FREETOWN – “The police stop us all the time. Sometimes they try to take money from us, sometimes they threaten to arrest us. But the usual trick is to check our handbags. They plant some drugs, then tell us to come with them to the station. The only way to get out is have sex with the policeman, otherwise we go to jail.” Just 20 years old, Maryama* has lived on the ramshackle streets of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, for eight years. Her father died when she was 10 – possibly from HIV-AIDS, although nobody knows for sure – leaving her mother unable to bring up their three children. This was at the height of Sierra Leone’s civil war, infamous for anti-government rebels who hacked off arms and hands to deter civilians from voting in elections.
BEIRUT — With its sun-kissed Mediterranean coast, and cedar-laden snow-bound mountains, Lebanon, like California, is one of the few places where you can top up your tan in the morning, and ski in the afternoon. Add that to Beirut’s seen-to-be-seen party-hard attitude, great cuisine and plush shopping malls, it is easy to see why this tiny country was a Middle East culture-hub during the 20th century. But, as Scripture puts it, “the flower of Lebanon languisheth.” A recent power sharing deal cut in Doha, between the pro-West March 14 coalition and the Iran-backed Hezbollah-led opposition, might seem like progress for the politically-polarized nation, but in reality, Lebanon remains unstable.