12.28.2011

Pumui in Salone: Back to Bo


View from the Guesthouse Balcony in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Freetown, Sierra Leone
An (almost) full night sleep was very much welcome after an entire 24 hours of traveling and airport hassles. I awoke to my alarm and got ready in the near darkness. What was even more welcome than sleep was a "shower", which in fact is just a trickle of water, but it at least tricks the mind into believing you are clean. When I walked into the kitchen to see if there was any food cooked, I noticed it was dark and empty. I moved the curtains on the window to glance outside and found that it was still completely dark outside. I hear a rooster and glance at the clock - 6:00. It was then I realized I set my clock to the wrong time zone. Back to sleep.

I hear a knock and the door and answer - it was then 11:00 - 3 hours past the time we were supposed to have left Freetown for Bo. Oh well. I'm on African time now...right? Breakfast consisted of bread, hot tea (nothing like a hot beverage in 97 degree heat), and oily peanut butter that was the consistency of water.

The driver still hadn't shown up so I headed to the patio to view Freetown in the daylight. I look out at the Atlantic Ocean and the bay of Sierra Leone. They just found oil beneath the surface of these waters - I wonder if this discovery will only worsen the problems here. The last thing Sierra Leone needs are more resources to curse it. Life in Sierra Leone is the same. I see the same faces of the women washing their babies on the street, the same dogs, the same man fixing cars. Some things are different though. There is a new goat that thinks it’s a dog, a new house is being built on the street, and I noticed that Kady’s rice fast food is out-of-business. Development and (de)development.

Onward to Bo. Getting out of Freetown proper took two hours because of the hectic traffic and congested streets. We pass APC (All People's Congress) headquarters which is currently the ruling party. This sparked a conversation with the woman in our car and our driver, Tony. I know they are talking politics but I can’t understand all they say since they were speaking in Krio. Tony said at one point “Dey taken dem moni, and dey go keep fo demsefs”. Clearly this was talk of corruption - what I would later find out is the most plaguing problem in Sierra Leone. Tony also mentions something about runoff elections along the lines of "If they plan for runoffs then one won't be needed". We reach Freetown limits. Talk of politics end with the city limits I suppose.
We drove on the newly finished road from Freetown to Bo – Courtesy of the Italians. The strangest thing about the car ride are the sellers on the side of the road who chase our car and make deals with bread, washcloths, and water with the two people in the front seat. This is shopping in Sierra Leone: The vendor runs, gives a few loaves of bread, runs to catch up again, cash exchanges hand, and then the vendor stops and is left in the dust of the car.

Bo, Sierra Leone
Street Vendors in Freetown, Sierra Leone
After five hours sitting in the car, I notice that the sun is beginning to set. Purples and pinks fill the African sky. Bo. I am home. When I enter the guesthouse I am introduced to the cooks: Ami, Fati, and Fatu and am shown my room for the next six weeks. I flip on the light switch, accustomed to American electricity. No lights yet.

Dinner time consisted of fried plantains and oranges for me. The cooks came over to me and asked "What is a vegetarian? What do you eat?" I told them vegetables, rice, and fruit - anything but meat. Then Fati asks, "Well what about fish? Chicken?" I tell her that I don't eat either. She gives me a strange look and asks, "What about goat?" I pause and tell her that goat is meat so no, I don't eat it. "So rice?" Fati asks me. "Yes, rice and vegetables please", I respond. Fati gives me the most horrified look yet and clicks her tongue as she walks away. I realize I am probably the only vegetarian in Sierra Leone.

After unpacking and eating, Julie (the girl that is traveling with me for the first few weeks) and I step out onto the balcony. I observe the lush green mountains in the distance, the tall palm trees, and watch the lightening giving back-lighting to the mountains. One of Africa's countless wonders. When we both step back inside the house we are immersed in pitch darkness once again. This is the type of darkness where you can't even see your own body below you. I ask what time the generator gets turned on and I am given the answer that the boy, Issa, who turns on the generator is out playing football. Priorities - nobody messes with football in Africa. 

As I looked outside my window in my room I stare into blackness. I watch the occasional lights of cars and okada motorbikes climb the hill of the 'mountain' we are on. The okada headlights bounce up and down like phantom spheres of light floating in mid-air, as I can't see what they are attached to because of the darkness. Every 5 minutes lighting fills the sky. I hear the hum of a generator and a few seconds later, light fills my room. I notice a mosquito on my arm. Smack - dead. First of a million to come.

View of the Mountains while Driving from Freetown to Bo
It is good to be back. It is quieter than my past trips since I'm traveling alone. I have no idea what I am doing tomorrow, the day after, or even the week after, but I'm sure I'll figure it out. Sierra Leone hasn’t changed a whole lot. There hasn't been much development - only a little. The traffic lights are still down from the war. When driving through Freetown I still see images of war in front of me. The only sign of development are the mobile phones which are everywhere, but that is the only option for communication here since there are no land-lines. The lack of development makes me wonder if anything will happen once the time for the presidential election gets closer. I worry about the possibility of violence. 

I get ready for bed which is quite a process since you can't get any water in your mouth, ears, eyes, or nose. I go to brush my teeth with my bottled water but realize I already mixed a raspberry lemonade flavoring into it. Trying to conserve water and money, I brush my teeth with it anyways. Mmm, nothing like minty lemonade.

I lay down on what will be my bed for the next six weeks: a mattress on boards with nothing else. My back screams in pain as I stare at the ceiling in darkness. I think. Sierra Leone (and perhaps Africa in general) really is the greatest contradiction.


Day One
After being here twice before, Bo has become synonymous with home for me. For those who are not familiar with Bo (which I would assume is most of you), it is located in the south-east of Sierra Leone. 

I woke up in the morning on my bed with no sheets to the sound of a rooster outside my window. 6am, still a bit dark, but time to begin the day. I shower in a bucket of rainwater in the dark and notice that black water drains from my hair. I brush my teeth with raspberry water (which has now dyed my toothbrush blood red). When I clean my ears and blow my nose, I notice more blackness. If this is from the smog, then it’s worse than China. It can’t be dirt because dirt is the color of blood here. In my favorite movie, Blood Diamond, they say that it’s stained red from the amount of blood shed fighting over the land. I’d believe it.

As vain and American as I risk sounding, the reason I woke up so early was so that I would still have electricity to straighten my bangs. But when I plugged in my straightener I blew my converter, which subsequently sparked and started smoking, and then I heard the vrooooom clunk clunk of the generator turning off with the rising sun. I think that is Africa telling me that vanity is not appreciated here. All forms of life have woken up outside. The chickens are running around. The goat is bleating. The children are helping prepare breakfast and doing laundry.

View from the Back Balcony at the Guesthouse in Bo, Sierra Leone
I wait for breakfast to be prepared and spend the meantime reading about Africa.  It’s kind of ironic to be reading about the war in Sierra Leone when you are there yourself. 2 hours later and still no sign of breakfast. I eat one of my precious Cliff Bars to tide me over. I head outside to escape the heat of the house only to enter the heat of the African air. Two high school students, Francis and Mohamed, join me sitting outside and told me a bit about the education system in the country. Francis wants to study political science but doesn't have the money to continue his education, so he works in people’s houses to earn a living. Mohamed wants to be a doctor but doesn't have money to attend school either. They told me that for 11 years the education system was nonexistent and the country is only just beginning to rebuild it. During the civil war, if students went to school they would likely either be killed or recruited by the rebels - so students and their families fled to the bush.

Today, Francis explained, people have the desire, hunger even,  for higher education and to rebuild their country. However, money prevents them from taking the necessary state exams and from going to college. It’s a shame that the desire for education is so strong here, but money simply keeps these students from achieving all that they want. That, I am afraid, will hinder the rebuilding process of this country. Both boys express a desire to go to the West for education but it is too expensive. That opportunity would literally be one in a million.

Our conversation changes to politics. Francis told me about President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah who lifted the country out of the war. He restarted the school system and brought peace to the country. He was so popular that he was elected two terms (10 years). Earnest Bai Koroma of SLPP (Sierra Leone People's Party) is now President. He is up for reelection in 2012.

The Real Blood Diamond
I heard my name being called from behind me. When I got up and turned around, I saw Issa, a boy I worked at the clinic with the last two times I was in Sierra Leone. When I turned around to run to give him a hug, one of the stupid rabid dogs at my feet decided to get up as well, causing me trip and fall in front of a good 20 people who all stared at me with their mouths open. What a stupid white girl. I quickly got up to keep running, but blood was streaming down my knees and on my feet. I give Issa a hug as he looked at me like I’m crazy - which I think I am. Out of the house runs the boy Francis with alcohol to rub on my cuts. Feeling bad that this poor kid I just met has to clean up my bloody mess, I say I’m fine and that I have band-aids back in the house. As a response I get “No…um…this needs to be dealt with now”. Ugh, I really am a stupid pumui - white person in the local language of Mende. The tattoo of South Africa on my foot was all bloody. Ironic that it’s Africa that gets scratched and bloodied on my feet and every other continent remains unscathed. How true to reality.

After doing more reading and taking a nap (or perhaps I fell into a coma?) in the mid-day scorching heat, it was finally time for dinner - white rice, beans, and spicy palm oil sauce. The food here is truly from heaven. The cooks, Fati and Ami, still think I'm  insane for not eating meat. Every time they ask me what I want to eat and I say, “Oh, just rice, beans…bread, vegetables”, I get the most repulsed look in response. They ask me again, “So you eat no chicken, no beef…NO FISH?! Goat?” and I say “Nope. Seriously, just cook me rice and bread two meals a day and I’ll be fine”. As a response I get, “Oh child. Lord, I better find something for you to eat!! What about French fries?” Ugh, ew, they don't understand that even though I'm American, all I want is to eat like them. I'm here to be a Sierra Leonean, not an American. 

I head back outside to spend time with the children of the family I stay with. The youngest child, Abioseh, and his friend, Greatman (that is seriously his name), dance to Chris Brown. Abioseh grabs his crotch like Michael Jackson and knows all the words to the Chris Brown song we are listening to. Like I said before, Africa is the greatest contradiction. 
Accurate Depiction of Sierra Leone(?)

Abioseh grabs my camera and starts taking pictures of himself. He soon turns around and starts snapping pictures of the house I’m stay at. I ask for my camera back, fearful of just one other thing of mine breaking. When I say “Camera, please!” in response I get, “I am showing YOUR SISTER…YOUR MOTHER…YOUR FATHER…AND AMERICA WHAT THIS COUNTRY IS LIKE!!!!”. When I looked at the picture to took to 'show this country' it was of the corner of the guesthouse. 

I looked up at the sunset. Purples. Blues. Oranges. The African sky is like none other I've seen. With the darkness comes our guard who protects the guesthouse at night. I shake his hand and look him in the eyes, which are extremely glassy. He must either be blind or high - and I'm tempted to go with the latter. I ask him his name and I get “Sleep!” in response…I think he thought I was asking him what he does when he guards our house. How reassuring. I ask again in broken Krio, “Wentin you na nem?” “Kargbo”, he replies. “Me na Karen” I tell him. He smiles and nods, appreciative of me trying to speak with him in the local language. He sees kids playing with the ipad and walks behind them to watch My Little Pony. He is captivated with it and laughs at everything. I find this scene hysterical.  If it wasn't for the ipad, I would not be able to see six inches in front of me. All that is visible are the stars in the night sky.

Francis, the boy I spoke with earlier, comes over and tells me he has “two things he wishes to discuss with me tomorrow”. I hope it’s not a marriage proposal. The two five-year-old kids fight over what games to play on the ipad. The little girl, Sarah, screams, "You craz? You no hear me spek Engli?" - Are you crazy? Do you not understand my English?
An African with an iPad

An insect that looks like a 6 inch flying spider lands on me and Sarah screams and slaps it off of me. Africa has the strangest wildlife I've ever seen. When I looked above me I saw 10 lizards gathered around the light. I love Africa. I tell the kids, Go na ose n go sleep - Go home and go to bed. When I arrived at my own bedroom I listened to the two guards speaking Mende outside my window. Issa, the boy who helps around the house, walks outside of my window and plays Sierra Leonean music (which sounds Jamaican) from his phone. Him and the guards all sing along: Yes so, il le le, ma su ma. Il le le, ma su ma. Eh go se gnabo ei ga se na na oh na me. As I laid in bed and listened to this outside my window, I realized I’m not meant to be anywhere but here. Africa is my home. Africa is everyone's home.  

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