The Diary of a Sierra Leonean Diplomat

Ask any New Yorker or anybody who comes to the Big Apple to work or do business. The end of the 64th Session of the United Nations General Assembly has brought not only nostalgia but yes, tremendous relief . Amidst all the glitter, glitz and glamour of the UN General Assembly , there was one underlying fact underpinning the whole drama : The Assembly brought a lot of excitement, sensation, euphoria and dizzying enjoyment (All the visiting heads of states and representatives of governments from all over the world,all the visitors and all the flurry of activities around town, restaurants, clubs and what-have-you ) but it also brought the city to a standstill.
A city that is always buzzing and moving 24 hours a day was virtually crippled during the week-long jamboree. But the the mystery and beauty of New York. is that it is able to cope with anything , one reason why many people cannot help falling in love with this glamorous and to some, romantic, city. I am beginning to love New York too. I must confess that working or even lingering in New York was one prospect I never relished before because all I had previously heard and read about New York was negative : Everyday and night, TV  news  and newspapers bombards viewers  and readers respectively with gory news of killings, rapes and disasters in New York.The media make it appear like nothing else takes place in New York, except killings, rapes, burglaries, hold-ups and kidnappings. To viewers and newspaper readers, New York is the most dangerous city in the globe, where people die from crimes in droves day and night. .
Come to New York any time of the day.  You do not  see this dangerous spectacle . What graces your eyes instead are hard-working people crisscrossing each others’ paths whole day and night going to work or their normal business ; lovers  holding hands or kissing on the sidewalks; both young and old walking their dogs ; parks full of people relaxing or exercising ; all the construction projects and the hustle and bustle of city life, taxis and buses shuttling passengers here and there. Almost everybody seems to be in a hurry perpetually .And the taxi and bus drivers are so polite and nice.  Almost everything is within reach. There are stores selling almost everything and it is in New York that you find  professions that are now virtually extinct in other places in the First world- flourishing -Shoemakers, coblers, tailors, watch-repairers, shoe-shine boys etc. You can buy British newspapers and African magazines anywhere and in at one part of Manhattan that reminds you of Africa, bitter kola (the African Viagra ), gara , lace , cotton and kenti materials and dresses are openly peddled on the streets. I have met many residents of New York , especially Africans, who have frankly confessed that they will never exchange this city for any other. I travel from New Jersey everyday to come and work in New York, like thousands of  other people and have no regtrets.The metro, bus and taxi services in New York are second to none.
However, the 64th Session of the UN Assembly provided challenges that only resilient New Yorkers can cope with without any crisis. What with security so watertight that there were street closings everywhere, especially around the vicinity of the UN. 1st Avenue from 42nd Street to 48th Street saw closures that provided traffic nightmares . The tunnel underpass from 41st Street to 48 Street was open  passenger cars but was subject to intermittent closures. Trucks and other large vehicles were not allowed  access until the end of each day’s session.
Not even the waterways were spared. Security zones were established and enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard on the East River. These  periodically restricted vessel traffic through the upper harbor near the United Nations Headquarters, from Sept. 20 to Oct. 1. The East River closures were requested by the U.S. Secret Service and were  necessary to protect the President of the United States, U.S. Secretary of State and 130 international heads of state during the U.N. General Assembly located near the East River at East 43rd Street. The security zone includes all waters of the East River from East 35th Street to the Queensboro/59th Street Bridge ( Official announcement ).
To match the closures and traffic nightmare was the irritating noise of sirens of police cars leading different delegations through the choked streets .And some of these delegations moved with break-neck speeds. Indeed, I experienced it first-hand travelling with President Ernest Koroma and his delegation from the airport on his day of arrival and to some of the many programs and engagements of the President in New York. I don’t know why Presidential motorcades have to drive with such speed .My journalism collegues , Presidential Press Secretary Sheka Tarawallie and TV Camera man, Claudius Beckley , told me that it was their daily routine , even in Sierra Leone . Often , I held my breath as the  van carrying us  meandered through honking taxis and other vehicles ,the van itself honking and flashing its lights to demand right of way to keep pace with the rest of the Presidential motorcade. I think one reason for the speed is to avoid being cut off and lost from the motorcade. Many were the close shaves, but then drivers in official motorcades seem to have learnt  the guile and their art well.Now,I understand why the late President William Tolbert and the late Samuel K.Doe’s motorcades used to speed through the streets of Monrovia  in with what appeared to me then to be such dignified haste.  .May be, leaders have so many engagements their motorcades have to move at such hectic pace.
 Also not to be missed were the many demonstrations that rocked the precints of the UN  during the General Assembly. Some were so wild, though behind police cordons, like the one staged by citizens of neighbouring Guinea resident in America on the day their representative of government had to address the General Assembly ( SEE PHOTOS THIS WEEKEND ). Incidentally, the violent and bloody junta crackdown on demonstrations  in Conakry had started two days before that date. The demonstrators carried placards in English and French that called on the Daddis Camara junta to quit and for international intervention in Guinea.,among other demands. There were Iranians , Palestinians, Israelis and Burmese demonstrating too .  I wonder how many of them really captured the attention of world leaders burdened by problems of their own or international organizations skewed towards the General Assembly.
The UN General Assembly is over and  most of the heads of state, representatives of governments, their delegations and other visitors have left and New York has steadily returned to normal. But the talk of the event and the pleasures ,excitement and traffic nightmares that attended it will not be forgotten in a hurry, though New York is used to it.

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