Stories about Life after War in Sierra Leone

Sunset at Lakka Beach. And yes, that is a man playing a guitar spontaneously on the rocks. 

Lakka Beach/Village, Sierra Leone is located on the outskirts of the capital, Freetown. It’s a quiet little beachside village that probably has a maximum of 100 permanent residents, most of whom fish, do local wood carving, own a ‘restaurant’, or simply do not work at all.

Lakka beach ranks among the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Sure, the Great Wall of China is gorgeous, but its splendor is well-documented. Lakka beach on the other hand is not known to many outside of the tiny population of Sierra Leone.

I spent the majority of this past summer in Sierra Leone working in a hospital for a development NGO (sorry I never really got around to blogging my experiences, but that isn’t really my thing). Since it was the rainy season, it was no surprise that I came down with a bad bout of typhoid midway through my trip. After a week sleeping in bed, my boss recommended that I recover at Lakka Beach. Keep in mind: I was an 8 hour drive from Lakka – not an easy ride with typhoid, mind you.

But I said okay, what the hell, it’s better than Bo. After three previous trips (this being my fourth) to Sierra Leone, I had never done anything remotely touristy, so the thought of visiting one of Sierra Leone’s beaches excited me.

When I got there, I was stunned by its beauty. Granted, I still had typhoid so I wasn’t able to completely appreciate the beach in its entirety, but it was still amazing. And let me tell you, recovering by laying on a hammock with the sound of the ocean is far better than recovering on a bed with the sound of honking motorcycles.

Anyways, to my main point of this post:
As I sat outside all day and listened to the ocean and watched the fisherman sit in their boats all day and the women walking up and down the beach selling biscuits to…nobody…I wondered why this place was so empty – where is the tourism industry in Sierra Leone? It’s a gorgeous country (granted with difficult transportation) that has unparalleled beauty. Tourism would help boost the economy!

I talked to one of the men who lived in Lakka village, his name was Jibbo. He told me how in the 1980s the beach was crawling in French and Dutch tourists. He said he used to take them out for tours of the capital, take them on boat rides, etc. He even learned French and Dutch from them. 

Then the war came - and with it the tourists stopped coming as many of Sierra Leone’s beaches turned into killing grounds. It’s tragic to hear the horrors that occurred in a place so full of beauty.

Jibbo explained to me that so many people still think that Sierra Leone is unsafe, or erroneously still at war so they don’t come. Out of the three to four guesthouses along this long stretch of beach, the only non-Sierra Leoneans were me and a French anthropology researcher during my 2 week stay.

But the beauty of Lakka extends beyond the natural beauty. The people who live in Lakka village are some of the kindest people I’ve met (like all Sierra Leoneans). Not only do most speak English from the heydays of tourism, but they are eager to tell their story and to hear yours. They all care for one another and they all know one another – they are like a large family.

And the most wonderful part about them is that they respect the place they live. I saw many kids who would patiently and pensively walk up and down the shoreline occasionally stopping to play with the dogs or to bust out a dance move. The fisherman would sit and chit-chat with each other on the sand until it was time to go out and make the next catch. And in everyone’s free time, they sat to watch and listen to the ocean – a sort-of reverence and respect for a place that despite the past’s horrors remains consistent and just as beautiful as before the war.

The people of Lakka have a story to tell. Since the war began, they have been pretty much isolated from the world. No TVs, limited electricity, few radios – all they have are each other, their thoughts, their memories, and their stories.

I wish I would have gotten around to speaking with more people at Lakka than I had during my stay because I wanted to hear all their stories, but I didn’t.  Thankfully though, I have just heard of this new documentary that came out called Stories from Lakka Beach. Here is the synopsis from the website:

In Lakka, a picturesque beach village in post-conflict Sierra Leone, five villagers reveal the deepest and most profound moments of their lives. They tell stories about the ocean and the land, about war, love, hope, religion and about foreigners; tourism on the white heavenly beaches is nothing to what it was in the 1980s. Visitors stay away because of the recent war, a painful memory that the inhabitants are trying to forget. This is a story about life after war.
It sounds great and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. So to conclude this semi-long rant that likely did not come out as eloquently as it sounded in my head, here is the trailer of the film with some photos of my stay at Lakka.

Fishing boats waiting for the nighttime fishing
Fisherman returns from a few hours out at sea
Empty guesthouses that would have been packed in the 1980s

Little boy shows me his recent catch
Living area in Lakka Vilalge 


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