Friday, 19 April 2013

How di body?!

[Click here to view my full album of photos for Sierra Leone]

"Hey! How di body?"
"Di body good man!"
I learnt these phrases in Krio, Sierra Leone's half English language spoken by 97% of the population, pretty quickly. In fact, my body was getting much better, I was recovering from the malaria at a surprising rate. Wojtek and I made it to Freetown only a few days after my bout in hospital.

We took a shared taxi there; the first time I had used public transportation for a long journey so far on my African trip. Sharing really means sharing when it comes to these taxis. Three people in the boot filled with make-shift seats, four people squashed in the middle section, and two people on the passenger seat up front, one of them sharing the drivers leg-room. The road from Conakry was terrible, but after the border and beyond our spirits were lifted by the chaotic atmosphere created by the people we encountered along the way.

"Maa, I wana chick. Gimme a chick. Yah tha one! Yah give it here!"
A chicken was passed behind us through the window, squawking in Wojtek's ear, flapping it's wings frantically. The woman in the back needed to check out the chicken before she decided on a price to pay.
"Yah ok, gimme two!"
They were tied onto the top of the car.

"I said I wan banan! Woman a ya listenin to me? Ahh dis woman, she no listen! I wan six banan!"

"Eyy white man, you wana banan? Have a banan! Ya wan water?"

"Eyy white woman, lemme give ya a mango and ya be ma friend?"

This is what happened every time the car stopped; sellers throwing and offering goods through the window, men and women in the car asking and squabbling over prices.

Wojtek and I had fallen in love with Sierra Leone in less than an hour.

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We had a Couchsurfing host organised in Freetown; I knew it would be a nice rest from the basic living conditions I had been used to for the past few months. Hamid was his name, I could probably tell you right now that this man is the future president of the country. His one hundred housemates, all of which gave us all the attention we desired, ranged from bankers to economists to social workers to educated unemployed.





We stayed in Freetown for around a week, but I honestly can't come up with many specific stories about our time there. Mostly, everything was just funny:

We got shouted at for not negotiating the entrance price for the national museum... by the woman who manages it.

The man in the tea shop never understanding our order of bread and egg; the only option available. Our English accents obviously weren't... clear enough?

"Hey white man, buy me a football an we can play together here", a child called out to Wojtek one day, pointing towards a flooded football pitch.



We also made a day trip to the famous Number 2 Beach, were disappointed by the amount of tourists, but astounded by the beauty. Lush, forested hills rose up around the pale white sanded beach and reflected in the clear, still water enclosed by a rocky edge.

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Wojtek with Eugene the Uke

We hitched 400km to Kenema, managed to get ridiculously sunburned in the back of a pick-up truck, and was then offered a place to stay in the town by a nice man named Abdul. We stayed with him together for two nights, before Wojtek left to continue more quickly than me towards Liberia.



Whilst in Kenema, Abdul took me to meet his friend who owned a diamond business, who then took me to see a small-scale diamond mine where around ten men were working manually for two months straight on a wage of four euros for a ten hour day. They waved and posed with their spades whilst I took photos.
The owner of this business used to work just like them, but alone and illegally. He found a 15 carat diamond - a guaranteed one million dollars in his pocket. From that he created a legal mining business and is now richer than rich.

One morning, on my daily walk through the towns market chatting to random people, there was a huge commotion; people pointing and shouting and laughing. I was told there was a witch in town. Apparently a woman had made another woman pregnant. The pregnant woman's husband reported the witch to the local authorities. Nobody questioned it; it was true. I tried telling them about the old history of witches in Britain, and that there is always an explanation for strange things going on.
"No! This is AFRICA!" I was told.

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I hitched alone through the tiny towns and villages of Eastern Sierra Leone, my last ride being stuffed in between the driver and the front passenger. Only slightly uncomfortable! On the up side, I was invited to a celebration they were attending in the small town of Potoru; it was a kind of wake for the death of a senior lady of the family. Hundreds of people gathered in the dark night, drums were played whilst the senior family members danced this traditional ritual in a possessed-like way around a fire, people sang loudly to the absent music, and I sat there in awe of what I was witnessing. I didn't get any pictures, it was too real and deeply spiritual to think about that.

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I left the following morning, taking a bike then a boat to Tiwai Island. This place is home to one of the highest concentration and diversity of primates in the world, as well as 135 bird species, 700 plant species, and the rare pygmy hippo. The eight communities which surround the island take care of everything there. They protect the island from mining and poaching, they charge tourists for visiting the island and for guided tours, and then use the money gained to improve the facilities as well as for schools and infrastructure for the local villages. Check out the website for more information [click here]

Termite mound
Spider bigger than my hand


I took a nature tour, and saw countless monkeys swinging in the trees, so many huge spiders sat lazily in their webs, thousands of gigantic termite mounds bigger than myself, and trees with roots which I wasn't tall enough to step over. This island really is a jungle!

Spot the monkey!
I spent the night on the island, then started feeling ill again. By the morning I was a mess. I knew it was the malaria again. Back in Potoru I visited the health care centre where they gave me medication and told me it was free. I took refuge in the Tiwai Island tourism office for a few days but the medication just wasn't working. It must have been free because it was donated, and it must have been donated because it was old. The thing about malaria is that you lose all your ability to think straight and make decisions. This time I didn't have Wojtek with me. I slept for two days straight and I wasn't getting any better. Somehow, luckily, I made the decision to get to the closest city, where I could get up-to-date medication. That was around 200km of undriveable road away...
The whole journey I had a new answer:
"How di body?"
"Ahhh, di body no good!"