks it looked like being a good investment.
Susan's Bay, one of Freetown's slum areas 
Susan's Bay on the edge of the city is home to about 19000 people out of an estimated city population of 1.2 million. 

The dwelling, to call it more than that would be an exaggeration, was in the midst of of this sprawling cluster of shacks.

The place was gloomy, smelly and claustrophobic, but did have one single power socket.

In one of the two tiny cluttered bedrooms I did some shots of Fatamata, a 19 year old mother with her ten month old baby Salamat.

We plugged the light in. It was not quite as bright as it had been in the shop. Obviously the voltage here was a lot lower than it should have been.

It was also warmer in colour temperature. It would work though, and I rather liked the blue glow that I got from the little widow that opened out into the narrow lane where the family did their washing and cooking.

Fatamata told Ranvir through Silas’ translation about her life, hopes and aspirations.

During the interview I noticed that the warm glow of the light was getting even warmer and less intense. Clearly the mains was encountering a bit of a dip.

As the light became dimmer I had to resort to the light on the top of the camera.

For most of the interview softly spoken Fatamata was fairly matter of fact in her answers. Until suddenly her emotions came out.

Her silent tears started to flow, which even the most hardened of us would have found difficult not to be moved by.

The interview had not lasted long but, in the confines of the hot, humid room and having to hand hold the camera, there was no room for me and the tripod, I was saturated in sweat.
Ranvir gives her attention to Salamat
Fatima, one of the daughter’s of the extended family of ten that lived in the shack took us, along with four of her sisters down a long flight of precipitous steps to the “village” rubbish dump.
The slum's rubbish dump
It is a fetid pile of household detritus. There were no signs of large bits of junk, like white goods, wood or metal, which make up a lot of tips back home. That kind of stuff never makes it to the dump because it is reused in a variety of ways.

What the pile mainly consisted of were plastic bags and bottles, totally useless flip flops and sandals, and black stinking slurry.

This slurry is a putrid mixture of all sorts of junk held together in black mud. It is formed by the population’s street, shop and shack rubbish cascading down the steep slope when the heavy rain falls.

It is channelled into the dump and then scooped out and thrown on to the ever-growing pile.
A huge pile of rubbish, poor pickings for the kids and pigs alike
This was their place of work.

They shared it with a host of other kids and a number of pigs.

Fatima and her sisters’ job is to collect as much of the plastic as they can. This is then sold for recycling.

I filmed them at work, picking through the junk next to pigs rooting for tiny bits of anything edible.
Ranvir and producer Emma beside the dump
As usual we had gathered an interested and enthusiastic crowd keen to watch and participate.

Silas did a great job of keeping them in order.

Once the shots had been done we set up for an interview with Fatima and two of her younger sisters.

The sun was almost directly overhead. Time for a bit of reflector action.

It could not be found.

Silas, doing a passable impression of Rocky running up the steps in Philadelphia, me puffing behind, as we went up one of the slums steep flights of steps heading back to the family’s shack, where I thought the reflector might be.
The long flight of steep steps
We had almost arrived when the call came. The reflector had been found by one of the little boys on the tip.

It had somehow become detached from the clip on the run bag, ending up in a corner of the dump.

For all the poverty and almost unbearable living conditions in the slum area there was a real sense of order and morality.

We never felt in any way under threat of being robbed or harmed.

The reflector could easily have been spirited away and either sold or put to some ingenious use but it wasn’t. It was proudly returned.
Our audience watch us setting set up for an interview, once the reflector had been found
Ranvir's first piece to camera by the dump
Technical repairs done on the steps of a shack
On the edge of the slums is a small clinic which is mainly used for assessing and treating mothers to be.

It is a small building with a very rudimentary tiny array of the most basic medical equipment and a lot of posters about avoiding teenage pregnancy, diarrhoea, and HIV.

After lugging the kit up and down the narrow lanes and having had no sleep for the last twenty eight hours or so were all in need of a bit of a break.

We took refuge in the relative comfort of the warm clinic for a bit of a break.

I had been developing a bit of a dehydration headache so I took some Dioralyte, which helped to sort it out.

Silas our local fixer was also soaked with sweat and looked  exhausted.
Ranvir and Emma give Silas the cooling fan treatment
This coincided with lunch, which consisted of an energy bar and water.

After this short break we went back to work.

In another area of the slums is the “Blue Flag” clinic.
More steep steps leading down near to the Blue Flag Clinic
This is a place where the population can go in the first instance for treatment of illness.

At least the clinic we used for our mini rest actually looked and felt like an African clinic. It was sort of able to do the most basic of treatment. In fact a guy with a cut in his leg was being stitched up when we were there.

This “Blue Flag” clinic was as basic as they come, just a shack right on the edge of a very steep concrete slope leading down to the water’s edge.

One missed step would have you tumbling down into the lapping waves and the scummy rubbish floating on them.
The Blue Flag Clinic's precarious position 
Bintabah was the volunteer running the place. She was one of the locals who had been given some basic training by Save the Children.

I set up for an interview with this kindly yet formidable lady.
Setting up in the steaming humidity
The main thing that she has to treat is diarrhoea, which we in the UK regard as very minor but, in Africa it is a killer.

During the interview, where she talked about having just treated a young baby, she showed us her extensive supply of medical treatments.

She removed the lid from a small orange plastic bucket.

Beneath a couple of empty plastic jugs and an empty Coke bottle she pulled out a pair of sachets with UNICEF emblazoned on them.

They contained rehydration powder. This was the extent of her medical chest.

After the interview I did some cutaway close ups of her getting them out the bucket.
Consent and waiver forms even have to be signed here
The mother and the baby she had treated were in the other part of the shack running a little take away food stall.

We did a little interview with the mum.
Mum with her baby treated by Bintabah
Getting a shot of the clinic's little blue flag
Once I had done some more general shots of the area and a piece to camera with Ranvir it was time to head back to the hotel.
Climbing up yet more steps
We got ourselves checked in and went off to our rooms in the rather quirky Family Kingdom Resort.

I collected my kit from Malcolm’s room and got it sorted out properly now that I had a bit more time.

I had been on the go for about thirty five hours.

It was a welcome relief that the room had working air conditioning which only went off a couple of times during our stay when all of the power died, thankfully for just a few minutes on each occasion.

Before we went for an acceptable dinner we were given an example of what the rainy season can throw constantly with no let up for a full two weeks, when the rain came down in torrents, accompanied by very loud claps of thunder.
The rain outside my room

After dinner we all gratefully retired to get some sleep. It had been about thirty eight hours since any of us had been in bed.

Monday 20th May
Lutto village
Sierra Leone

It was going to be a long day, mainly bouncing around in a Land Cruiser with a little bit of filming to break the day up.

Breakfast first though..
..joined by another guest
It took us two hours just to get out of Freetown even though we left the hotel at 7:30 am in a bid to avoid the jams.

The traffic is mad!
A slight traffic jam.. us a chance to take in some of the sights..
..along the road..
..and by the side of it, gents al fresco hair dressing.. going to school..
..somewhere in the city..
..up away from the slums
Once we were beyond the city the traffic thinned out and sped up.
Room on top?.. is not an unusual thing here..
..but sometimes it's quite dangerous.. wonder Save the Children and many of the other charities and NGOs do not allow driving at night.

We briefly stopped off at our hotel in Bo, Sierra Leone’s second city, to check it out. There was no time to check-in. However, we did place our orders for dinner, to be ready when we got back, much later in the evening.
Even a short stop draws and little crowd..
..mainly trying to sell stuff..
..or to get their photograph taken..
..not just the locals!
The tarmac road then ended and we were on to the familiar red African dirt roads...
...that turn into rivers when the rain comes
Another hour or so and we bounced into the little village of Lutto.
Children from the village rushing down to see us
Meeting some of the villagers
A curious uncertain look
We met a very smiley, lovely pregnant lady called Sunah.
Sunah, happy at being..
..pregnant for the fourth time
The anti-natal care is at best basic and in reality almost nonexistent.

The clinic that Sunah attends occasionally is about seven kilometres from the village. The only way that she has of getting there is on foot.

We did a couple of shots of her leaving her hut and then walking along a bit of the route with Rachell.

Once we had done what we needed we gave Sunah a lift to the clinic where she got her check up, part of which I filmed.

The only pieces of equipment in the filthy examination room were an examination bed that was ripped and split, a chipped metal-framed bed with a dirty worn foam mattress and a desk strewn with some record books and a few small bottles of medicine.

Once I had filmed the examination, to the bemused amusement of the midwife  I had her repeat a few things so that I could get a variety of shots.

We then set up to do an interview with Ranvir and Rachell, with Sunah and the midwife in the background.

The room was not particularly spacious for what we wanted to do.

I squeezed myself in the corner having moved the bed and intravenous stand which was being held together with string.

The light I was using was from the window but it needed a bit of supplementing. I did this with a combination of my reflector and camera light.

I had to hold the reflector in the correct position which was a bit of an exercise in dexterity.

This caused the midwife a little more bafflement and amusement. 

She had to repeat the examination a few more times, bit kept stopping to look round at us to see if we were happy with what she was doing.

The interview was done in chunks.

When the interview stopped Rachell, Ranvir and Emma talked about the points that needed to come out of it. When these little chats were going on I switched the camera off.

When the interview started again and the midwife was asked yet again to poke, prod and feel Sunah’s tummy I fiddled with the reflector, checked that the light was on studied the sound meter as they talked and listened on my headphones as they talked.

Rachell gave a great answer to one of the questions from Ranvir. When it was finished I went to switch off and realised to my horror and embarrassment that the red light had not been on.

I apologised and asked Ranvir if she would ask the question again.

The midwife was now certain that she was in the presence of a bunch of nutcases.

The job was eventually done and we got back on the track and road for the hour and a half drive to the hotel, getting there when the last vestiges of Daylight were fading from the sky.
The hot road literally steaming after a fall of rain 

Tuesday 21st May

Lutto village
Sierra Leone

The power cut thankfully came just as we were finishing our early breakfast.
Breakfast just before the power cut
In the early dawn light we go into the Land Cruisers for the hour and a half trip back to the village of Lutto beyond the town of Pujehun.
Ready to leave the hotel
The village of Lutto
Village house with a corrugated roof
A more traditional one
Yesterday we had been introduced to a lady from the village.

Out of her ten children Hannah had only two still alive.  Her story was obviously going to be heartbreaking.

She had agreed to be filmed and was prepared to talk to us about it.

The first thing that we had to do was to film her getting her son Peter ready for school. He was still at home, his sibling was living with relatives in another part of the country.

When Emma and I had filmed with Rachell and her twins, Joshua and Alana back at their semi detached home in Bishopbriggs near Glasgow they were having breakfast prior to going to school.

The plan was to do the same here in this mud hut in a small village in Sierra Leone as a stark comparison between the two lifestyles.

When Emma asked about the kind of breakfast Peter would have the starkness hit us hard.

Both he and Hannah would be having no breakfast.

They had no crops and no money to buy food. Since yesterday afternoon they had not eaten a single thing.

How could we possible start to order them about to do things for us when they were literally starving?

It was a no brainer. There were small lunch packs in the cars. We gave them to the pair and left them in peace to eat.

I busied myself getting a few shots of the village and chatting in a basic form to some of the villagers who were very interested in quietly watching what we were doing.

After a little while we went back and did a few shots of Peter putting on his blue and orange school shirt and leaving for school.

When we had done this it was time for Hannah to give Rachell a tour around her house, which in comparison to the other huts and houses in the village was quite grand.
Hannah showing us around the house
Still, there was no electricity or water. The cooking area was a communal one outside. The mud walls of the dark bedroom were covered with faded tatty wallpaper made of old newspaper pages.

In the cooking area, which is also used to beat open palm oil kernels we set up a little interview with Rachell and Hannah.
Rachell interviewing Hannah
Hannah was obviously upset about having had to bury so many children but, right up until the interview was finished she kept a stoic dignity and was almost coldly matter of fact about her tragic losses.

I switched the video camera off, picked up my Nikon and asked if she would mind if I took some still photographs. Through Edward, our translator she said yes. I could tell it was with reluctance.

These photographs were not for my own gratification they were for Save the Children and would allow the charity to illustrate Hannah’s story to help with their fundraising.

I took seven pictures of her on her own and two with Rachell.

The shutter had just closed on the last shot when she could not take the pain of the memories any longer.

Silently she started to cry. I felt a deep sadness and sympathy for her. However, I pushed them under as fast as they had surfaced.

As quickly as I could I reached over and pressed the record button on the video camera.

I thought that if this mother’s pain and sorrow does not bring it home to the Daybreak viewers that wherever we live, whatever our wealth or poverty and whether we eat or starve, we are all hit by the same deep intense emotions, then nothing will.

No one should have to endure the death of one of their children. To live on after eight out of ten have died must be a virtually unbearable burden.

Rachell had understandably been moved to tears.

Once I had finished filming their sadness I went over to Hannah to try to express my sympathy. I placed my hand on her arm and tried to speak.

I choked out the words thank you and gripped her arm. She did not look at me. Her empty eyes stared out in to the distance. I backed away wondering if inflicting these memories was worth it and hoped that it was.
Hannah's sadness is obvious
Whilst we had been doing that filming along with Ranvir, Fay and Heather from Save the Children had been entertaining and being entertained by the kids from the village.
Fay and Heather with some of the kids
Malcolm amused some by showing them the photo he had taken of them
Rachell and Ranvir set up for an interview..
..made friends..
..and had fun..
..some look a little more serious..
..or maybe a bit sad
Kids enjoying Emma's water spray
Wherever we went, the kids went
Mustapha was Hannah's husband and he was keen to be my friend. He quietly took me aside to try to convince me that he could get me lots of diamonds.

Given that he was probably one of he scruffiest of the villagers I was to say the least a little sceptical.
My new "friend' Mustafa
The next bit of filming was with Jebbeh, another mother. Her child had died five years ago, which was before the country’s free healthcare started. Her story was not nearly as heart rending as Hannah’s.
A surprisingly silent group..
..gathered for Rachell's interview with Jebbeh
During her interview Hannah had told us the she had no grain to plant on her tiny bit of scrubland that she called a farm.

We went with her on a walk through the boggy bush past to have a look at it and do another short interview with her and Rachel.

There were a few cassava plants and it was just about possible to make out a couple of rice plants poking out of the ground. This was all she would have to feed herself, her husband and Peter during what is termed the hunger season.

On the way we passed the area where the palm oil was prepared and where the villagers wash themselves and their clothes
Palm oil bubbling away
A lady at the washing area
As a thank you from Daybreak to Hannah and after taking advice from the local Save the Children people about the protocol Emma bought her a small sack of seeds that she could plant.

When the crops were ready they should keep her and her family going for three months.
Emma buying the seed grain for Hannah
Save the Children also had gifts of grain for the village which the villagers received with thanks and said so in their classic way by singing.
The gifts being presented under the village tree..
..gratefully received
We were invited to take some shots at the school. It was a pleasure, the kids were incredibly enthusiastic, led by a very lively teacher.

Some of the school kids..
..and their teacher
It was then time to head to the Save the Children office in Pujehun where we had a very good lunch of rice, chicken and a spicy fish stew. There was also a bit of salad which we steered clear of.
Lunch in the office..
of rice, fish stew and chicken with salad..
..and time to have a look at photographs that were taken
Emma needed the translation of the interview we did with Sunna yesterday checked because we felt that the translation that we got at the time was not quite right.
Edward listening to, and ready to translate the interview
Once it had been checked we enlisted Gina, the education officer to record the translation for us.
Emma briefing Gina
I set up another of my improvised sound booths using all the cushions from all the chairs that I could find.
Gina recording in the improvised sound booth
When I put the headphones on I could hear a deep rumble that was almost imperceptible to the naked ear. It was coming from the office’s electric generator.

I fiddled around with the few sound settings that I had to roll of the low frequency and dampen the sound as much as I could, but I could not get rid of it totally. I was pleased that Gina had quite a powerful voice.
The offending large generator
We then did the drive back to our hotel in Bo. This time we made it back before it started to get dark.

Wednesday 22nd May
Mile 91
Sierra Leone

I did have a shower in my hotel room but it provided little more than a trickle of water. At least it was hot.
The shower in my room..
..the amount of water coming out
So, like yesterday I made use of the bucket and plastic jug, after I had let enough water drop into it to pour it over me.

At first light, 6:30 am, we checked out of our hotel and set out to drive to the town imaginatively called Mile 91 because it is ninety one miles from Freetown.

We met Josh from IMC (International Medical Corps) who led us to a warehouse that was stacked from floor to ceiling with sacks of grain labelled USA Aid.
A tiny portion of sacks full of lentils
Security was tight at the warehouse. We all had to sign in
The Save the Children vehicles that we had been using had to go with Heather back up to Freetown. So, we had to off load all our kit and wait for other vehicles, this time oraganised by IMC, to turn up.
The camera and personal kit waiting..

..then loaded up when the cars arrived
I did a few shots of a vehicle being loaded up with sacks of grain to go to a distribution centre near one of the remote villages in the area.

Elizabeth who also for some reason also called herself Deborah was quite a character. She is what is called a “Lead Mother”.

Her job in the community is to train other mothers in various things.

Today she was going to be teaching a combination of hygiene and cooking.
Rachell and Ranvir chatting to Elizabeth
Some of village women looking on
I filmed her as she showed some of the women from the village how to wash their hands using a “tippy tap” and then cook a meal.
Elizabeth with the woman at the Tippy Tap
Rachell joined in this cookery and hygiene class.

The range of food that the women brought to cook with was surprising.

There was rice, onions, chillies, fish and various other exotic looking vegetables along with thin-stemmed broad-leaved greens that she called potato leaf. 

As well as a few flies swarming around the food there were chickens, ducks and dogs wandering around the cooking area trying their luck at grabbing a titbit or two.

Now and again they would be shooed away.
One of the kids chases the likely food thieves away
The women got to work getting water from the well, expertly finely chopping up the potato leaf, gutting the fish and setting a fire.

I got to work getting a variety of wide shots, close ups and kept an ear out for any nice little interactions between Rachell and the ladies.
Shooting Elizabeth teaching Rachell in the cookery class
One of the village women doing her own thing.. the communal cooking goes on
The food bubbling away looking good and the smell was definitely inviting.
The covered rice pot on the fire
When it had been dished up on a number of large plates Elizabeth gave a plateful to us.

With a lack of ceremony the women who had worked on the meal dived in grabbing large handfuls and scooped it into their mouths.

They were joined by a number of little kids who joined in, their little hands delving into the sticky mass.

We were kindly provided with spoons thoughtfully washed under the tippy tap.

It tasted very good. The sauce was quite spicy with a delicious yet unusual flavour.

We would have happily eaten a very large portion, not just a spoonful or two, but two reasons prevented us indulging. Firstly there were obviously other villagers who were keen to eat and we did not want to deprive anyone of any of the precious food. Secondly, even though there was a strong emphasis on food hygiene there was no way any environmental health department in the UK would have issued a certificate to Elizabeth or her kitchen. 

With our appetites teased we had to say goodbye and leave to go to the food distribution area to see the food I had filmed being loaded up earlier now being given out.

It was another little off road jaunt on one of the now very familiar red dusty tracks out into the bush to another little village.

Under a large canopy of dry leaves a group of women sheltered from the fierce sun, the majority of them with little children and many who were pregnant.
The pregnant woman and mothers wait under the canopy
As ever the kids mob the cars..
..they love seeing the photographs of themselves
This was the first time since arriving in Sierra Leone we saw the obvious signs of malnutrition.

Some of the babies looked small and frail. A number of the older kids had the classic distended stomach.

This was a harsh reminder, if it was needed, that there are many people still living on the edge of starvation.

I filmed some of the mother’s getting their month’s ration of 1 litre of oil, a small pot of high protein grain and some lentils.

Some of them had walked for miles and stood for hours to get it.

A woman with very young twins had been spotted and was happy to be filmed and interviewed.

We walked with her, her twins, son (he carried the grain and oil in a basin on his head), daughter and elderly mother to her little village not too far away.

There, Ranvir did a short interview about how supplies like the ones she had just been given were so important to the people.
Ranvir held one of the twins when she did the interview
The tiny twins 
Three generations, twins, mum and grandmother
Then it was time to get to Freetown and back to the Family Resort Kingdom and something akin to a proper shower.

There was the familiar shaking around for us in the Land Cruisers as the drivers navigated the potholed track until we got back onto the relatively good road surface of the highway.

We made good time until we hit the outskirts of Freetown. Then we came to a virtual stand still.

The relaxed attitude to parking, dropping off and picking up, delivering, going onto the wrong side of the road for no apparent reason added to the sheer volume of traffic made the journey much longer than the distance suggested.

We arrived at the hotel a couple of hours later than we had anticipated but, not too late, it was still daylight.

We were all looking forward to a good shower and some food as apart from the sample of the delicious dish that had been cooked at the village most of us had not eaten much else. I had eaten a couple of my rather melted mushy energy bars, which had kept me going.

When we went into the small reception area and asked if we could check in, we were greeted by a domineering manageress. She did not see a problem with three rooms for seven people.

When we had persuaded her that we should all have separate rooms as per the booking and like we had when we stayed two days ago, she sorted things out and we were soon escorted to our own rooms.

I got quite excited when I saw the name of my room “Pent House”.

The fact that there were two separate words did give me a well-founded reason to contain my excitement.
The sign above the door..
..says it all
It was the first time this trip I decided that it might be best if I used my own personal mosquito net given that this room appeared to be the only one not equipped with one.
My Pent House bedroom minus mossi net
I just needed to screw a hook of some description into the ceiling. I also felt the need to light up one of my mosquito coils as there were a few little things flying around.

The up side was that the shower actually acted as a shower. That was after I had managed to screw back in the tap that came off in my hand when I turned it, sending a fairly weak jet of water out at me.
The shower
That's not supposed to happen
We went across the dark street, carefully stepping over the puddles and potholes to get to Alex’s restaurant behind what we believed to be Sierra Leone’s only Irish bar.

I must admit to a feeling of guilt thinking about the people we had seen today and what they might or more probably might not be having to eat, when my dinner was put on the table,..
..a spectacular lobster topped with vegetables and prawns
During the meal sudden bright flash of flame came from the dark beach that the restaurant overlooked. 

It was a fire eater announcing a bit of a show which he did for tips.
The evening's entertainment

Thursday 23rd May
Susan’s Bay
Sierra Leone

The warning beep from the battery charger woke me about an hour before I was due to get up alerting me to this morning’s power cut.

I got up, switched the beeping off and dozed until it was time to get ready for what would hopefully be not too long a day back in the Susan’s Bay slum area.

Our drivers eased the cars through the thronging, pulsating streets where the frenetic business of the day was in full swing.

busy Freetown street
The kids always look smart heading to school
Roadside money changer
"You lookin' at me?"
Ladies al fresco hairdressing
They pulled the cars into the side of the road and we disgorged into the stream of women and men carrying a variety of things on their heads, sweaty men pushing heavy, rickety trolleys laden with anything from a tall pile of cardboard boxes to hefty lumps of metal and other folk just going with the flow.
Beats going to the gym. No wonder a lot of the guys are so ripped
Time for a game inbetween selling chickens
Joinery Freetown style
Walking into the slum area felt it was like something we did all the time when almost right away we bumped into Bintabah, the volunteer from the Blue Flag clinic and some of her friends.

She greeted us with like we were also her old friends.
Catching up with Bintabah..
We passed Fatamata’s house. She was outside. She also welcomed us with a broad smile.
..and Fatamata with little Salamat
Our little single file column led by Silas was heading for the water pipe where the slum dwellers could go to collect fresh water, although they did have to pay for it.

The column increased by one as Fatima, the young girl we had filmed at the dump decided that she would join us.

In a crisp white t-shirt, and immaculate black and white skirt she took the lead. In the surroundings it was unbelievable how it was possible to get things to look so fresh and clean.

The water pipe area was deep down through the narrow hot lanes in the middle of the slums.

It was a small, sunken, square area enclosed by a low concrete wall. Sticking out of one side is a pipe of maybe about twenty centimetres in diameter. Crystal clear water continually cascades out of it.

A constant scrum of people stood around it filling buckets, large yellow plastic containers and any other receptacle that can hold water.

Invariably they then carried the heavy swilling load away balanced on their head.

Some did not take the water far. In the other part of the small square there were all sorts of water related chores going on, washing clothes, pots and quite a few naked men and women all lathered up giving themselves a thorough clean.

Used water or any from the pipe that was not collected flowed down into a little stream that flowed through the ramshackle arrangement of corrugated shelters passing just below the water area.

This stream was a running sewer full of human waste, animal waste and general rubbish.
The water pipe area
People around the pipe
I set up the camera after crossing a small bridge over this fetid flow.
Shooting on the narrow walkway
One of the first shots that I did was of a boy, perhaps around eight years old picking his way up stream ankle deep in the slow flowing mixture.

He was joined in there by a few pigs on the hunt for whatever there was that might conceivably be edible.

I was busy getting other shots around the area a few metres away from the actual water pipe area when Malcolm came up and said that it might be a good idea to get an interview done with the guy who was taking the money as he was actually keen to talk to us.

When I went there to set up with Ranvir there were obviously at least two guys very keen to talk on camera. The only problem appeared to be that they wanted to do it by themselves.

Our fixer and translator Silas was busy trying to referee the argument which was getting quite heated and spilling over to involve a few more guys who had arrived to stick in there views.

None of these characters actually made any attempt to address us, or the camera, which is very unusual. They just wanted to argue amongst themselves.

I rolled tape to record some of the action.

It was blatantly clear that things were not going to calm down enough for us to be able to conduct any sort of sensible interview or get into the area to do some shots of the ablutions from inside the square.

Also us standing there was obstructing the people trying to get along the narrow land with their various loads on their heads.

We decided to retreat before things got out of hand.
Walking to the pipe before the hassle started
Back over the bridge we did an interview with a girl who had just collected some water and one of the community leaders.
The view from back over the bridge..
..where the camera was set up
By the time we had done this things had calmed down.

I got all the shots I needed and then we made our way through the confined, crowded lanes to do a piece to camera.

It turned out that the main protagonist was a bit pissed. He was in charge of collecting the money and a lot of the argument had been about him not being up to being a  suitable spokesman for the people because he had been drinking.

Even when the argument was at it’s height there was no real feeling of a threat to us and at no time were any threats made towards us either physical or vocal.

Back down at the dump we did some promo pieces to camera and I got more shots.
Looking back up to the slums from the dump..
..and out to the estuary
On both the days we had ventured into this world of the Freetown underclass we felt no sense of vulnerability or of being in any danger.

It was not until we were heaving our hot sticky bodies up the long steep steps to leave that I encountered anything that could have been construed as untoward.

I felt a fairly small hand make a ham-fisted attempt at unclipping my compact camera that I keep attached to my belt loops.

When I moved my hand to brush it off it shot away as quickly as a lizard’s tongue shoots out.

Around the same time Ranvir experienced a similar thing when someone tried to take radio mic that she had clipped to her trousers.

He obviously hadn’t bargained on it also being attached to Ranvir by the mic cable.

Initially she thought that the pack had fallen off, as they sometimes do, and he had caught it.

So, she politely took it from him saying thank you.

It was only later that she realised the reason why he looked rather taken aback by her actions when Rachell said she had felt someone rather clumsily try to dip her pocket and by what happened to me as we were loading the car up to leave.

I was lifting the camera into the back of the car when I felt a hand go for my trouser pocket.

This time it was not the hand of a kid. I gave it a slap and made eye contact with its owner, a guy, mid twenties in a grey t-shirt wearing a baseball cap.

I has seen him around us a couple of times during the morning. This was the same guy that had “helped” Ranvir with her mic.

He looked a bit shocked at being caught in the act, which was surprising given that it was a very amateur attempt. It would have been interesting to have seen his face had he been successful.

All his efforts would have got him a box of sticking plasters.

Unfortunately for him I was not the only one that had seen what he was up to. One of he locals had also witnessed it and was not happy.

He immediately grabbed him by the neck of his shirt and began berating him. This alerted the others around him to what had gone on and they were equally unhappy.

It did not take long for the small crowd to meat out a bit of summary community justice.

He was thrown to the ground and given some encouragement not to do it again.

It felt like it was time for us to take our leave so we jumped quickly into the car with the thought of a hasty departure. The driver found what had happened quite amusing and was even more amused by the fact that he could only drive us a matter of a few metres before coming to a halt because of the traffic.

There were two more things to do.

Firstly Emma and I went to a cemetery to get some shots of gravestones that bore the names and ages of children that had died.

In this mainly Muslim country the relationship between the followers of Islam and Christianity mix, mingle and get on in perfect harmony that should be a shining example to the fundamentalists from both sides.

A prime illustration of this are the cemeteries. There are Christian and Muslim graves side by side.

The second thing was a quick stop at a music stall so that Emma could buy some local music that she might be able to use on the films when she edits them.

On the way to get the music we passed a great place for a vista shot of the city of Freetown.

The only problem was that there was a large phone and radio mast in the way.

I noticed that if I got on to the roof of a building that was in the process of being built it would be the ideal place to avoid the mast.

Silas and I wandered over to the guys who were busy digging a trench outside the house to ask if it was possible.

In no time they had said yes, produced an African style ladder and helped us get the camera and tripod up to the roof.
The guys bringing out the ladder..
..and helping with the kit
On my way up.. set the camera up.. order to..
..get some views over the city
Emma had also scrambled up the homemade ladder.. had Silas
Silas our fixer and Emma
Looking for.. for the soundtrack to the films.. Fay from Save the Children waits
In essence our day’s work was finished however, what we did need was a shot of some rain to illustrate the fact that a lot of the problems that give the hunger season its name are brought by the heavy rains of the rainy season.

It was now the start of the rainy season.

At the moment the best we had was the heavy threatening cloud that was hanging over part of the city that I had filmed from the roof.

So it was time to be on standby for weather shots.

I took the camera to dinner but the rain never came.

The restaurant that we ate in must have had a bit of trouble getting some self important people to pay the full bill..
..because this was the first page of the menu
There are about 6500 Leonians, the currency of Sierra Leone, to the pound. So, having notes in denominations of 2000 and 5000 means that it takes a big wad of cash to pay for most things.
Emma counting out a wad to pay for dinner
I didn't envy Emma having to do her expenses when she got back to the UK because of the massive amounts involved and that virtually no one gave her a receipt. When she asked they either just said no or shrugged their shoulders.

Friday May 24th
Sierra Leone

This was our final day and we only had one simple thing to do after breakfast.
Emma strokes one of the little antelopes that roams around the hotel

Emma transcribed the translations of the various interviews that had been done via the various translators that had been with us.

All we needed was to record someone reading them in a local accent.

Alex, from Save the Children International had lined up some of the girls in the Save the Children office to do that job for us.

I was confronted by the same problem that I had in Pujehun a couple of days ago. Only this time it was a little bit worse.

The only place where I could record these ladies was in the office. The problem was that there was nowhere to get away from the low loud thrum coming in every which way from the noisy generator that provided the office with its electrical power and then thrown into the audio mix was the hum from the air conditioning units attached to various parts of the walls.

I did the best that I could with all the cushions purloined from all the sofas and chairs in and around the office to create another little improvised sound booth inside a cupboard.

There must have been a few folk sporting rattan patterned bums whilst we recorded the voice tracks.

I also literally tipped up some of the office furniture, namely the tables. I used them to act as much as possible as sound baffles propping them up at the doors.
Another improvised sound booth
The low frequency throb remained, albeit a bit less obtrusive. We had no option but to go for it and do the recording and hope that the sound experts back at Daybreak in London could filter some more of it out.

Also there would be a little bit of natural sound on the interviews which should help.

I went out to have a look at the generator and was almost deafened by the noise that it made. There was absolutely no sound proofing at all to mitigate the din in the slightest.
The noisiest generator I've heard in a long time

When we got back to the hotel there was just time to get packed with half an hour to spare for a sit in the sun before heading to get the water taxi over the estuary to the airport.

Don't get too carried away by the sign above Rachell's room.. she fills in her journal of the trip
It was much better doing the trip on the water taxi in the daylight.

Our kit in the hot waiting area.. 
..for the boat over the estuary
The scene beside the water taxi terminal..
..and there are no slums on the opposite bank..
..with a bit of fishing going on..
..and kids beach combing Freetown style..
..whilst the gear is loaded for the crossing..
..we are all geared up..
..with life jackets
Emma makes a friend
A final thought as we leave Freetown Rachell?
Busy fishermen out in on the estuary as we cross to the airport
Lungi airport was in the process of being redeveloped. The departure area was almost finished and looking like a modern airport, although the air conditioning left a bit to be desired.

Check in was straight forward, in fact almost a pleasure because there was no excess baggage to pay and we were very pleased that our bags were tagged all the way to London. I had hoped for Edinburgh, but that was a step too far because the Heathrow to Edinburgh flight was on a different booking.

There was a little bit of excitement, apart from my pen bursting when I was filling out the departure document and covering me in sticky dark blue ink, I was led away by a small security officer with a hi viz jacket and wearing the most pointed shiny black shoes the like of which I have only ever seen on clowns.

He took me outside on to the aircraft apron and around the back of the building to a dusty floored warehouse area. This was the hold baggage scanning area.

The very polite security officer manning the X-ray machine was very interested in a black square blob when he scanned one of my flight cases.

It was the spare camera battery.

I had to open the case to show it to him. He was not the only one interested in what was inside my battered orange box.

As I was opening it a small crowd of baggage handlers and other security officers gathered  to peer into the box when it was opened, one chomping on a very smelly fish, which when he had finished eating all the meat ended up all head, bones and tail, like a cartoon fish skeleton.

They were all very curious and pointed excitedly to the spare lens, battery charger and microphones.

Once the scanning officer was happy I closed up the case and the pointy shoed one led me back inside to the departure area.
The leaving view of the airport terminal..
..the houses and roads near the airport..
..and the coast of Sierra Leone disappears beneath our climbing aircraft

When we arrived at Kotoka airport in Ghana’s capital Accra to get the flight to London we headed for the transit area.

During a bit of confusion between the airport staff about where the key was to let us through the transit door a lady appeared and told us that even though the bags had been tagged to London by the check-in staff in Freetown they would need to be collected from the belt and checked in again.

So, we all went to the baggage reclaim to pick up the bags. She then led us straight through the immigration area using the lane marked for diplomats, the immigration officer just waving her through and ignoring us.

She took us out into the hot sticky Accra night.

It was bizarre. We were firmly in Ghana without an immigration stamp or even a glance at our passports.

She led us up long ramps, over high kerbs, where eager hands wrestled the trolleys from us to help, in hope of a small tip, then across roads and then through the crowded airport to another terminal.
Wending our way through the inside..
..and outside the airport. Josh helpfully pushing my gear
When we eventually got to the BA check-in area we had to discard the tags put on in Freetown and go through the whole rigmarole of checking in again.

The upside was that I got my bags checked through to Edinburgh and Rachell got hers checked through to Glasgow.

The downside was that when I got to Edinburgh after having been on the go for about thirty three hours only three of my four bags arrived with me.

Once more BA screwed up as the bags went through their state of the art Terminal 5 baggage system.

I've had lost bags more times just going between London and Edinburgh than any other of the apparently less sophisticated airports in any of the less developed countries that I have travelled to.

It was a bit of an annoying end to a successful yet tiring and emotional trip.

No comments:

Post a Comment