A Ghanaian Experience of Sierra Leone
I set out writing this as notes to myself in my reporting when I arrive back in Ghana. I felt it will be interesting to share and the style definitely is not one for reporting or notes. So here; enjoy!
My mission to Sierra Leone was to explore the viability of introducing Abusua Foundation’s brand of internship placement programme-ACIPP in a post conflict country to offer specialised placement to people wanting to intern in that context. The ACIPP programme in Sierra Leone if viable will focus on graduate level or final year undergraduate candidates. Also part of my viability studies was to find willing partners and partnerships that ACIPP can work with. Indeed the short term plan is not to have Abusua Foundation in Sierra Leone.
As all first time visitors, I was apprehensive when the plane landed at Lungui Airport, one prominent youth activist referred to it as Kingston Airport [and I do not know how Kingston Airport in Jamaica looks like]. But I understood the context in comparing to my own Kotoka International Airport. Indeed, when I compare Kotoka International Airport [KIA] in Accra to the Mulata Mohammed Airport in Abuja, Nigeria; KIA is a childs play. I was wowed by the Ethiopian International airport and the number of modern aircrafts managed by the National carrier –Ethiopian Airlines.
Back to Sierra Leone: Largely electricity is limited to the capital Freetown. In the outskirts and other regions, power is largely available through generator sets. So there is a lot of noise and of course carbon pollution from these equipments. Every corner has little shacks or proper shops that provide only one service: Charging phones and other electrical equipments. Do not be surprised to see a 3310 Nokia [the first generation Nokia], ipods, BlackBerries, etc in a queue in these shops and shacks. The good side is one can never claim to run of battery power!
Public transport is poor and serviced by. “Poda poda” or taxis and motor bikes-popularly called okada across West Africa. This is highly organised in a disorganised way and fun if you get a kick from things like that. Getting a means of transport from Freetown to Devil Hole where I was holed up was not fun. When I narrated my story to my hosts; I was merely told: “you are lucky”. Devil Hole to Freetown is about 45mins drive but it takes up to 2 or 3 hours to do it. I was lucky because I had to take only one “poda-poda”. On a bad day, I will have to take 2-4 poda-podas to get there. Luckily I did not experience that!
Food like in most West Africa is limited to variations of rice; especially broken rice here in Sierra Leone. My best meal was a variation of what would have been a Ghanaian “jollof” rice and home grown chicken. Talking about home grown chicken reminds me of Zambia and the super “village chicken” soup. Indeed weeks after arriving in Ghana I still craved village chicken soup; just writing about it now makes me crave it again! Today my lunch is the popular “Stop Press Restaurant” on George Street where Journalists in Sierra Leone meet and swap stories. I enjoyed the ambience yesterday so, am going again to try their “village chicken”. Here its called “Africa Chicken”. Am happy because the poor chicken has taken on a continental dimension.
Road Usage: Transiting from one point of Sierra Leone is a big deal. When I arrived at Lungui airport, it was shocking for me. We walked the distance between the aircraft and arrival hall. Outside, it was crazy as I had two mobile call cards vendors fighting over which of them had the right to get me a taxi. That was my initiation to the transportation “palaver” of Salone [the affectionate name of Sierra Leone]. When I did get a taxi to take me to the wharf to cross to the capital Freetown I paid 50000 Leone, around 15USD; my contact at the other end of the peninsula said not to pay more than 7,000 Leones. Nothing I said will help so I had to pay.
Then I had to make a 5minute dash for the ferry as everyone shouted: ‘may na ron”, “may na ron”. Apparently the ferry leaves at 5:30 and I was virtually the last person. Without question, I was sold a first class ticket. I will write a whole page on my experience on the ferry!
My description of road traffic is that of playing Russian roulette. It is always a mad dash for the next empty spot ahead. No one slowed down for anyone…with music blaring in most commercial and private cars and the constant long honking and generator sounds, Freetown is like a constant street caravan.
Accommodation: I leaved in the eastern part of Salone about 30mins Russian roulette bike riding to Freetown. Surprise, the name of the town is called “Devil hole” pronounce ‘davul ho’. Legend has it that a long time ago the people in that community had a communal washing and watering hole that served as water source to the community. However, as with any water source, people drown and this was blamed on an evil spirit that inhibits the hole and took human life as a sacrifice. So when people go to wash or go to fetch water, others say: “you going to the devil hole”? Thus the original name of the town lost out to become “devil hole” and has become the official name on sign boards, adverts and maps. So yes, went to the devil hole and got back safe!
Finding transport to and from any one point is like playing a video game and you have 3-lives…within Freetown is not a problem but going to the outskirts.
Night life: Wednesdays are “ladies night” a night when ladies either do not pay to enter a club or when they pay 50% of the rate. My experience was at “Aces Night club”. It is a full exposure adult place; loud music from “Channel O” with a DJ Waxxy. The professional social servers aka prostitutes were in their numbers. In this case my colleague and I got there and decided to visit the gents only to find it taken over by about 6 girls in extremely skimpy clothes. One offered to help us get our zippers opened at no cost but if we wanted more then; that is a “jallo” whatever that meant. So the reason they were there was because the “Ladies” was closed. I had a drink to that episode. Long Live Salone!
Cost in relation to entertainment is important; a bottle of wine at Aces is 80,000 Leones, about 20USD and a shot of any spirit is 10,000; beer is 6,000 and Guiness is 8,000 Leones.
As aside attraction you have a drop-in comedian [Rumpel- the national best was there to honour me :)] to make you crack your ribs.
Women: there are two kinds, the “wanshy” ones. These are the ladies that have bleached with alum or mercury it is rumoured. These girls have an unusual fairness of colour that most black Africans do not possess and they have a strange discomforting smell. And most if these “wanshy” girls have stretch marks.
The other type of women I will share in my next update.