FREETOWN BLUES NEW
ROOM WITH A VIEW
SIERRA LEONE – NARRATING ACTUAL OCCURENCES
THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD
Freetown Blues – After all the years it seems these memories won’t leave me.
There will be many who won’t give a hoot about these or similar stories – perhaps understandably so.
They are not “cool”. No, they aren’t – for those who have no clue about Africa.
However, history has shown that past events can re-occur, though we don’t hope they will, ever.
LUNGHI -FREETOWN INTERNATIONAL
We touch down at Lunghi International Lunghi Airport at 5.00 PM late afternoon.
Our contact has sent his representative, and we are whisked through Immigration,
We clear Health and Customs in no time.
A chauffeur with car awaits us at the enrrance.
We are taken to the Lunghi ferry pier.
Then we cross the lagoon that separates Lunghi International to Freetown.
Once we arrive at the Ferry Terminal, a Hovercraft is docked at the pier, and we take seats in the lower deck.
This is the moment when I catch the striking image of young kids sitting on the craft’s deck sidealleys.
They are kept away from the main cabin.
The sight affects you a lifetime
Once seated you catch the the sight, you feel their sadness.
The endless misery, the emptiness in their faces can be noticed immediately.
The pain that those kids had been inflicted on them.
They are the victims of Fodeh Sankoh’s Rebel Militias.
Maimed thousands of kids
A senseless, barbaric hord of brutes, enjoying the pains inflicted on the little kids, maiming and injuring them for life.
An everlasting impression remains, one won’t forget.
Those kids were without arms or hands.
Fodeh Sankoh, the Rebel leader who never admitted to his crimes.
His guerilla fighters would ask his captives the gruesome question:’Short sleeve or long sleeve, what would they prefer …’.
The agony suffered by those who fell into the hands of their captors was horrific.
After the Ferry ride, we continue to Freetown.
Another car waits to take us to our hotel, the Cape Sierra, the only decent place run by Italian businessman Paolo.
During the war the hotel became a command post for the Rebels, then for the troops of the O.A.U, the CIA, the U.N.
All are crammed in this hotel.
continued .. Freetown
Upon arrival, we are greeted by the Italian owner, who arranged to see our contact in Sierra Leone.
We are here to negotiate a business with an international company.
Room with a view
The room is what one would call ‘a room with a view’.
It overlookes the Emerald sea, its waves pounding the shore about hundred-and-fifty meters below us.
Magnificent to see the waves breaking below your window.
After dinner at the Continental Restaurant, we meet other guests, amongst them one who works for the U.N.
We get to know the Soldiers of Fortune who are present, ex-French Legionaires ( Legion Etrangeres ) who now do covert operations for the CIA we are told.
Soldiers of Fortune
One guy, in particular, arouses my interest,
I am told he is a Helicopter pilot, he looks a real crazy guy.
French, in his mid-forties, you can see that he is different from the others.
A Jute sack in his hand he enters the dining area.
The bar dames are all too curious and come all to see the what’s in the sack.
Surrounded by the ladies he reaches into the sack.
He then retracts his hand fast, licking his fingers as if bitten by a creature.
He points the bag to the screaming bardames, who scatter in all directions.
All the girls are screaming.
He repeats the whole show a few times, much to the curiosity and horror of all present.
The spectacle ends when he empties the sack and nothing appears.
All laugh after the girls reappear and punish him for the scare he put them through.
Hotel room above the battering waves of the Atlantic
We retire late that night and sleep with the sound of endless waves beneath us battering the shore.
I wake up by a strange noise, originating from a distance over the sea.
It is dawn, just before 06.00 AM, and I hear a distinct whining sound approaching the Hotel, very rapidly.
I am up at once ( relict of my Army training ), and rush to the window.
I reach just in time to see an Aérospatiale Alouette III Military Chopper approaching at full speed, flying very low over the branding sea.
It appears as if the Hotel is under attack by the gunship.
Horrified I stand and watch this spectacle evolving right in front of me.
Before the apparent hit the pilot raises the chopper up, sideways.
It appears he almost touches my window.
The distance is very close. Some 200 yards seperate me from the chopper.
My heart stands still for a second when I hear the howling of the jetengine powering the Alouette.
The whole image looks surreal
Before dropping back sideways like a swing in a Fun park, the Chopper stays idle for a second in the air.
He falls back close to sea level and disappears in the morning fog.
The whining sound of the turbines are still in my ears, the choppers blades beating the early morning fog.
I clearly recognize the face of the Pilot.
It is thr same I met the previous night at the bar.
Dare-devil with skill
A stunning display of piloting skills, dangerous but done with precision that leaves no room for error.
When I walk down for breakfast I am told this is his way of waking up other guests lodging at the Hotel.
Post war – 2020
Slavery and war. A negative view of what is, in fact, an exceptionally beautiful country.
Today, Sierra Leone seems free from all negative perspectives.
History of a typical African trauma
To ignore Sierra Leone’s history and focus purely on the present will be a difficult task.
Britain made it a protectorate.
Sierra Leone had a questionable reputation of becoming home to more than 40,000 freed slaves.
This is where the name Freetown came from.
Ghana – country in Africa traumatized by slave trade
Surely, as a protectorate, Sierra Leone was exploited for its mineral and diamond wealth in the 1900s.
Also, it was Sierra Leoneans who fought against the Germans in Cameroon in World War 1.
Again together with the British in the Second World War.
Independence in 1961
It was after Ghana, in 1961, that Sierra Leone became independent from Britain and governed itself for 30 years.
Brutal civil war
As in many of these countries, peace did not last.
What followed was a decade of brutal civil war that destroyed the economy.
It left the country amongst one of the poorest in the world.
The war ended in January 2002, with President Kabbah reelected in May 2002.
Since then, the people of Sierra Leone have been pulling together to repair, renew, and regenerate.
Their passion for the country was genuine: it was interesting to hear that Sierra Leone has far more to offer than a sad recent history and that reconstruction is moving ahead at a rapid pace.
It is evident that efforts are being made, and proof of reconstruction is everywhere – new roads are being built, mines are being re-vamped.
Dam projects started before the war are once again underway.
Markets are once again thriving and humming with life.
There is also a great deal of confidence in Sierra Leone’s potential as a tourist destination.
There are beaches along Sierra Leone’s golden peninsula which are the world’s best-kept secrets.
Some are secluded, most are clean ( though this is changing vastly on all African shores ), with miles stretching till the end.
Beaches with very British names.
Kent, Lumley, Sussex, and York mix with more African names like Bureh Town, Tokey and Mammah beach.
Wildlife and forests
Many of the forests and much of the wildlife has been disturbed.
In some cases, habitats became destroyed by the war.
There are natural treasures like Outamba-Kilimi National Park, populated by game animals such as elephants, chimpanzees, and pigmy hippos.
Mount Bintimani, with the highest point in West Africa, are just two of the interesting wildlife attractions on offer.
Tacugama Chimpanzee sanctuary
Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary rescues orphaned and captured chimps and has been named as one of the most successful Sierra Leonean wildlife endeavors.
Another location at Tiwai Island is home to over 3000 chimps as well as other game and wildlife.
Lakes, rivers, and dams are perfect for picnics and relaxing.
Bird watching paradise
The marshlands hide a myriad of colorful birds – indeed, the birdlife has been less affected by the war than the animals, and everywhere you go, the air is filled with birdsong. Sierra Leone is a bird-watchers dream!
Tiwai Island for one boasts over 135 different bird species!
For culture vultures and those with historical interests, the remnants of the slave trade make interesting and thought-provoking expeditions.
Slave trading fortress
Bunce Island, a slave-trading fortress, is a brief boat trip up the river. It is one of many such fortresses which one can find along with the West-African coast, with Ghana’s El Mina ( the mine ) castle being the most famous.
Freetown is itself a monument to freed slaves and its Cotton Tree, which is located in the center of what is thought to be an old slave market, is now a national symbol.
Every citizen is proud of their country, proud of its progress, and excited about the future.