Freetown, Baby!


Pastor Pratt by jc2010sl
May 27, 2011, 11:24 am
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A couple of weeks back I received and invite from Musa to his church’s annual choir celebration. Despite not being religious – a concept as alien to Sierra Leonean as the idea of not getting dressed before you leave the house – I thought I’d go along to support his church.

The service was due to start at 10:00am, but having been advised to show up on “Salone time” we rolled up 45 minutes late (it isn’t uncommon for meetings to start one and a half hours late). Imagine our surprise to find the service well underway. Fortunately though, we hadn’t missed the main acts. In addition to the choir from the host church (a fairly low, Wesleyan, congregation), there was a visiting choir from the East End of Freetown. Each sung a medley of hymns. The first was slow and ponderous and wouldn’t have been out of place in an English church, the second was full of gusto, with finger clicking, swaying and “hallelujahs”.

This set the scene for the lesson from guest preacher; Reverend Pratt. Appropriately enough for a celebration of the choir, he took as his theme the power of music to inspire and educate. Having commended the hymns he launched into a diatribe against the Salone chart; songs about loose women, lovers, and liars. With each song or artist he name-checked there was an increasing roar of recognition from the congregation (especially our friends from the East End). Scowling and warming to his message, the pastor roared at the congregation; “Dis na sexual biznes, dis na wickedness!”

Alongside the predictably conservative injunction was an uplifting message. People should be happy being who they are. “If you’re fat, you’re fat, if you’re thin, you’re thin. Don’t try to be like anyone else.” And gesturing towards us: “let the white people be white, you are black, and should be proud of it. Just imagine it; we are now preaching the gospel to them!” He certainly put us in our place.

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Cannavaro by jc2010sl
May 20, 2011, 1:44 pm
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One of the oddest things about the expat life is having staff working for you. Guards man the gate at your apartment, cleaners tidy up after you, messengers in the office run errands and drivers take you “hither and thither”, as well as generally managing your life. I read PG Wodehouse for the first time the other week and was struck by the similarities between the faithful Jeeves and my driver, Musa. Maybe not the digressions into poetry (from classical to romantic), but the laconic “Yes, sir”, “No, sir”, and the ability to deal with any situation with minimal fuss were eerily familiar. Car slides off the road – Musa gets it back on track. Petrol shortage in town – Musa will find some. Something stolen – Musa knows where to look for it.

He is a man of few words and two passions; God and football. He is a regular church-goer at the Wesleyan Chapel in Lumley, where he sings in the choir. When I asked him what he’d like from the UK when I made my last visit the answer was immediate – a good Bible. Maybe it’s his religious faith that gives him such eternal optimism regarding the fortunes of Arsenal FC. Victories are confidently predicted before each match, whether we’re playing Birmingham or Barcelona, and each defeat is met with the same shrug of the shoulders and confident assertion that we’ll win next week.

Driving in and out of State House I noticed a lot of people call him “Cannavaro” – I presumed after the diminutive Italian who captained them to World Cup victory. “Musa, do they call you Cannavaro because you play in defence?” “Yes boss.” I thought for a moment, “but he is short and you’re tall. Why Cannavaro of all defenders?” Hunched over the wheel, he let out a small laugh, and gave a classic one word response: “Aggression.” Placid off the pitch, it appears the game unleashes an alter ego. I can’t imagine any other situation where Musa would be described as aggressive, least of all while singing from the stalls.