My mind flashes back to 1998; of waking up in an expat friend's well-aired bedroom on one of Hong Kong's islands. My mate, Kelvin, and I had been on the road for several months. We had stayed in many flea-bitten hovels but we had also slept in decent three-stars. The thing that was different about waking up in that room in that house, I remember, was that it felt like home; as if I was waking up at my mother's cosy home. I mention this because waking up at Alex's this morning takes me back to that January 1998 morning. Instead, it is January 2013 - 15 years later - but once again I feel like I have left the sweat and dust and mosquitos behind and woken up at home...at my mum's.
Out in the streets it is all rather different: raw sewerage leaks out of pipes and pours down the dusty pot-holed streets; collecting discarded plastic and cigarette butts. Dirty chickens pick at everything; children play with old tyres; flea-bitten dogs just try to survive. Sometimes, when you briefly forget about all of the colour and life here, you only see the poverty. And it appals and shames you. One in five kids in this country will never reach the age of five. Think about that next time you complain about how stressful your life is.
Alex takes me into town so that I can buy a Sierra Leone football shirt off of one young market trader he knows. In the crowded, chaotic market, which almost has a touch of a Middle Eastern souk, I buy the home and away strips, which set me back 30,000 leones for a top and shorts - a little over four quid. Alex and I are blatantly the only white men walking around the downtown market. It feels safe here but not safe enough to pull out my camera and record some of the many amazing images. Case in point, two passing lads try to pickpocket Dorset Alex but it is an amateurish, half-hearted effort. I have heard many stories of thieves being lynched or daubed in paint after being caught red-handed thieving in the streets in this country.
Truthfully, the heat and the chaos is all a bit too overwhelming and I am happy when Dorset Alex suggests we get a taxi back across town for lunch near his house. A larger-than-life local lady, who has just returned to Freetown after working in Afghanistan, is one of the many colourful characters we taxi share our way across to the West End with. In one part of the city, corrugated shop fronts are being torn down by the police as the government tries to clean up and clear up some parts of downtown Freetown.
Dinner and beverages are served at Freetown Aqua Sports Club, which is located in a hidden corner of Murray Town adjacent to the narrow bridge which connects Aberdeen to the rest of the city. This place is right up my street. It is old school with a touch of classy decay. Charlie's parents and a good dozen or so volunteers and expats join us for Star and G&Ts. A cool breeze blows in off the ocean. I feel free this evening; free in Freetown.