As an epilogue to my first Sierra Leone Adventure I am offering a bonus blog with some deleted scenes and parts from my posts, which may be interesting in itself, but didn't fit into my previous small stories.
A Bucket of Water and a Big Screen TV
While I was in Sierra Leone two things marked my stay: a bad shortage of water and FIFA world cup 2006. Especially in Freetown the shortage was the worst. I got one bucket a day, and that had to do for the shower and everything else. I became very rational with it, wanting to take more than one shower a day. If I asked for more water I got it, but thought it was not fair to use too much. They told me the water dam was too small for the enlarging population of Freetown, and the rain was also scarce, even though the rainy season had already come. You definitely learn to respect all the privileges which are so matter-of-fact back home. I couldn't help wondering though, if the water shortage affected swimming pool regime in fancy hotels as well.
My first day in Freetown was also the day of the FIFA 2006 football match between Ghana and Brazil. Everyone, including me, were eagerly awaiting it, Ghana being the last African team still in the game. There were different venues in town, where for a small fee you could watch the game. The place, where we had a drink with Mohamed in the afternoon, was one of the more popular watching venues. While we were sitting there at midday as the only guests, they were getting ready for the evening match, arranging the plastic chairs and wooden benches in front of a huge projected screen. I decided to watch it in the hostel living room together with around fifteen other male spectators. They turned on the generator in the middle of the day just for the match. I wondered, where were the women, didn't they watch football too? It's a lot of fun. Unfortunately that time Black Stars lost. They played really well, but didn't use their chances. I was really sorry about that, we all were, some men got quite agitated and angry with the referee, shouted at the TV, but in Krio, and I didn't understand much, other resignedly waved their heads, some were ice cool. I saw the rest of the matches in different places all over Sierra Leone. One at the UNHCR compound on a big screen TV in Zimmi, with my night guard, caretaker and a mineral trader, and some other workers from there. Some at my hotel rooms, tried to get a hotel with a TV, when there was a game. In Kenema two boys were fixing my TV half of the match and then realised the cable was bad. The final FIFA match Italy-France I saw in one of the public viewing places in Port Loko. The spectators supported both teams, but we were all happy with the game, the money was not lost on that one. The choice of that venue was a perfect ending for my FIFA 2006 spectatorship trip.
Living Conditions in Freetown
It is like there are two parallel lives. Quite a lot of poverty, people don't have enough water and electricity on one side, and on the other there are residential quarters and hotels with swimming pools, and non-stop running generators, providing permanent electricity. Even if you look on the street, you will either see side by side run down public transportation called poda podas and old taxis, or big 4WD cars which belong to wealthy NGOs, or are privately owned. There is a huge discrepancy between the two ways of life, right next to each other, and not much in between through my outside observation. I have not seen it like that, in this stark contrast, in other African countries I visited.
Sierra Leonean Literature
I just wanted to suggest a couple of things concerning Sierra Leonean literature. I am not going to mention here the many books written about Sierra Leone by expats, journalists, anthropologists, or volunteers, as these would, I guess, deserve another blog.
Aminatta Forna's first novel Ancestor Stones came out last year, after her much acclaimed The Devil that Danced on the Water). I bought it fresh from the shelves at the Gatwick airport on my way from Salone. This generational epic is moving and gentle, and courageous, great style with some superb metaphors. A good read also for those who are just interested in Sierra Leone, it's set in SL, a lot of historical background as well, written mainly through women's perspective.
The recently published and much acclaimed Ishamel Beah's Long Way Gone Home is a moving account of being a child soldier, which seems to be a must read for every Sierra Leonean, and hopefully it will be available to the many readers in Sierra Leone at some point in the near future. Delia Jarrett-Macauley, a British author of Sierra Leonean origin also deals in her first novel Moses, Citizen and Me with the issue of child soldiers and the effects of Sierra Leonean civil war on individuals, such as were her heros and heroines in the novel.
There are also books published in Sierra Leone, which need to be promoted, I don't think you can buy them out of the country. There is a Sierra Leonean Writers' Series, I found the books at Sam King's on Gloucester Road, they brought them from somewhere in the back room after enquiry. I think you can also get them at Fourah Bay College. I bought two books of poetry, one by Samuel Hinton, The Road to Kenema, and another one by S.U. Kamarrah, Singing in Exile. There was yet another one, by Abdul B. Kamara, Unknown Destiantion, an account by a Sierra Leonean living and studying in Germany, China and the US.
The street sellers widely sell Fishing in Rivers of Sierra Leone: Oral Literature, a title that doesn't at first make you think it's a book of folk tales. It is a really nice thick ethnographic kind of book, with a lot of stories and legends, and some pictures, published by People's Educational Association of Sierra Leone. I thought I was going home without it, and then bought it on the ferry back to Lungi airport, with my last thousand leone banknotes. It is worth bargaining hard, but you don't want to miss it.
You should of course put on the list the most known Sierra Leoenan writer and poet Syl Cheney-Coker as well, but I couldn't find any of his books in Sierra Leone, maybe I wasn't looking hard enough.
Many other books about history and geography of Sierra Leone you can find on the stalls in Freetown or not earlier on the ferry on the way to Lungi, if you are heading back oveseas.
Being a Woman Traveler
I you are a woman traveller, don't have any bad feelings about travelling around Sierra Leone. You will be perfectly safe. Interestingly though, through my travelling experience I could say, that African men in former English colonial countries are usually more polite and formal in courting, than let's say for example in some Francophone African countries, where they may be more persistent.
In Accra for example, someone on the street would approach me and ask me for my name and where I came from. Answering that, he would, with no beating around the bush, openly and directly express his love, and immediately propose marriage. When I just as directly declined the proposal, the matter was settled, and we could go on being friends, discuss other interesting matters, I could accept invitation to visit his home, no problem, had lunch with him and his sometimes extended family, and everything was fine, it was just pure and cordial hospitality. It was all as straightforword as that.
In Freetown it was a bit similar. The men would ask about your name and country, and they would talk to you, they would not however express their love that openly, the courting was a bit more sophisticated, but nevertheless quite obvious. You will hear a lot of compliments, accept them with pleasure. Don't give your cell phone number, if you don't want to be called. But men mostly take it easy, and have a good sense of humour.
In Abidjan for example, I encountered a lot of so called giggolos. Those men decide, they are going to have you, and don't let you go. You cannot be soft with them. They talk like shower, and walk like they were dancing, throwing their hips around, and sometimes it was a bit menacing for me. Maybe it had just got to do with my only passable French, so I was sometimes at loss in terms of verbal communication, which required of me more than I could master. Senegalese are truly charming, and like to talk a lot too, watch out.
Well, here I tossed out some steretotypes I guess, so don't take it all too seriously. But general impressions about safety with men in Sierra Leone you can take. Of course always with a measure of a regular precaution. Courting, flirting is a game, and some African men have definitely brought it to a near perfection. Comparing them to some European men in these sphere, Europeans are still in kindergarten. So, don't be naive.