Freetown, Baby!

Pa Stevens by jc2010sl
March 29, 2010, 4:00 pm
Filed under: society, travels

For a man who ruled as dictator for two decades and created a kleptocratic state, Shiaka Stevens is held in surprisingly high regard in Salone. He’s still seen as a “Father of the Nation” figure by many, and referred to affectionately as “Pa”.

The National Football Stadium bears his name, and the main artery running through Freetown is called “Shiaka Stevens Street”. Foday Sankoh, leader of the Revolutionary United Front which started the brutal civil war, also named a street after himself, but that was quickly renamed when the rebels were driven from Freetown. Stevens’ name doesn’t carry the same stigma.

On the way to Lakka beach yesterday I thought I’d take the small detour up Juba Hill to see his old presidential residence. Kabasah lodge was built with Government funds, but in a classic piece of theatre, was handed to Stevens as a birthday “gift” from the nation when he retired.

It’s fantastically located at the top of one of Freetown’s hills with incredible views across Lumley beach and over Goderich town. It brought to mind the perfect image of a late 70’s African dictator’s presidential pad – the swimming pool, veranda, and sweeping staircases. The sort of place Roger Moore would have looked at home in a safari suit.

A Pool with a View

The gradeur is long gone now though, and a few families have moved in to what is essentially a squat.

Wash day at the Steven's residence

In some ways it stands as a symbol for the fate of Salone itself – a testament to Steven’s greed and theft, and the destitution he ultimately wrought on the country.

There is talk of turning the place into a luxury hotel. Whether this happens will be another sign – but this time for the future of Salone.

Dress-down Fridays by jc2010sl
March 26, 2010, 3:40 pm
Filed under: society | Tags:

There have been suggestions from various quarters that your correspondent doesn’t actually do any work out here. Sure, there’s a lot of time spent on the beach, playing football, and of course having lunch, but there is plenty of work too. The content is a bit sensitive, hence my reticence on the subject, but I can reveal one Presidential preference.

Upon taking office in 2007, HE – His Excellency – as President Ernest Bai Koroma is known, declared Fridays to be African dress days. No one in the team had yet decked themselves out in traditional attire, and I was slightly concerned that it might be seen as patronising from an expat.

On advice from some Salone colleagues, though I was persuaded to get myself a shirt made up. I sourced some cloth from the market and was introduced to a tailor in Aberdeen by a friend. A week later; hey presto:

Spider Man

The reaction was overwhelmingly positive – people seemed to genuinely appreciate the effort that I’d made to do things as a local.

It also led to one of the typically odd encounters here where I met with an elderly functionary who’d spent several years in England. There was he, in a tweed jacket with elbow patches enquiring “How do you do?” in an impeccable 1950s BBC accent, while I was in my spiderman outfit asking “Ow di body?”

I’m not sure which of us was the more peculiar.

God bless Islam by jc2010sl
March 24, 2010, 1:03 pm
Filed under: society | Tags: , ,

It’s common to see vehicles in Freetown adorned with various messages and injunctions. Many of them are religious in nature, and you’ll commonly see signs like “Believe in God”, “Trust in Allah”, or “God will provide”. I saw one yesterday though, that stuck me as slightly odd:

I thought that “God” was Christian, and that Islam would be blessed by “Allah”.

I guess this blurring of religious lines symbolises in some way the incredible religious tolerance in Salone. It’s often said that Salone is a model of peaceful co-existence, something backed up by a Gallup survey, for those of you with pointy-headed inclinations.

I was intrigued as to why this was the case, and have been asking the drivers and my Salone colleagues why this is the case. Intermarriage between religions is often mentioned. The last president, Ahmed Kabbah – no prizes for guessing his faith – was married to a devout catholic.
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Mango pikin by jc2010sl
March 22, 2010, 10:21 pm
Filed under: nature - wildlife, society, travels | Tags: , , ,

On my way down to the beach yesterday I came across a novel sight – a group of boys picking mangoes. One had placed a ladder against the tree and climbed out of sight into the canopy. Periodic shouts from the foliage were followed swiftly by little green bombs falling to earth. Two boys at the bottom held taught a large sack, to catch the fruit as it fell.

Coming back, I saw the boys sitting in a circle as an archetypal African matriarch roundly chastised them. “Mango thieves?” I asked our guide for the day. “No, no,” he said, “it’s more complicated than that.”

The boys, it seemed, or at any rate their families, had owned the land. They’d sold it to the woman now berating them. But they claimed that when they’d sold the land, they hadn’t sold the tree that grew on it. I guess their argument was that they’d sold the freehold to the land rather than the leasehold on the tree.

It made for an amusing scene, but the problem is a serious one across Sierra Leone, where land ownership is frequently disputed. Disagreements often occur after someone has invested in land – typically by constructing something. Scores of people emerge claiming title to the land, and frequently the initial investor will walk away rather than fight a protracted legal battle.

It means numerous unfinished buildings all round Freetown, but worse than that, it’s holding back the country’s growth.

The changing of the seasons by jc2010sl
March 20, 2010, 1:12 pm
Filed under: nature - wildlife | Tags: ,

There are 2 seasons in Salone. Wet and Dry. Although the wet season is still a few months off, there are grim signs that the dry season is drawing to a close.

First, the price of oranges has gone up by about 50% in the last week. Oranges are dry season fruits and become scarce towards the end of the season. When the rains come, mangoes will be plentiful and I won’t find an orange anywhere.

Second, and more important, water is scarce. There’s no reliable source of clean piped water, so expats tend to have large cisterns at their houses. One of my team mates up the hill has run out, and has spent the last few days failing to get any delivered. He’s been dropping in on the rest of us for his morning shower.

The other consequence of the water running out is that power is ever more intermittent. The national grid gets it’s energy from the Bumbuna hydro-electric plant upcountry – completed last year and one of the President’s flagship achievements. So when the water runs out, so does the power. In order to ration power, they’re only letting water through the dam for a few hours each day. I gather this will continue until the rains come.

At least it won’t be all bad then, when it’s raining 24 hours a day for 8 weeks straight. I’ll be feasting on mangoes, and have all the power I want. Every cloud…

To be or not to be by jc2010sl
March 11, 2010, 9:12 pm
Filed under: society | Tags:

Up to now I’d thought Krio was a pretty easy language – loads of words borrowed from English, utterly logical structure and above all really simple verbs. The verb itself never changes, neither with person nor tense. So in Krio, I know, you know, he knows all have “sabi” as the verb: A sabi, yu sabi, i sabi. And to make the tenses, you just stick in “pre-verbal markers”. “I knew” – A don sabi, “I was knowing” – A bin de sabi. Easy. Until that is, you come to the verb to be.

Depending on the nature of the “being” there are three different forms of verb. First are the verbs of description. Here there isn’t a verb, just subject and adjective. So, “I am fat” becomes “A fat”, literally “I fat”. Next are the verbs of location. Here “de” is used as the verb. So “I am in Freetown” is “A de na Freetong”. So far so good. Last of all is the verb of identity. Here is the real head scrambler. The idea here is that what we’d think of as the subject of the verb becomes the object. So in English we’d say “I [subject] am a teacher [object]”. But in Krio the description acts upon the “subject”. The concept here is something like “the quality of being a teacher [subject] is a quality of mine [object]”. So rather that directly translating “I am a teacher” – “A na ticha”, we get “Mi na ticha” – literally “Me is (a) teacher”. But in the future tense, we haven’t yet acquired this quality of being a teacher… so we stick with “A”; “I”, rather than “mi”; “me”. And for the future tense we use “bi” (confusingly pronounced “be”) instead of “na” as the verb. So “I will become a teacher” translates as “A go bi ticha.” Negation is usually achieved by adding “no” in front of the verb. So “I am not fat” is “A no fat”. But “no” isn’t used with “na”. Instead, “no na” is abbreviated to “noto”. So “I’m not a teacher” is “Mi noto ticha”. And, as the super-observant among you will have noticed, further room for confusion is created by the fact that the word “na”, as well as being the verb “to be” is also a preposition. “I live in Freetown” translates as “A de na Freetong”.

No simpul, notoso?

Surf’s up by jc2010sl
March 8, 2010, 8:23 am
Filed under: photos, travels | Tags: ,

I got my first taste (literally) of the Atlantic surf yesterday at Bureh beach. It’s the furthest from Freetown, but well worth the extra trip along bone-crunching dirt tracks:

This extra distance usually ensures quiet serenity (as above). As it happens, a bus load of freetonians pitched up either side of us at about 4 and tried to out-do each other with their knackered sound-systems! Fun to see for a while, but within 20 minutes, utterly deafening.

Bureh is the only beach in Sierra Leone where there is any surf to speak off. Before the war it was popular with the French for some reason, and when they left they gave their boards to some local kids, who as a result are sickeningly good. According to our travelling party who’ve been to Bureh before, the waves were good yesterday. Not that it made much odds to me catching the white water after they’d  broken. It’s a pretty exhilarating experience, even before you get onto a wave proper. This is one beach I’ll certainly return to, possibly with ear plugs next time.