They took me to my room through the dark corridor and up the stairs, and lighted my kerosene lamp. It was basic, nice and clean. It had everything I needed, a bed, a table, a chair, a hanger, a fan. The fan didn't work, as there was no electricity after midnight, only between seven and midnight. There was no AC of course, and not self contained either, but I could do without that. My standards when travelling go to the minimum. As long as I have with me some small belongings, I can make myself at least temporarily at home almost anywhere. I slept peacefully in perfectly rundown hotels, many African villages, in the wilderness and the desert. Because I felt safe. I knew this was a nice room to start my stay here, it was a room of my own, and a room with a view, both very important to me. And the staff seemed very friendly, the place had a guesthouse, not to say a family atmosphere.
I took a shower and fell asleep until someone in the middle of the night, who decided to preach and convert non-believers, woke me up. I realised there was a Zionist church just opposite the hostel, and the incident happened a couple of more times, together with the occasional parties next door, and some howling dogs after midnight, and with a huge generator roar and fume smell under my window, that gave us the needed electricity until midnight. But, oh well, that's life, nothing's ever perfect.
In the morning I was ready to see Freetown in the daylight. I needed to change money, find my way around, decide what I wanted to do. It was my first day of holidays. I had a few cell phone numbers of relatives and friends of my Sierra Leonean friend from the States. I got numbers of some important UN officials among them, and a number of my friend's school mate who worked at the security office at Lungi. I am sure he knew why he should give it, but fortunately I didn't need it. There were also numbers of my American friends, who were staying in Freetown then, and the number of my flight friend. The numbers were now all in my new Celtel sim card directory, I bought the night before on the ferry. This contacts and names made me feel confident.
At the hostel they offered a guide, as I guess they do to all newcomers who come to stay there. A young man, yet another Mohamed, was willing to go around with me, help me with advice, and show me around. I like to be on my own, and meet my friends on the way, but this sounded a good option for the first couple of days, and I thought it might be nice for Mohamed as well, practice some English and learn a bit about Slovenia. Anyway, here I was without a proper map, and with a nice Mohamed. He soon became my first Freetown friend. He was bright, topping with scores in his class, waiting to get his final high school exam results in the next few weeks, and he had a good feeling about them.
Mohamed took me downtown, literally, as we were up on the hill, and showed me some of the Freetown iconography, such as the enormous cotton tree. I'm in love with the trees, and this one was definitely something special. I touched the bark, walked around it, as many times later, and tried to communicate with it in my own small way. You can do that you know, if you are a foreigner. It had so much spirit and presence.
I wanted to change money. I could do it almost anywhere, as there were people in this line of business offering themselves to you all the way down Siaka Stevens street, but Mohamed took me to an electric suppliance store. It was nice to just follow his advice.
He was very patient with me. We walked all over the place. He followed my confused unplanned wandering around the city, now up, and then back down, I was like a restless fly. I wasn't interested in the arts market, I have seen many better ones in Africa, most of the things hadn't been made in Sierra Leone anyway. Why would I want to buy imported things there? And I didn't come shopping the very first day. But it was Mohamed's suggestion to make it part of our sightseeing project. I bought one of the many newspapers being sold in front of the post office. Just chose one at random, none of them really thick anyway, and each with different head titles. It was not like in Slovenia, where you have a couple of newspapers, and they offer more or less the same local and international news, only the view points are different, more rightist or leftist. No, here each newspaper offered something completely different, so later on I started buying at least a couple to suffice my need for reading, and to try figure out, if there were any concepts.
After much walking, Mohamed and myself sat down to have a couple of Cokes at one of the drinking places. We talked, about his school, his family, about Krio, about his wishes and aspirations, which mostly had to do with his education and financial situation providing it. His story was one of the many stories I heard later on, the stories which were actually the gist of my travelling in Sierra Leone. Not only Mohamed, I talked a lot as well, more than I intended to. I always do, when I am with new people, to bridge silences, and to hide my actual shyness. Well, anyway, after half a day of walking and talking, I let Mohamed go home. He looked relieved, I think he wanted to have some lunch, and was getting tired. I bought him a pineapple at the outdoor vendor, and gave him some tip for the guiding help. It was then nice to stay quiet for a while.
By then I was a bit more familiar with the downtown streets. I was meeting my American friends at the Women's Nursery Restaurant for lunch. It was a popular eat and go place, run by the nursery, and the income went for a their cause. It seemed convenient, if you were downtown, and needed a quick inexpensive lunch. The place was busy, which was definitely a good sign. It had small square tables with plastic chairs in a small one room space with no outdoor patio, with a couple of posters hanging on the wall. You came in and sat wherever was available. In Slovenia you don't sit down at a table of four, if one seat is occupied, not even in fast food places, it is considered invading of privacy. You do it only if the place is full, and even then you ask for permission the person who is already sitting. The restaurant had a range of different meat and vegetable local dishes, and everything looked really good. The prices were ranging from 2000 leones a meal and up, depending on how much you wanted to eat, so there was no need to leave the food on the plate. I often came back later, when I didn't want to fuss around with fancy meals. I ordered my food, read my newspaper, and sometimes watched the downpour of rain outside, until it stopped, and I could leave.
I was happy to meet my American friends, we hugged. We always met away from our homes, in Fes, in Alexandria, Accra, and now Freetown in the time span of eight years. We never really kept in touch, but were always happy to see each other, and update ourselves on what we achieved in the meantime in our lives. My friends were calm, settled in, familiar with Freetown, and life here, one of them even spoke Krio. We sat down at two different tables, where we found seats, and talked across as much as we could. I ordered a fufu, it was good, but different than the one I usually ate in Ghana, sourish and fermented, there was maybe more cassava in it. We finished the meal, talked a bit more, and then went to the market to buy some fresh vegetables. They gave me a lot of practical pieces of advice, where to eat, how much things cost, where to catch poda podas. Then they were off, back to their busy lives.
Mohamed was waiting for me at the hostel in the afternoon. When he saw me, he cut and sliced the pineapple to share it with me, it was sweet of him. The pineapple was ripe and juicy, and made a nice dinner, though I thought he was going to keep it for himself. We then sat downstairs, and offered it to anyone who came by.