On Friday, I was helping one of the employees at Skyy Radio with writing and recording her voice track for a radio documentary. We were forced to delay its recording twice, because others needed access to Skyy’s only recording studio for more urgent matters. When we did finally get started, we were again interrupted. This time, by Jesus himself.
The heaving baseline of African Christian pop music reverberated inside the studio. I stopped the recorder and walked outside to see if I could figure out where it was coming from. There, about a block away, was a speaker, almost as tall as me. And I’m pretty sure I could see it wobbling.
I decided to go and see if they would turn it off for 10 minutes. I had to use sign language when asking, but the guy was not lacking in Christian spirit, and was happy to help. In fact, he kept it off until I returned to thank him. (Later I was told that it’s illegal to play loud music in Freetown before 4 p.m. An early curfew, rather than a late one. That’s Freetown.)
This is just one of the daily challenges employees can face in getting their jobs done.
At Skyy Radio, the budget is tight. Ten people work on five desks, with around eight stools to sit on. The stools are the same height as the desks, making them less than comfortable. No one complains.
There is no air conditioning, meaning all the windows have to be kept open. The office is located on the busy Circular Road in Freetown. The noise is constant. From car horns, to thundering diesel trucks and funeral parades, there is hardly ever a moment’s silence in the office.
To give you an idea of the noise, I left my audio recorder on the windowsill for 20 minutes. Here are just some of the highlights, compressed into one minute.
Other obstacles to efficient work include:
Frequent power outages. Nowhere in Freetown gets constant electricity. Businesses need generators for power. Sometimes those generators break, so laptops and mobile phones slowly drain of their power.
Heat and humidity. You try working hard when the humidex in your office is over 40°C.
Traffic. Traffic in Freetown can be horrendous. I’ve often gotten out of a shared taxi and walked.
Police checkpoints. This has only happened to me once, so far. My taxi driver was stopped for driving on a street that was supposedly shut to cars. After 20 minutes, and a Le10,000 payment, we were on our way again.
Red tape. To get an interview with an official you often have to call their media person. You arrange to meet them. They then ask for a triplicate letter, addressed to specific people, requesting an interview with the official. You go back to base, get them printed, signed and stamped. You then bring the letters, in person, to the appropriate people, and wait for the interview to be granted. This is followed by numerous phone calls to see if the interview is going to happen.
But despite all these challenges, the work goes on and it gets done. It’s just that, along with hard work, talent and skill, every journalist in Freetown needs one vital virtue. Patience.