Sunday, January 27, 2013 (Day 18)
River Number Two - John Obey
A wooden fishing boat battles the gusting Harmattan winds and makes it into the narrow estuary. Scraggy dogs bitch and fight as the crew unload the three one-metre long fish they bagged out at sea. It is 7am and well worth getting up early to admire this scene and the stunning landscape in the early morning light. Fortuitously for me I have also got chatting to three lovely 50-something American ladies who are working out here building water wells for rural villages. Not only will they kindly give me a lift to John Obey at noon but they also ask me to join them for breakfast on the beach.
I liked William's tent and camping spot but I can't say I am so crazy about his breakfast: a box of 100 tea bags, two cold water bags, a dozen milk powder sachets and a tub of margarine. I don't know where to start! I do manage to get a couple of bread rolls off him on request but it is the unwanted spicy omelette and a peanut butter energy bar - all donated by the American ladies - that really set me up for the day.
Dragonflies waft on air currents as I enjoy a swim that also doubles up as a shower and morning pee. The beach is all but deserted until ten.
I am sardined into the back of the ladies' Land Cruiser with two 20-kilo suitcases balanced precariously on top of my stomach and shoulders. This is the worst stretch of road I have encountered in all of Sierra Leone and I could very easily throw up all over the ladies' bags. The slash and burn fires are destroying gorgeous sections of forest, while lorries pass full of sand that has been dug from the nearby beaches. If you want to see West Africa's finest beaches then I suggest you visit Sierra Leone soon, before the money men destroy the coastline with their greed.
The ladies drop me at the junction for John Obey. They are on their way up country to Kabala where they hope to be able to put wells into a further three villages. You cannot imagine how much difference a clean water well will make to the living standards and well-being of a small rural African community. Big respect goes out to the three ladies from Ohio.
Saturday, January 26, 2013 (Day 17)
River Number Two
The lads drop me at River Number Two - Sierra Leone's premier beach. They are off to Black Johnson to continue their spear fishing exploits while I laze around on the beach for the day.
I honestly cannot remember ever seeing such a white beach. We are talking china white; talcum powder white; whiter than white. The 'resort' is run by the local community. All visitors must pay 5,000 to the eco-tourism project people for using the beach. If you want a table and sun-visor on the five-star beachfront then you must also contribute 15,000 to the local community.
This place is off the scale in terms of the beach and the scenery around us. If you want a swim in the warm sea it also appears bereft of rocks and giant crabs that might otherwise spoil your afternoon in paradise.
After plenty plenty sunbathing and swimming I walk down the coast to the estuary where I wade through waist-high water to get to Cockle Point. I had hoped to sleep here tonight in one of their comfortable $30 chalets but they are fully booked out by an NGO. A man dressed in torn cottons, who looks a little like a Robinson Crusoe type character from the pages of a classic novel, tells me I can camp here for the night if I wish. The lad in question hails from Eastbourne and now lives here full time, fishing and selling his catch to the local villagers. The sun has bleached his skin and his unkempt beard gives him the appearance of a tenth generation mixed race Caribbean man. He tells me tales about the dark underbelly of Sierra Leone; of the kidnappings and murders of diamond dealers that are hushed up in the press. He's the kind of lad you could spend all day chatting to if you didn't want to make it back across the estuary without having to swim it with your computer bag.
Back at River Number Two I spot a lad with a missing limb. I hadn't seen any of Sierra Leone's 1500 surviving civil war amputees until yesterday in Freetown. I kind of put it out of my mind when I saw three of them begging for money yesterday. But now, when I look at this good looking man in his late twenties, who reminds me a little of Emmanuel Adubayor, my mind delves for the first time into the atrocities of the decade long Sierra Leone civil war: 50,000 died; one in three girls were raped; 4000 had limbs hacked off by child soldiers; other much more terrifying atrocities took place that I cannot even bring myself to write here. It took the efforts of the world's largest peacekeeping force of 17,500 troops to finally end the conflict in 2002. And I look at this young man and realise that one day between 1991 and 2002 some young kid, high on drugs and wielding a machete, held him down and chopped off his left arm as punishment or for fun or for God know's what reason.
It is too pricey for me to stay in one of the basic chalets by the beachfront but I have managed to strike up a deal with a local lad called William who will allow me to camp near his guesthouse on the far side of the beach. For 100,000 I get a tent complete with mattress, bed sheets and pillows plus breakfast. Overnight accommodation problem solved I settle down to watch the Togo v Algeria African Nations match at the local cinema. One of the Algerian players has managed to break one of the goalposts and, for some reason, quarter of an hour has been added on for injury time despite the incident happening a couple of minutes before the final whistle.
The 60 LED fishing light provided by William for the night certainly makes camping a bit easier. I reckon I could simply temporarily blind any would be intruder with its brightness. Once the paranoia and thoughts about the civil war leave my mind, I slip into the best sleep I have had since my first night in this country at the beginning of the month. I never thought I'd camp on a beach in Sierra Leone one day.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a two-month voluntary placement in January 2013.