The car is stationary in the busy morning traffic, the queue snaking down the hill in front of us and up the slope beyond. The windows are open, the humid morning breeze carrying upon it the shouts of the street traders, and the never-ending hoots of Freetown’s bikes, tuk-tuks and cars. “Tissue, tissue, tissue!” cries a man carrying a metre-high stack of tissue boxes as he weaves between the queues.
The sky above us is hazy – the sun a dull red disc just rising into a white sky above the city hills. It is harmattan, they tell me: Saharan dust caught on the trade winds and carried high across West African skies from November to March. “You think this is hot? Wait until after harmattan!”
Weaving inbetween the lines of traffic, a fleet of wheelchairs ascends the hill towards us. People affected by polio, I wonder. Several have a weak or wasted arm or leg. Their family push the chairs from car to car and gaze impassively at the occupants.
The car begins moving again and our driver weaves us in and out of the city’s winding streets. We pass churches, markets, mosques and always colour, voices, hooting and warmth.
We pull up outside a set of metal gates set in a peeling whitewashed wall. Connaught Hospital, my new place of work. Opened in 1912 by the Duke of Connaught a weather worn carving proclaims it the “product of British philanthropy”. With 300 beds it is the adult referral hospital in this, a city of over 2 million people. The gates open, we drive in and I start my first day at work.