Freetown, Baby!

Bunce by jc2010sl
December 19, 2010, 12:27 pm
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An hour’s boat ride up the Sierra Leone River lies a small deserted island. Around 250 Years ago there would have been a very different scene though, for the Island is Bunce; site of the largest British slave trading post in West Africa. Thousands of slaves were kidnappened in the interior, some from as far afield as Mali, and brought to the castle to be sold to plantation owners in South Carolina and Georgia.

On our way to the island we picked up our guide for the day – an old man from the village – who looked almost as old as the site itself. Despite his advanced years he was full of vitality; scurrying around the ruin, acting out terrible scenes and gesturing wildly to re-inforce his Krio.

Monkey bread; a peculiarly tasty sour-sweet fruit

As we wandered around the ruin, he traced the grim trial that the slaves themselves would have suffered. Shackled and terrified, they were brought from the jetty to a holding area and kept for several days inside a large hall. The Portuguese, who captured the fort for a time, created ventilation shafts to reduce the death rate. One can only assume they were motivated by profit rather than humanitarian concerns. As potential buyers arrived, the slaves were herded into a small room and denied water and food for several days. They were then brought into the exercise yard, men and women both, and forced to run circuits to demonstrate their strength.

Any who suitably impressed the buyers were duly sold and branded with the mark of their owner.

As horrific as the events that took place were, there is a slightly unreal quality about the place. After all, it’s a beautiful island, with an old ruin. Without a guide to explain what had happened, there would be no sign of its grim history. What really resonated with me was the small graveyard at the other end of the island. No monument here for the hundreds, and possibly even thousands of slaves who died as a result of their horrific treatment. Instead, it is the slave-owners who are commemorated here. Among the gravestones was one that particularly caught my eye. It was raised to a Sierra Leonean, and just about legible were the words “gratitude” and “faithful services”.

It brought home how totally the bonds of humanity were broken to sustain the institution of slavery.


Serving the customer by jc2010sl
December 1, 2010, 4:33 pm
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As I’ve noted elsewhere, customer service leaves a lot to be desired in Salone. So when it’s good, you notice. The bank my team uses is unusually helpful, and the concierge service with our phone company is incredible. They call every week to see if there are any requests they can help with. A UK standard plumber in Freetown? No problem, here are our man’s contact details. Hotel availability next Wednesday? We’ll get onto that for you.

I discovered the other week though that there might be an ulterior motive to all this. I received a call from the phone company asking me to a jazz night. “Why not,” I said, thinking it was some kind of corporate offer, “I’ll see who else from my team might be interested.” Cue chuckling at the other end, “no, Nathan, this is an invitation just for you, just a friendly evening, you know.” The following week the woman from the bank invited me to some kind of fashion show with her friends – again my colleagues expressly uninvited – and I figured maybe a pattern was emerging. I wondered if the introduction from the concierge service; “we’ll do anything if it’s legal” was quite as throw-away as I thought.

A few weeks – and several spurned invitations – later and I’ve noticed a definite dip in standards. My bills are late, and my calls go unreturned. I guess customer service in Salone is something of a 2-way street…