Freetown in the rain

There’s a massive downpour going on outside my hotel room right now. In the US, this would merit wall-to-wall coverage from StormCenter Action 6 or whatever, but in Freetown, it’s simply taken as a part of the rainy season.

To give an idea of how hard it’s coming down: the satellite reception is stalling because there are too many raindrops in the way between the dish and the satellite.

Today, while driving up to Citizen FM, I found out that the hill they’re situated on is called “Thunder Hill” because of the massive thunderstorms that happen in October.

Citizen FM was inspiring to visit. It’s a community radio station in one of the poorest parts of Freetown, a district called Kissy, in the east of the city, where more than 700,000 live in what is essentially a shanty district. Citizen FM is very popular here – on the drive in, every stall had their radios tuned there – and they make it a point of being by and for the community.

I got to visit with David Tam-Baryoh, the station’s director, who explained that their studios are equipped only with things they’ve bought themselves – there must have been 8 old cassette players around.

But that didn’t stop the set of DJ Nice, a regular winner of the station’s weekly best-DJ competitions, who was playing a buttery set of West African hip-hop.

Citizen FM's DJ Nice

It rained all day today, just as yesterday. But it’s a hot rain, and what’s worse is when it stops, because it leaves you drenched in sweat. My hands stuck to the keyboard, for example.

When the rain stops, though, the mosquitoes come in. I’m still paranoid about them, and worried about malaria. So tonight I pulled out my mosquito repellent and offered some to my colleagues. They all laughed and said: “That won’t work on us. We’re African.”

I was really relieved and happy tonight to get the LiveSupport installations completed today. It really wasn’t a sure thing, given the number of potential complications that could have come up – gas in the generator being one of them – but it turned out fine.

It was really cool watching my colleagues’ excitement as they started to make their practice broadcasts – we’re only broadcasting in a radius of maybe 50 meters at best – but it’s becoming real to all of us that this LiveSupport project, which began three years ago, is about to bring about a major shift for community radio, starting here.

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