Freetown, Baby!

For the love of the game by jc2010sl
February 27, 2010, 1:19 pm
Filed under: society | Tags: , ,

It’s a truism that football is a world game. More than that, it’s a world religion. People gather to play anywhere vaguely flat enough and large enough for 2 people to kick a ball. “Pitches” are hewn out of the steep side of the hill I live on, goal posts fashioned from a couple of sticks, and 3-a-side games played continuously. Where the sea levels the sand you’ll see locals making sandcastle goalposts and starting a game.

A hillside pitch in Freetown

Bureh Town FC

I got my first taste of action today with the “Expat All Stars”. The name is something of a misnomer since the majority of the players, and certainly the best, are all Salones. Amongst the team were a current top division player and a former Sierra Leone international – the latter is brother to Mohammed Kallon, one-time Inter player and business moghul of Freetown. The sun is so ferocious that games kick off at 8:30am. Today’s venue was the training pitch beside the National Stadium – one of the best pitches in the country. There was not a blade of grass on the entire pitch, which is essentially compacted sand.

The Training pitch in the "shadow" of the national stadium

Because the grip is so poor, and the surface so abrasive, there was no chance of my bringing my typical combative “style” to the game. Just as well as our opponents were the Armed forces team. Within 5 minutes of warming up I was utterly drenched, and by the end of my 20 min substitute appearance, utterly wrecked. I may not make it every week, but I hope to play more often than not.

In the late 1990s, Nike ran an advert in the UK featuring Eric Cantona et al turning out to play on Hackney marshes. “Your stars are like you” it implied; “they play for the love of the game.” I can’t imagine today’s Premiership names turning out for a park side at 8:30am on a Saturday, but here the love runs deep.


Lets lunch by jc2010sl
February 26, 2010, 12:16 pm
Filed under: food - cooking | Tags: , , ,

It’s never happened before. I’m usually a pretty adventurous eater. But this afternoon I just couldn’t bear even a second mouthful of my lunch. The offending dish? “Crain crain with foo foo.” Foo foo is cassava root pounded and then mixed with water to form a slightly sour, almost translucent gelatinous globule. It looks unappetising and it tastes pretty unpleasant too. Crain crain is the sauce that comes with – a green, slimy affair (I think there is Okra in the mixture) with small flakes of dried fish and chunks of unidentified meat. The whole thing is fried up in copious quantities of palm oil, which leaves your lips orange.
Without doubt this is the most unappetising dish I’ve ever come across in terms of the appearance, texture and taste. One to avoid.

It’s confusing… by mabrajeux
February 22, 2010, 12:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As I was packing up my bags the other day in Freetown, I realised that I’d forgotten something. So far, so normal. Couldn’t for the life of me remember where I left my keys. Then I realised I couldn’t remember which keys I was looking for either…

Well, the good news is, I haven’t actually forgotten anything. Apart from my umbrella, oops. But, as it turns out, I don’t own keys. And so it will be for the next couple of months. I’ll be borrowing keys from the kindly souls who are welcoming me in their home while I’m around these slightly less sunny shores, before I head back to what is now home: Hill Station, Freetown.

I wasn’t expecting it so soon but I do already miss the place, the sunshine, the sound of kids playing around everywhere and motorbikes buzzing past, the smell of wood fire and strangers saying hello with a smile…

I tried that last one on the tube the other day: the person opposite looked away slightly disturbed and I think she was seriously considering warning the station warden about me. Also, after a pretty successful run at the airport where I was proposed to twice more, I’ve not had a single proposal since I got back, which is definitely a disappointment…

Road Kill by jc2010sl
February 21, 2010, 12:54 pm
Filed under: society, travels | Tags: ,

For suicidal creatures, there sure are a lot of dogs in Freetown. I bore witness to my first CRTA (Canine Road Traffic Accident) yesterday and perpetrated my first today. Contrary to the views of my colleagues – they tell me I’m psychotic – the act was not intentional. The stupid thing literally ran into me. My first trip driving to the beach was notable for another mis-hap – bumping a taxi at the Lumley roundabout. I realise the inevitable ribbing this will generate, but I think it’s worth the story.

The driver started gesticulating furiously after the bump and indicated for me to pull over. I wondered if I had enough cash to placate him, and was slightly concerned at how the situation might pan out. I pulled up a bit further on and was giving it all the “Ow di body?”, “Sorry boss”. True to Salone form, the guy was pretty chilled. Of course, he acted as though we’d ruined his day, but there was no real agro at all; he was just playing his part, and I mine. He pointed to the cracked rear light and claimed this was my work. “Boss, it’s covered in tape – it was already broken”, “Scratch dem” he indicated, nodding sagely. After a minute or two of back and forth banter, I asked him how much I thought I should offer in compensation. His demeanour became positively phlegmatic – “Whatever yu tink”. I offered him 30,000 leones (just over a fiver) and he was made up.

As he drove away I bet he wished more stupid white guys bumped his taxi.

Nor look en face by jc2010sl
February 20, 2010, 12:11 pm
Filed under: entertainment, society | Tags: , ,

I’ve been wondering what local Salone music was like since arriving in Freetown. The bars I’ve been to so far have been pretty expat-dominated with a diet of fairly cheesy R&B. When one of the Salones in the office offered tickets to the launch of home-grown DJ Lulu’s latest offering, I took him up on it. My colleague had met DJ Lulu in a bar and as they got chatting told her he worked in State House. This led to a visit to the office which caused much excitement. To put this in a UK context, you could imagine Josh Goodman meeting Lily Allen, telling her he works in No 10, and then giving her a tour of the building. Yeah, slightly odd, but this is Salone.
We headed off at about 10pm. We’d been told to get there for a 9pm start, but as the Japanese said – we’re on Salone time now. He was right – nothing happened for hours. I’d been expecting some kind of sweaty dance-hall type affair, but it was more like a sedate early evening BBQ. The venue was the outside area of a club on the hill; tables clustered around the pool and at stage at the back. The crowd was mostly well to do Salones and we were the only whites in the place. Quite a nice feeling not being surrounded by other expats, having spent most of my time up until then in either the office, downtown or on the beach.
The “gig” itself was a pretty surreal affair – 2 guys MC’ed in a mixture of Krio and English with frequent references to the corporate sponsors Africell: “bringing people together”. They opened proceedings with a 2 minute silent prayer to God and Allah (which lasted barely 20 seconds), immediately followed by “Beyonce”; a lip-synching drag queen in a micro-skirt. No division here between Christian and Muslim, or indeed between spiritual and secular.
Endless warm up acts followed, the better ones showered with cash from watching fans, until finally DJ Lulu took the stage. Her style is a kind of poppy calypso; upbeat songs given an unmistakable West African lilt for being sung in Krio.
And “Nor look en face”? It’s idiomatic Krio for “Don’t worry about it.”

Bulk Access by jc2010sl
February 18, 2010, 8:04 am
Filed under: society | Tags: , ,

One of the most striking practical differences of living in Salone is the movement to a total cash economy. In the 3 weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve not seen a single place that takes card payment. Cash is most definitely king. This basically means that you need to leave the house armed with a hefty brick of cash if you don’t want to be caught out. Having practically run out of the US Dollars I brought with me (you can change these all over town for the local currency – the Leone) I made a trip to the bank in town.

At the back of the bank there is a sign that reads “Bulk Access – cash transfer”, where you can withdraw a maximum of 2 million leones (about £350). Counting to check you’ve not been short-changed is certainly advisable, and among the many slightly odd skills that I never thought I’d need – or frankly ever thought about at all – I’ve become a dab hand at counting money. (A future career as a bank teller beckons if it all goes wrong.) The other thing that struck me was just how safe I felt walking out of the bank with what is probably close to half the annual salary for a nurse in the provinces.

Seduction Salone Style by mabrajeux
February 16, 2010, 1:31 pm
Filed under: society | Tags: , ,

Number of marriage proposals: 1

Although I was pretty pleased with this achievement as I considered my first three weeks in Freetown, apparently by local standards I’m not really doing that well…

Truth is, people in Sierra Leone are generally incredibly friendly. Greetings are an important part of the local Krio culture and it’s very common to greet people you cross in the street, saying either ‘hello’ or ‘Aw di bodi?’(krio for ‘how are you?’ – watch this space for more info). People also often ask you your name, which is a bit unsettling at first, as if they are somehow invading your privacy but you soon get used to it and if I had a better memory, I’d be on first name term with half of Freetown!

But walking around the streets of Freetown you also encounter a more interested kind of attention… It ranges from shouts of ‘white girl, white girl’ when you walk down the street to the fully fledged promise of eternal devotion and marriage proposal… (well, just the one in my case) Although this attention is a little strange to get used to, you can soon tell the good-humoured banter from the more intrusive hassle and you learn to reply or walk past.

This seductive trait, along with Salone friendliness and willingness to chat can lead to amusing conversations, which can soon resemble an orderly interrogation, as I experienced a few days ago.
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