Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2nd Trip to Sierra Leone #9: I'm Sorry, Did Someone Say Monkey Bridge?

Una Kushe,
After all the formality, we were ready for action, but we got way more than we asked for. The first night that we’d arrived at the Koroma’s house there had been mention of a trip to the neighboring village, Kafugo town, to visit Denis’ father and see the church where he ministered. While we were speaking of this, Denis’ wife, Margaret, let out a high pitched screech. When we pressed her for what the concern was, she told us she was, “thinking of the Monkey Bridge and how much it frightened her.”

I’m sorry, did you say, Monkey Bridge? Well, yes, that does sound frightening. The morning of our departure, I was amped up for our two mile walk in the blazing sun (oh yes, I will get sunburned like it’s amateur hour, much to the amusement of many little kids who’d never seen sunburn) to Kafugo town. While I knew it would be nice to meet Denis’ father (meeting anyone over 40 here is a big deal) and I was mildly excited about the church, let’s be honest, I was all about crossing that Monkey Bridge, and pretending to be brave while doing it.

Along the road to Kafugo town, we saw subsistence farmers working the fields. We visited Denis’ family (even though his father wasn't home) and his church. We were honored to meet the chief of Kafugo too. We also ran across several curious kids who always refer to us as father (even me, when I am by myself) because normally a white person here is a priest or preacher. And the insect highlight was a lone Scarab beetle, yes, the kind that ancient Egyptians linked to Khepri, the god of the rising sun, simply walking down the road.

Then, Dennis turned abruptly into the brush on the side of the road; we’d reached it, the infamous Monkey Bridge. Constructed of vines using a secret technique in the dead of night by the Gbangbani society, the Monkey Bridge always existed but was often rebuilt or repaired, especially in the heavy rainy season that we were now experiencing.

It looked like something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I see why Margaret was frightened; she is the one in the town with sense. It got tiny at the center where it passed over gushing water. Although I didn’t look down as advised by Dennis, I did think about the possibility of survival, including the likelihood of animal and parasite attack. After deciding I would surely perish, I’ve concluded that I am certainly braver than Harrison Ford. Where’s my invitation to the Tonight Show?

Safu safu,

Next up: Don’t Humbug Me, Margaret & I Hear from 48 Women of Fadugu

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2nd Trip to Sierra Leone #8: Chiefs on Film

Una Kushe, the next day we got to the business of paying our respects to the chiefs. This is a widely known tradition (it was even in my Lonely Planet guide) in a large part of West Africa. If you wander around in a rural area ruled by a chief (be it officially or unofficially from a governmental standpoint) you are expected to pay your respects.

In Sierra Leone, Paramount Chiefs (that’s the highest level, and you will find him in pink, center) are actual ruling members of the government. I’ve met some, so essentially, I’m another degree closer to Kevin Bacon. Then there are lower levels of chiefs, complicated electoral processes based on secret society membership (no, not kidding) and in each district there is a chief of each tribe. So the net net is, Fadugu has one Paramount Chief and 3 chiefs, one for each tribe that lives there, Limba, Mandingo and Fula. And below the Chief there is the Speaker.

To pay respects, we have to visit and bring gifts to all of these gentlemen. *One of the complaints lobbied by the women I interviewed was that they had no voice in their government. This is largely unchangeable in the Northern area because of the secret society electoral system. However, in the South, another tribe, the Mende tribe has elected female chiefs.

Needless to say, this took the entire day. Luckily, John was well acquainted with the intricacies of this custom and brought appropriate gifts…branded merchandise. John’s day job is a business representative for the Cinematographer’s Guild and he gathered up some of the leftover Guild hats and Kodak Caps and we went running around the village. Translating from Mandingo to Krio to English or from Limba or from Fula.

But we paid our respects and essentially got permission to stay in Fadugu from all the chiefs. And a very nice Muslim blessing from one of the speakers, none of which I understood, but some of which was later translated. He is seated with the collection of chiefs pictured here.

Safu safu,


Next Up: I’m Sorry, Did You Say Monkey Bridge?

Monday, October 12, 2009

2nd Trip to Sierra Leone #7: Upcountry to meet President Koroma

Una Kushe, John, Farah and I got an early start that morning from Freetown all the way North to Koinadugu district and the town of Fadugu (the green dotted line if you can see it). We were curious about so many aspects of the journey. I first and foremost, was overwhelmed with glee that I would not be confronted with a constant pounding from a face full of iron dust as it was the rainy season. The con-side of this equation left older roads susceptible to potholes that quickly turned into impassable mudslides. But on the whole, we were all excited to see our old friends from Fadugu, \YS Mansaray, AK Bangura and Dennis Koroma who had played instrumental parts in John’s life as a volunteer and were now playing key roles in the nearly finished SLVP Primary School Project Management.

I was especially eager as this was going to be the longest amount of time I would have spent upcountry in one single village. I was looking forward to getting to know people better, having my celebrity wear off with little kids and hopefully getting people, especially women to open up to me a little more, as it turns out I will get my wish.

The trip went well, and we were delighted to see many road improvements (even since my last trip in January). We made a stop in Makeni to visit YS Mansaray, who is the current headmaster of the Fadugu School and is undergoing an intensive 3 week training course. He allowed us to sit in and greet some other teachers. I was happy with what I found, up to date materials on pertinent subjects in what was an effort driven by the Ministry of education and funded in part by Unicef.

We were then on our way, but in the meantime, John had some political landmines to sort out. I think every culture has one or two of these. I’ve found that with the Japanese and many far Eastern Cultures, it is table manners. With Muslim countries that practice Shriria law, one wants to mind their ps and qs very carefully. In West Africa, it is of critical importance to show respect to ones elders.

Our major disconnect came when we took an invitation to stay at the home of Dennis Koroma (not an elder' far left) but a very close friend of John. So the story goes, when John was in the Peace Corps Dennis was the one child that Dennis’ family chose to send to school. But if Dennis were to stay home, he couldn’t study, it was too noisy, there were too many demands placed on him with chores, etc. So John had plenty of room and had Dennis stay with him. John also helped teach Dennis to study. Dennis went on to get his Master’s degree (and marry a woman with her Master’s degree, Margaret, upper right, during the war. No small feat. But, there had been some miscommunication and it was a generally accepted rule that all guests of the town stayed with the retired headmaster (who did have a whole extra house for these purposes) AK Bangura. Luckily, John is a conflict negotiator for a living and settled it with 3 nights at the Koromas and 2 nights at the Banguras. Phew.

So we were welcomed at our first stop the Koromas. Margaret and Dennis, who I would guess are in their late 30s or early 40s have 5 children are the two most well educated people in Fadugu. Their children are just amazing. They have a son Pascal 14, who will be heading to high school, a daughter Bridget, 11, who in addition to keeping up her studies does a heavy amount of housework, a son Christopher, 10, who will go into high school the same year as Brigit, a daughter Evelyne, 7, and the apple of everyone’s eye, 5 year old Henry, or as he soon became known to us, President Henry Koroma (though it should be clear from the photos more on this later).
Also staying with them were their Aunt and Grandmother, 4 puppies and mother, 2 other large dogs (pictured here with Eveylne and Christopher), a pig farm, chickens and chicks, several cats that I thought were kittens based on size, one of which we nicknamed “the beggar.”

After a full day of driving, disarming potential political bombshells and greeting a zillion people (we hadn’t even started on chiefs yet). We went to sleep at a ridiculous 7pm skipping dinner altogether. But I think it was for the best, otherwise we would have gotten sick.

Next Up: Paying our respects to the chiefs.

Safu safu,

Don’t forget, if in SF on the weekend of Nov 7th; keep Saturday night free for our West African celebration!

Friday, October 9, 2009

2nd Trip to Sierra Leone #6: A Reality Check from the US Embassy Causes a Quick Schedule Change

Una Kushe, we were up bright and early for our very official appointment with the Special Projects Coordinator at the US Embassy. We had several major agenda items for her. John and my Uncle are co-authoring a paper on Sierra Leonean Teacher’s Unions, we wanted to discuss the possibility of finding other organizations that could assist us with the Sambaia-Bendugu Gravity Well (see trip 1 update #5: “Thank You” and “Hello” Dinner by Candlelight with the Koronko Tribe) and other potential partner organizations operating within Sierra Leone, and I wanted to inquire about the reality of women’s rights.

I have to admit that with as much travelling as I have done, the US Embassy in Sierra Leone is the only one I’ve ever been to. It is a ridiculous display of wealth in the poorest country in the world. It’s made of marble and has a swimming pool. It is so big and sits on top of a hill (view from hill in photo above) in such a way that it can be used as a landmark. But there was a life sized cutout of Obama that I would have taken my own photo with had my camera not been on the prohibited items list and confiscated upon entry along with my bag, cell phone and almost everything else.

That said, I really liked our contact, Lindsay Kennedy and her boss, who was currently in Ghana, helping to usher Secretary Clinton around Africa is helping one of our villages, Mamaka (see photo of the completed school, left) with a “self help” grant. The concept of a small village like Mamaka applying for and receiving funding (less than $5,000USD) is something that was an ultimate goal of SLVP. Empowering a community to help themselves beyond the help we could provide. They are using the money for new school furniture and latrines. The grant works much the way our program does, the community does as much as it can and only asks for additional money to pay skilled labor and unavailable materials.

Lindsay was able to give us some limited information on the topics of the Teacher’s Union and the Gravity Well, but where she really came through was with her information on gender equality issues. I had originally planned to try to speak with some of the female leaders in the two communities we work in on the subject of women’s rights. Sierra Leonean legislation has come a long way gender based and domestic violence. But my concern, which was wholly reinforced by Lindsay, was that even though the laws existed to protect women and children, crimes are underreported, under-prosecuted and especially upcountry, where the law is the male chief, unenforced.

But she did give me hope. She turned me on to a new organization that was taking a fascinating approach throughout Africa, but had started in Sierra Leone. The organization, Male Association for Gender Equality (MAGE), realizes that one can tell women all day long about their rights, but if their rights aren’t honored, what is the point. The people we need to work with are the men. This organization takes that approach and works with men in communities throughout Africa to try to curb violence against women and children. She gave me his phone number and by the time I was home that afternoon, I had an appointment with the founder for the following week.

We left the Embassy energized but disgruntled because we couldn’t get appointments with anyone until at least a week later (it was Monday). That meant if we were going to squeeze in an extended trip to the very North of the country (Fadugu, to visit the site of the current project and John’s former village), several meetings with other NGOs, Sierra Leonean Civil Societies, visits with friends in Freetown and a trip to Mamaka (to see the school we’d finished last spring)…we were going to have to leave tomorrow!

Next Up: Upcountry here we come.

Safu safu,

Don’t forget, if in SF on the weekend of Nov 7th; keep Saturday night free for our West African celebration!

Also, if you visited slvp.org to donate in the past few days, it was down, but it is back up now. We know times are tough but even the tiniest bit goes a long way. Thanks:)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

2nd Trip to Sierra Leone #5: Killer 5 Year Olds Make Day Long Trips to the Airport Sound Easy

Una Kushe, the next day was Sunday and Farah was coming to get me at 11am to pick up my travelling companion, John, at the airport, who’s flight arrived at 7:30pm. No, those aren’t typos, due to the trip across the bay that separates Lungi International Airport (the only airport that now functions in Sierra Leone, there were several before the war) it takes hours to get to and from the airport. Then one also has to allow for rainy season tidal anomalies as the bay is actually several rivers dumping out into the Atlantic Ocean. On my own way in, we waited two hours for the tide to come back in for the grounded ferry (photo pictures beach right next to ferry departure point) to have enough room to maneuver close enough to the dock and allow cars on and off.

But after my breakfast, I was first determined to befriend the Kaikai’s daughter, Matta. I’d met Matta on my last trip and as she was only 4 and had spent nearly every evening and morning with my Uncle who had been staying at the guest house for six months had gotten to know him quite well, and referred to him as Mr. Yim and squealed with delight every time she saw him. I was determined to get the same reaction. I spent hours with her last time trying to get her to know my name, then my African pseudonym, hoping that would be easier, but the closest I came was Mrs. Yim upon my departure.

I had a good chance this time, I was going in first, and it was summer so Matta was bored. First, we looked for the cats that sometimes lived in the yard, no luck. Then she commented on my hair. It’s important to mention that I have no real idea of what she was saying, Matta is speaking Krio at a 5 year old level I am speaking English at an adult level. She can speak some English, but classroom stuff, like, “my birthday is in September.” One of the funniest things she said, was “Auntie, you no speak Krio, I no sabi (know) English,” as if to say, “why are you bothering talking. Just do what I want.” However, Matta’s mother is from a Francophone West African nation, so Matta also speaks some French, and it’s about the same level as my high school French.

What she wanted was to plant, or braid my hair (the next three photos are different examples of plant styles). I always show up at breakfast with semi wet combed out hair that looks like, well, crap. What, I am supposed to bring a hairdryer to a country with no electricity? Matta has no problem telling me something to the effect of my hair is a mess and needs to be planted like hers.

Matta, along with most Sierra Leonean women and girls suffer a weekly ritual where their hair is tightly pulled into short braids. There are a multitude of different styles, but it is the act that is of importance here, it is very very painful, if you don’t pull the braids tight enough, they don’t stay. In the city, very wealthy women and prostitutes have other hairstyles, running the gamut of those seen in the US, but for everyone else, the tight plant system is what is practical and affordable. And if one walks through a village or even Freetown on a Saturday or Sunday one will see girls and women having their hair planted by other women. It’s a ritual.

So, although I know this is not going to be successful, both due to Matta’s likely low skill level at hair styling, what with her being 5 and all, and the fact that my hair is way too long, thin and pin straight to ever hold a braid without a rubber band (I went to high school, I’ve tried). I figure, maybe if I let her play, she will remember my name, and be my friend. So I go and fetch my comb.

Matta makes fun of my comb, it’s a small pink travel comb, hey, I had nothing but carry-on. Then basically starts tearing at my hair. Makes one braid, it comes out. Yells at me unintelligibly. I try my best in French to convince her to do one big plant and then we can use the rubber band. She continues the horrifying course of torture. I spy a Barbie with dreadlocks and try to sit up so that we can play with it instead of me, before I go completely bald. This is where things get frightening.

She stops. Stands up on the chair so that she is whispering right into my ear and pinches my cheek and says something in Krio, but the gist was, “I am going to set your cheek on fire,” and then she grabs a lock of my hair and threatens to set it on fire. Did I just get an old fashioned secret society death threat from a five year old?

I’d had enough. I just picked her up and sat her down by her Barbie. I quickly pulled my hair into a bun when she wasn’t looking and let her rip out the remainder of Barbie’s hair. For the record, she did call me Mari, Miss. Auntie or Miss. Mari for the rest of the trip. But I have many more stories about the dark side of Matta.

Farah was on time to rescue me from further threats and we made our way to the Ferry. For more details on the airport ferry (see Sierra Leone trip 1 update #1 Miracle Bras with Actual Miracles and War Criminals who Actually See Courtrooms). The Ferry gets even livelier during Ramadan, it now has a loudspeaker and two, let’s call them comedians who do an act that culminates in asking for donations from Muslims and Christians to see which religion will win. I am told by my American Sierra Leonean friends that the Muslims always win during Muslim festivals and the Christians win during Christian holidays. I could understand very little, but apparently they were killing.

Luckily, John arrived on time and without incident. Farah was even able to eat something since we couldn’t leave the port until after sundown and he was fasting. I’d never seen him drink two cokes before. Although I’d been proud of myself for spending the weekend alone in Freetown, I was happy to have John join me. Now our work would begin.

John is the EVP of SLVP, the father of an eleven-year old and a Union Rep for the Cinematographer’s Guild. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in a village not far from where my Uncle was stationed in a town called Fadugu, where the school we are about to complete is located. He co-wrote a book (pictured left) on the war that devastated Sierra Leone, “Black Man’s Grave.” The book is both a factual historical account of events, and a collection of letters from community leaders in Fadugu. Several of which we will meet up with later in the journey. But first things first, the very next day, we had a meeting with a contact at the US Embassy.

Next Up: Reality check from the US Embassy and a change of plans.

Safu safu,

Don’t forget, if in SF on the weekend of Nov 7th; keep Saturday night free for our West African celebration!

Maureen's 2nd Trip to Sierra Leone #4: Vexed? Head to Mr. Bobby’s!

Una Kushe, with the rest of my afternoon free and a full belly of Foo Foo to work off, I decided to go for a walk down the usual walking path I used to take through Freetown in January, which basically follows the main street from my hotel down towards the center of town and the old cotton tree.

As it got hotter I started to look for some of my favorite stops (along the way, Photo left) for a refreshing Fanta, but alas nothing was open and, quite frankly, I was getting a little panicky. I know I am from Florida, but years of living in San Francisco have lowered my heat tolerance. I start spinning nightmare scenarios where I pass out from heat stroke and wake up in Sierra Leone’s only hospital with a dubious IV needle in my arm. Must…get…Fanta…

I finally found a small shop open with two older gentlemen sitting in it. I hadn’t been there before, and they didn’t seem super happy to have strange company, but the Fanta drive took over my feeling unwelcomed. I sipped my cool beverage and eavesdropped on their English conversation. It took me a few minutes to realize I could follow them. There was no real point for them to speak in English, they can all speak Krio, especially if they don’t want me to hear. Who are these guys? They complain about the motorcycle drivers going the wrong way up the street. They greet a gentleman who pulls up in a big SUV. They ask him if he wants a beer and he says no, as he is fasting (unusual, because were he a super strict Muslim, he would never be drinking beer).

I see an opening in the conversation and my boredom gets the better of my need to be polite and not further my countryman’s reputation as a “loud American” (never fear, only Europe really thinks that anyway, the rest of the world can’t tell English speakers apart 80% of the time). I find out that many of them are former government men. This explains the English vs. Krio too. Now I realize the opportunity I’ve stumbled into. Without revealing any of my identity, which may get me ousted, I ask them what they think of the current president, Koroma. They think he’s doing ok, but suggest that they think it is good to change parties often.

This casual comment worries me. Not that it’s widely accepted that Koroma is the great West African leader, but he’s not doing a bad job, which given the circumstances, would be very easy. To change political parties just for the sake of changing them doesn’t make much sense to me. I am sensing these fellows are with the party that is currently not in power, the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP). I think quietly to myself about how thankful that I am that I am not wearing my SLVP (no relation to that party or the current ruling party, the All People's Congress) T-shirt, chug my Fanta and move on.

Unfortunately, it was getting late and I would not have enough time to head all the way to the Cotton Tree and back to be home in time for 7:30 dinner, so I head back, but I will have time to kill along the way, time for more Fanta.

My next stop is a familiar one. This is an odd bar, “the China House,” where we watched the inauguration of Obama last January (Photo left). At this time of day, I am one of about 5 customers and the only one at the bar. I am so bored that I, again, insert myself into the conversation of the waitresses. They seem very pissed about something, I am picking up some of the Krio, but I know they can and will explain it to me because I essentially tipped my way into the conversation.

As it turns out, these 3 women, who work 7 days a week, one behind the bar, one on the floor and one as a floater, are entirely responsible for inventory losses. They’ve been tallying up the losses and then arguing who was responsible for which area, and they are getting vexed, that’s Krio for “angry,” with each other about the whole thing.

They are nice enough to explain it to me, but I cannot offer a solution. I ask them how much the discrepancy is…Le26,250 or $7USD. Ok, maybe I can. I tell them that it upsets me to see them fight and give them the $7. They say thanks but explain, that is just one night. This happens every single day. They are always trying to clear this up, 7 days a week.

I think back to my college job at a movie theater. I think my cash drawer was correct once in the 3 months that I worked there. Not that it ever came out of my paycheck. Or that I had to work 7 days a week, was supporting several children, and was thankful to have the job because it was keeping me from turning to prostitution. I hung my head in shame, finished my Fanta and left. Now I was vexed at my naiveté and the injustice of their situation.

Having successfully found zero friends and solved zero problems, but at the very least feeling hydrated, I am feeling confident enough to stop into Mr. Bobby’ for a drink. Mr. Bobby’s is one of the shadiest bars I’ve ever been to, it has no walls, a semi mud/cement floor and a roof made of tarp. The only reason I consider it safe is because I know everyone there as I’d been introduced last time by my Uncle, and was therefore, a protected customer.

This didn’t stop me from immediately announcing my status as a married woman, but I did have a well earned round with the much too regulars at Mr. Bobby’s. Star Beer, the local beer of Sierra Leone, and one of the only local beers produced in West Africa is a delight. Trust me, I’ve been trying to get it exported, you have no idea how hard this is, so far it has been easier to bring them back in well packed 6 packs. For a detailed description of Mr. Bobby’s patrons (see the Sierra Leone trip 1 update #2: Congratulations to General Obama).

I walked up the hill and took solace in Mrs. Kaikai’s (guest house owner) chop (chop is Krio for food) and looking forward to my traveling companion joining me the next day even though it will take a day to collect him at the airport.

I had a much needed good night's sleep at the "Simple Goal Guesthouse" (photo of my bed and A/C left). Since my last trip, I've realized that the Simple Goal is the Ritz-Carlton, complete with generator power until 1am (there is no electricity in Freetown) and even a TV that plays whatever of the 3 available channels the Kaikai's are watching. Usually Al Jazeera or BBC.
Next Up: The day’s journey to pick up my travelling companion and my 5 year old playmate threatens to set me on fire.
Safu safu,

Don’t forget, if in SF on the weekend of Nov 7th, keep Saturday night free for our West African celebration!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2nd Trip to Sierra Leone #3: Freetown’s Best Personal Shoppers and Rainy vs. Dry

Una Kushe, luckily I did hear my two tiny simultaneous chirping clocks and woke up early enough to receive my first visitor, the coolest man in Salone (Krio for Sierra Leone), Mr. Sheku. Even his name is cool. It’s pronounced the way it looks. Sheku and my Uncle Jim were very close when Jim was in the Peace Corps some 30 years ago and have stayed in touch. Jim sent me with tuition money and photos for Sheku, which he was anxious to get.

Sheku is blessed with an intelligent bunch of children (he has one wife, not sure if he’s Muslim or Christian actually). I am particularly impressed by his older daughter Masereh, who has refused to marry until she finishes college. This is really unusual, if not downright difficult. And it’s not for lack of suitors either; she’s quite attractive, funny and intelligent. She just wants to be educated too. Unfortunately for Sheku, (and this will also eventually happen to Farah who is determined to send all 5 of his children to college, a total of $25K) while he is extraordinarily proud, he is struggling to pay for this. They will choose to pay tuition rather than eat, that is how high education is valued.

Then Farah picked us up and it was time to shop up a storm on the streets of Freetown with my two personal shoppers, Farah and Sheku. I knew this was going to be fun, the freedom to shop and not have to bargain myself, yay. I am crap at bargaining. First, we got an umbrella which they insisted on testing, there was yelling, handshakes, I pay: $5. Then we go to 3 cell phone vendors of varying degree of store construction from street cart to store with generator and A/C. Close inspection…I pay $32. A trip to the “ex-pat” grocery store so I can stock up on Tide, shampoo, TP and water (we got Farah some Nutella for his pickins Krio for children) and we were done.

Sheku had to get home so we dropped him off at the Poda Poda roundabout (Poda Podas are VW vans that pack as many humans as possible and drive like they are on acid, they are also considered part of the public transit system). And Farah wanted to show me how much development had gone on in the touristy (hey, I think there might be 5 or 7) beach section since I’d been gone.

First Farah and I grabbed lunch at this really cool place where he knew everyone. He’d had to delay his fast by a day the night before, so he could eat with me. That is one of the cool rules of Ramadan, if you have to miss a day, say you are ill and ordered to eat by your Dr, you can add those days up on the back end of the fast and you are still ok with god.

While fortunate for Farah, this led me to eat one of the top 5 most disgusting things I’ve ever had. I don’t say that lightly, I’ve eaten dog, raw jellyfish salad, fish spine and paste in various shapes as a breakfast dish, horse, and various insects. Something must be truly nasty to get into my top 5, that something is Foo Foo. Erica, I am coming after you. Foo Foo is difficult to describe as anything plant-based sounds innocuous enough, but it takes on the texture of a thick snot-like gelatin/paste and one is provided with a serving size of a small football. It’s made of rice, I believe, that or pure evil. It’s the only food in West Africa I’ve ever not liked. But I really didn’t like it. Never order this. Just trust me, save yourself.

After successfully keeping the small bites of Foo Foo down, we went on the driving tour. I was quite impressed with how much things had changed in only 7 months. Many hotels that looked like they would be vacant construction projects for eternity were now open for business. There were gaggles of people gathered on the beach and even some swimmers (ignoring the “Red Flag” = deadly riptide warnings).

After Farah dropped me off I had a chance to take my favorite walk into the heart of Freetown towards the 500 year old cotton tree where all the bats live. It’s unfathomably congested, there are holes in the sidewalks leading to the sewer below, one must be wary of motorcycles that go the wrong way down a one way street (we later learned that many of these unruly drivers are former RUF rebel fighters, referred to as Okada Riders, but some argue that they serve an essential service by ferrying passengers through the ridiculous traffic (all streets are single lane) of Freetown.)

But there is so much to be fascinated by as well. Most impressive still are the women who sell various items from gigantic (think exercise ball size) bowls balanced on their heads. They are doing all the evasive maneuvering I am, with their storefront, and should someone make a purchase, the bowl usually stays on the head for the entire transaction. I’ve seen this done by girls as young as 5.

Then I came to realize what was missing…the dust. The horrible chronic cough inducing Harmattan (sand from the Sahara) dust of the dry season was not turning everything a tinge of orange. The rainy season does make things stifling humid, Florida on steroids, and I grew up there, I have authority to make that kind of call. But it also makes things clear and lively. This will later lead to an over populace of insects when I go upcountry, but while I was in the city, it made everything feel a little cleaner.

Flowers were abundant, moss grew up the walls to obscure graffiti, there was even plant life in the sewer. And when it did rain, it rained with a quick fury that left everything a little cooler. The uproarious thunderstorms only happened at night and with such regularity that they had an almost soothing effect.

Were it not for millipedes (that photo is only a centipede), bullet ants, and the myriad of other insects that I will describe in detail, I would bestow my favorite season award to the Rainy Season by a landslide. But alas, my irrational fears, and some not so irrational as it will turn out, of insects will leave the current contest at a tie.

Next update: I become “vexed past mark” and must head to Mr. Bobby’s for a Star Beer.

Safu safu,