Friday, February 22, 2013 (Day 44)
Murray Town - Freetown - Kissy
This morning I had (with good intentions) planned to visit the chimpanzee reserve, buy some gifts for my relatives and girlfriend and take the sea cat fast boat to the airport in the afternoon but last night's tomfoolery spelled the end of all that. Now, if I get the passenger ferry this afternoon instead, I can just about get by without changing another 50 euro and I won't end up getting stuck with a load of leones I cannot use or change once I leave the country.
Charlie and Dorset Alex are doing up the new volunteers' house; a task not without problems with a generator needing fixing and a complication with the water system in danger of flooding the basement of the building. They have put in four back-to-back fifteen hour days this week for the Collective Sierra Leone. Consequently, I only manage to see the lads shortly before my departure to say my goodbyes and to wish them well with all their hard work here in Sierra Leone. I really respect the two of them for wanting to improve the lives of others in this country. It is a tough gig to live and work here for two or three years.
It is the inauguration of the Sierra Leonean president, Ernest Koroma, today. My taxi driver isn't sure if this means the Freetown roads will be gridlocked, in lock down or empty. Fortune seems to have favoured me as we make it to the government wharf a full thirty minutes ahead of the scheduled ferry departure time. I doubt if Freetown's roads have been that deserted in years.
"I am sorry sir but the government has commissioned the government ferry. It is not running today. There is a forty five dollar fast boat later."
As I have commented many times: the seemingly impossible here is often achievable, while the straight forward often isn't doable.
"You could try to catch the ferry from Kissy at two."
"Oh, we will never make that sir, it is already one thirty seven," I tell the ferry official.
"I think you should try." My taxi driver nods in the affirmative...
...how on earth my taxi driver has managed to pull this off, I will never know. Thanks to all manner of short cuts and crafty bits of overtaking he has somehow got me across the whole city in 20 minutes flat. Sweating profusely he screeches to a halt near Kissy ferry terminal and tells me we should run.
As we reach the terminal, the gates are being locked so that no more vehicles or people can interrupt the departure of the 2pm ferry. I slip my ten thousand leones ticket money through the gate and almost manage to leg it off without remembering to give my driver his cash. I slip the driver a ten thousand leone tip for getting me to the boat on time and he smiles and shakes my hands like I have just given him the keys to a new house. Clearly his main priority was to get me on this boat to the airport rather than worrying about any extra cash he might make. What an absolute star.
As the ropes anchoring the ferry to the port are released, I sprint along the wharf and, running through ankle-high water, manage to jump on the boat as it is preparing to set sail. Talk about cutting it fine.
Thursday, February 21, 2013 (Day 43)
Murraytown & Lumley Beach
It is a carefree day on Lumley Beach for me. I walk all the way down from Murray Town, crossing the bridge to Aberdeen and then stroll a further half hour by foot passing a selection of basic bars, restaurants and shops hoping to entice the handful of tourists who travel to Salone as well as the local expats and richer elements of the local population. It is a little reminiscent of the back streets of a Thai resort such as Ko Samui. A Chinese diplomatic car flashes by with an entourage of security vehicles. Its number plate simply reads: CHINA.
Lumley Beach is beautiful and much more upmarket than I had expected. imagine living in a capital city where this is your local beach! I am content to grab a beach-side table under the shade at Family Kingdom Resort and enjoy a 10am cold beer.
Much of the morning is spent chatting to Nads, a British Sierra Leonean, who has returned to the country of his birth to work on agriculture projects that will hopefully help take the country forward. Currently only around 10% of the 30% arable land here is cultivated so you can see the potential the country has in this respect. Nads is very excited about what can be achieved and, having spent a very enjoyable morning chatting to this intelligent and down-to-earth man, I have no doubt he will achieve great things for himself and Salone in the coming years.
I don't budge from my picturesque beach-side spot for the entire day; forever admiring the almost deserted beach, looming mountains, crashing waves and azure sky; huge vultures occasionally swooping down to dine on some treat they have managed to bag.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 (Day 42)
A few miles south of Makeni we pass a burnt out poda poda; another tragic road accident that probably had more to do with poor vehicle maintenance than a case of incompetent driving or bad roads. The road from Makeni to Freetown is actually excellent tarmac for much of the journey. The majority of vehicles on the road in Sierra Leone are old wrecks originating in Belgium and Holland, which would never pass their MOTs in Europe. Most still have their identifying country badge stickers - 'NL' or 'B' - stuck near the vehicle plates; more often than not there is a huge Madonna sticker covering half of the back window. Somebody must have bought a job lot and got rich off of a load of unwanted 20-year-old Madonna car stickers.
Billboards promoting HIV prevention awareness, Laughing Cow cheese and the relative merits of the competing mobile phone companies are omnipresent until we make our last brief stop en route to the capital.
The Masiaka-Lunsar highway crosses the Rokel River via a narrow bridge where a small community of hawkers entice those travelling up-country or down to the capital with their cheap and tasty delights. An unbelievably refreshing coconut makes an excellent late breakfast, helping to wash down a bag of delicious plantain chips I purchase at our beautiful stop off point.
Once we reach Waterloo the chaos and struggle of African urban life is all too apparent. The road from Waterloo to Kissy is traffic, chaos, colour and poverty. The population of Freetown surged with refugees during the civil war and the capital has never been able to cope with the doubling in its population. After the war ended, the majority of Sierra Leoneans stayed in Freetown and did not return home. And, as is the case in most capital cities across the world, Freetown continues to suck in those from the rural countryside dreaming of the riches and excitement of the big city. Many end up living in filthy slums where life is far worse than that they left behind. But they continue living in hope.
I jump out of the government bus at PZ where an elderly Muslim man, whom I was chatting to on the bus, helps me find a taxi to Murraytown. I get the taxi to myself for 10,000 leones and even get the added bonus of seeing the sights and sounds of Congo Town as we take the quieter route to Murraytown. I love the incredible energy of downtown Freetown but I am happy to observe the colourful and chaotic scenes of street trading from the window of my taxi.
It is extremely kind of Steph, Charlie and Dorset Alex to let me stay with them again for the second time. It has taken five hours to get to their house from Makeni. I have a lie down and fall into a deep peaceful afternoon sleep; later enjoying a couple of beers, pasta and good company with Dorset Alex and Charlie until it is time to crash out for the night.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a seven-week voluntary placement in January 2013.