Freetown, Lumley beach.
From Conakry to Freetown. They slow me down on the Guinean side of the border at Pamela, no professionalism, not even when trying to relief me of some money, but also I like Guinea too much, I even love the corrupt police man who asks for 50USD to hand me back my licence, "Il est malade?" I ask around, and his colleagues laugh. And I let my "You'll think about this day for many years to come if you don't give me my license back" out. Well he realises soon he would not get anywhere. "Then he wants some small change to get back to his post, "I did not ask you to come with me." He is weak. He is underpaid. Also the commandant wants some "tax" to be paid he just invented . "It doesn't exist and I am tired". Finally they open the gate.
So different the Sierra Leonian (wiki this is an interesting read) side, the country that is still largely avoided by the traveling community, the civil war stricken country still roamed by child soldiers, so goes the bull shit. Tidy white shirt, tie, cap. Professional, formal procedures, immigration and customs is all in one building, cleansed tiled floors. The customs guy even sends a boy to get me a chilled can of Star premium lager. Means welcome! No one asks bribes on the 7 or so check points to Freetown. The country has a lot of police on duty, earn next to nothing, most unarmed. But they're pound to be in charge to put back the country on the track of law and order.
Deep corruption and fight for control of the countries (foremost diamonds) resources were at the roots of consecutive civil wars (wiki). In the whole of the 1990s some 50,000 people were killed, countless coups and counter-coups, assassinations and assassination attempts, from civil rule to military and back and again back, martial law introduced x-times, constitution suspended y-times, back to civil rule z-times, all while "official" government forces battled the RUF rebels of Foday Sankoh (BBC), an especially murderous African warlord (on his accounts go regularly mutilation - some 30000 civilians had one or more limps cut of, rape, abduction, recruitment and drugging of child soldiers, making them looting their own villages, killing their own parents, teachers). Read African Dirge from Peter Scholl-Latour, (wiki).
At this stage I remember when I went to watch the movie Blood Diamonds, that at the same point in time the Diamond Industry came out in the most conservative news papers in each country with statements that the film is a huge exaggeration. Down here I realise it is not, it does probably not even come close to what reality was.
It seems it's all over now. Starting 1999 ending 2002 West African troops ECOWAS, British and UN (UNAMSIL) succeeding in battling it out, fighters were disarmed, demobilized. Peace that had been worked on hard seems also to last. And it is a pleasure to see that big international efforts financially as well as militarily can have a large impact. Sierra Leonians deserved it. And you can feel they had enough of war.
Central Freetown (wiki) today has flare again, slim English styled wooden paneled colonial buildings line its narrow streets that are buzzing with traders and traffic and everything gets stuck. So I try to reach Aberdeen and its beaches, where life is laid back. Weather is hot and humid, when wind blows it feels cold but only from your sweat soaked shirt. There's also much perspiring at night, and then it is cold and you cover yourself only to sweat more. A sure flue is in the making. And the mosquitoes have me this first night, next malaria is a sure thing, the bites also never heal in this damp gluey humidity.
I miss my children, I miss Hasna, Morocco and Guinea. I know this usual feeling of senselessness when you change from something you like to the unknown. So I drive around the Freetown peninsula, some 50km to Kent in the South. Beaches are white, sandy, the air heavy sweet, from constant marijuana smoking, "it grows in the bush, where there is fresh water, it is beautiful", so or so I am introduced. I stick with beer. There is Tommy, Tosh and Mohamed, Double D. and many others. Yes I have to get used to all the cool names. Sierra Leone has had a long British influence. Liberia is going to be US led and even "cooler".
Mohamed, Tommy and friends work/operate a beach cafe here, even clean the beach once a week, means throw the rubbish behind the bushes where the graveyard is, no concept really. This is government land, no papers exist. "Former government was terrible, just sent police and tax collectors." they explain. "The current one is better (since 6 month), it is better really since Ernest Bai Koroma (wiki), president of SL was here. He was here twice, listened to us." They definitely show self starting community efforts. "But our eldest just sit and wait, no support for our initiatives, they just want to sell the land." But there is no ice in the fridge, no fuel for the generator. Beer is warm. From the 200 people that arrive from Freetown this Saturday afternoon on the beach only very few find their way into the cafe. There isn't really much on offer.
Seems my friends efforts are drowned in smoking and drinking, palm wine goes well with dope, gin in plastic even better. Later I fetch my guitar. None of them plays an instrument. No drums. Conakry and here is a world apart.
Rasta is their culture, the music they listen though is empty flat pop here, no comparison to Guinea or Mali. I miss Les Espoirs (myspace), Les Etoiles de Boulbinet in the bars of Coronthie, in Conakry.
The Ganga smoking youngsters cannot inspire, I head back via Waterloo to Lumley Beach, in Aberdeen, Freetown. And - do nothing! I pick up again on "City of Joy" by Dominique Lapierre (wiki). Lumley beache is relaxed, I sit in the shade, read and listen to the ocean. I suddenly feel happy, City of Joy is such a good book and it wakes up some new desire in me which I will not be able to fathom for a little while longer. The desire to go to India and cut the African trip short. But I am such a slow reader - still after all these years. And eyesight is not getting better either, cannot read at night.
Beach bars are quiet these days, the wild days of crowded expats' parties are over, many NGO, Aid, UN workers have since packed up. Lumley beach is where we talk, some expatriates turned residents talk, now work as managers, in booming fields of the economy, telecommunications, logistics. Sierra Leone goes through very interesting times indeed.
I eat well in China Town a Chinese fast food restaurant on the Lumley beach road and Ramada's, Ramatou and Keith's beach bar, Keith plans the first edition of his International Rain Festival, he's a branding expert. The rains now come every other night and day. I drink well then sleep in the Land Rover and still sweat. No dangers and annoyances. Maybe the 20 or so dogs that stray round my vehicle sometimes at night do cause some consternation when I climb out to pee. Nights are pitch dark. Only on day five a small crescent of a moon appears still during twilight times when the pink shades fade into the darker colors of the night. The moon then is gone again. The dogs sometimes I can only hear. But nothing else shocks here. Who keeps telling us Sierra Leone is dangerous? It is English, and that I like.
One day motivation strikes and I go and chat with the fishermen at lunch time.
What else is important in Sierra Leone? Religion, the Christian kind of evangelizing is a big thing here. Islam though still in majority (60%) takes a back seat in terms of loudness. It is all colors of Christianity that call for the faithful, this is choir Gospel singing country.
And mini buses carry the letterings from all, "God is love" (for Christians), "God bless Islam" (for Muslims), "Manchester United" (for ?).
Money and prices, "This is Africa".
One afternoon I spend a couple of hours in an internet cafe, 4000 SL Leone (nearly 1 Euro which is really high already) is the normal price for an hour. They charge me 7000, because I am using my own laptop. "This is ridiculous, I am not even using your equipment" I go. "This is typical Africa, charging the white guy."
I should not have said "typical Africa". This goes straight into the heart of some people who start shouting at me. I apologize for using the phrase, but insist that the bastards are trying to rip me off some extra cents. This is how we "white" feel nearly all the time in Africa. Constantly confronted with the extra efforts to raise the price. Bastards in the Cyber are so stupid, they have not even had to invest in equipment and try to charge nearly double, and try rip me off by counting an extra hour (none can do the calculation over 12 noon) and they did not put down the correct time, which I overlooked when starting to work (I know, never be generous).
Of course I never ever go back instead go to the other one in central Aberdeen at the going rate of 4000. Not everyone tries rip you off. ;-)
Just a small episode. One that explains why the "white" have come up with "their" stupid TIA phrase. This Is Africa. C'est l'Afrique.
And I wander between, understanding: wouldn't I charge the extra, if I knew I could make the extra quick buck and disgust which is what I just went through.
I don't discuss prices beforehand (not anymore). I know prices for basic services and goods. And then simply not pay what is being asked.
I know Taxi fees in Conakry and Bamako. Change and repair of a tire from Morocco to Liberia. This is 1 to 1,5 Euros. When they ask 3 or 5 we usually have a good laugh. Reinflating all 6 tires is half a Euro. Doing a bag of laundry 2 Euros. Soap has to be paid extra.
But the absurd bastards in the internet cafe had even put up a little paper quoting the price for use of ones own laptop computer. Sometimes I wish I discussed prices beforehand.
Money is such a good means re understanding how people's brains work, what their needs are - for a day. Many people go about with no money, the weekly or monthly pay had been eaten up in a day by their families and friends and friends' friends. Also it is common practice by state and private enterprise to not pay at all sometimes for months and years. I sometimes travel with no money in my pockets. Still manage to eat, make repairs, have a hand or two to help me. I pay in kind or just with friendship. If you don't have money you're more like them.
Maybe our stupid TIA phrase has justification.
No2 River beach
One fine morning I just leave Freetown. Unrest drives me out, been here long enough. The rains and the roads ahead may not go so well together. And it'll rain more in the months to come. I have to move on. But still go round the same peninsula again this time stop in No2 River, 20km away to the South.
I read again, look for something interesting on the ocean in front behind immaculate white sand and listen to the rumbling of thunder in my back, where the Freetown peninsula mountains rise high, always covered in dark clouds, mystic. It rains, shortly during the day, then again at night, and it cools off considerably with it. No. 2 River, high profile tourism window for Sierra Leone, a community project, the beach is clean indeed, each morning some 30 villagers do their best to keep in bay what the ocean brings along during high tides, but also what clients and they themselves throw away during the day. It has to be said, it is rarely Europeans that leave an empty can of beer behind.
The beach and mangrove lined lagoon and the river River No. 2 with a waterfall somewhere are the attractions here, just a few of so many that SL harbours, for a beautiful, rich and green country with many wonders it is. Banana Island off the coast of Kent would be another one. But ...
... But it rains, I better move on, the final pages of City of Joy have to wait too. Via Waterloo again, to Bo and further on to Zimmi, the border town with Liberia is Djendema, on the Mano River, and there's the Mano river union bridge. With Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and recently joining Cote d'Ivoire there is 4 countries in the Manu River Union, to work together on regional stability and development.
Roads are in the end pretty bad, no dust thanks to recent rain. There are some rubber plantations that I drive through, they absorb a strange pukey smell. No photos unfortunately as I have just taken passengers.