In the land of the mountain lion – with loose gunpowder in the cannon
”Good afternoon”, says the smiling grandmother in charge of the Ebola control point at the border of Sierra Leone. “How are you feeling today, sir” she asks. It is not with great honesty that I tell her that I am felling just fine. I assume that at a control point like this that is the right answer. After 3 francophone and one Portuguese speaking country I am happy to now suddenly be in a country where I am fully able to communicate with the locals. Or at least that is what I think I can – soon I am about to discover that is not the case. In any case it is good to be in a civilized country again after terrible Guinea.
I ask two kind ladies in the customs section if they can help me with a taxi to Freetown. For a tip that should be possible they tell me. I hand them each 5.000 Leone – about a half dollar each (the SL currency simply takes its name from the last half of the country name).
They then call David who shortly after picks me up at the border. The nearest taxi/bus station is 10 kilometers from the border so it is a good deal that David is collecting me. Also he can take me all the way to my hotel in Freetown for only 250.000 Leones (35 USD) a great deal and just what I need after my horrible experiences in Guinea.
David is Krios. Krios is a small ethnic group consisting of only about 1,5% of the Sierra Leone population. He picks me up in his shining Nissan. The Krios are known to be the wealthiest and the most influential in the country. David is cool. He has cool, expensive clothes and gold chains hanging around his neck. On his seat hangs a flashy silver colured dinner jacket.
David speaks the Krio language. Not to be confused with Krios – the population group. Krio is a creol language that is spoken by around 90% of the Sierra Leonean population.
David starts speaking to me and I understand nothing. Not a single word. Finally, I am in an English speaking country and I do not understand anything. Krio has short abrupt words with no endings and a singing sound to them. Maybe half of the words are English but they often have their endings cut off. Some words are just different. Stomach is “belle” just to give you a small idea.
How is it? I quickly learn to say. I try to say it with the same accent Leonardo DiCaprio used in Blood Diamonds.
David tells me with great confidence that the trip to Freetown (on great roads) will take 1,5 – 2 hours. It is not debatable. In the end of course the trip takes twice that – almost 4 hours. Comprehension of time in Africa always baffles me. It seems that if a driver tells you (or anyone else) that a trip will take two hours and it ends up taking 32 hours instead then it just means…nothing. As long as he just gets you from A to B which is what you have paid for then all is good. Time seems of now value when using the common man’s public transport in Africa.
In Africa you can buy everything through the window of your car. No need to bring food for long trips. You can buy nuts in small bags, all sorts of fruit, rice with sauce in palm leaves, corn on the cob, dead animals, live animals, clothes, shoes and padlocks. Newspapers and shoe polishing equipment. Sachets of cold water for 4 US cents. You name it – Africa has it.
On the road to Freetown David buys: two bags of coal (for his dad), a pair of very cool flip-flops (for himself) and to living chickens (for his dad). I only buy some water, fruit and nuts.
David has a son who is 11 years old. David likes music. He has a good audio system that blasts music out inside his cabin. He changes CD a couple of times. “That’s a good song,” I tell him at one point. Not because it features on my personal playlist, but because it’s a lot better than the alternatives we’ve heard until then. “Cause I am your Laaaaaaady. And you are my man it goes”. David is so pleased with my compliment that he plays it a total of 33 times. 33 TIMES! The last 19 times before we arrive at my Freetown hotel he just keeps replaying it. David does not know my guesthouse so I guide him myself with my GPS. I guide him through streets looking as miserable as anything I have ever seen in a capital city anywhere. There is no sign in front of the guesthouse – it looks like a normal residential house. It has high walls and barbed wire surrounding it but so does every house here.
The last hour before arriving the Freetown city traffic hardly moved (which could explain why David said two hours from the border). Why many of these West African capitals have all been built on a narrow peninsula – clustering up all traffic – I do not know. But it makes me tired. West Africa does that to you. It wears you down.
I spend 4 days / 3 nights in the land of the mountain lion. I hardly see anything. Because I’ve got wet powder in the cannon. Afterburner in the exit canal. So I have to stay close to my loo. I had planned to go see chimpanzee sanctuary and “Beach no. 2″where the advertisement for Bounty allegedly is recorded, but instead I am lying rolled up in bed with stomach cramps for three full days. I try to drink plenty and I visit the toilet at least 20 times a day. Finally, I go to the pharmacy and buy antibiotics. I eat a gram and hope it will kill the amoeba. Amoeba I have naturally brought with me as a farewell souvenir from the divine country Guinea.
As always in West Africa I am in great luck! – the internet at my guesthouse does not work in the three days I am there. Needing desperately to update my blog that is a bit of a setback. Instead I buy a local SIM card with data but I do not get enough throughput to post pictures on Facebook. After day 1 we suddenly lose all power on the ground floor. At night, the generator kicks in sounding like the launch of a space shuttle.
Being stuck in my hotel I might as well write. So I write. All day I write. When we are out of power I write until my batteries are drained. Ibrahim who manages the hotel explains that there is no power downstairs “since he did not pay the bill”. “Considering the fact that your hotel is full of guests wouldn’t you think it was a good idea to buy some electricity?” I ask rhetorically. (In Africa they have system to purchase electricity on a pay-as-you-go basis for both individual houses and even individual floors). “Yes,” Ibrahim says. “I’ll do that later today”. A little later he changes explanation. Now he tells me “that people handling the billing are angry at him”. A little later he explains that “the payment system used to buy more power is down”. After we’ve been out of power for almost 24 hours, it finally returns in the evening.
There is of course no street lighting in the street where I live. A street that looks like something that could be found in a refugee camp. When I walk the five minutes home in the dark from the nearest restaurant in the (obviously) unlit street I am constantly being addressed. How is it? Most are just nice and friendly greetings. But also there are drunks and people who with exaggerated friendliness approaches and say “they want to be friends”. Everybody seem to want to have the white man as their friend in Africa. They are dreaming of white man’s money. The wealth is unevenly distributed they seem to think (and who can argue with that). And now fate has brought the rich white man to their slum in the dark in the evening after they have been drinking beer. Some of them will be mad if you ignore them. The street also leads right past the national stadium. After games have been on there is often fighting.
My West Africa trip has now lasted for a month and the region is getting on my nerves and I think I might be slowly turning mad…
Next country up is Liberia – another troubled and notoriously dodgy place. Tomorrow I will be 10 hours on the road to get there. The good news is that I am presently only going to the loo around twenty times a day. How hard can it be?
West Africa – You are a hard nut to crack. But I’ll get you in the end. Cause I am your Laaaaady. And you are my man.