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 such as these 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, Health and Customs at an unusual speed, considering our location.
A chauffeur with car awaits us at the parking lot and we drive off to 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.
And at this moment I catch the striking image of young kids sitting on the craft’s deck sidealleys, away from the main cabin.
The sight affects you a lifetime
I hadn’t noticed them when we entered the Hovercraft.
Once seated you catch the the sight, you feel their sadness, the endless misery, the emptiness in their faces, the pain that those kids had gone through, for they are 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.
I recall the looks in those eyes as if occurs today.
An everlasting impression stays with you, one can not forget, for those kids were without arms or wrists.
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 …’.
Any comment would be superfluous to describe the agony suffered by those who fell into the hands of their captors.
After the Ferry ride, we continue to Freetown where 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 were crammed in this hotel.
continued .. Freetown
Upon arrival, we are greeted by the Italian owner, who arranged our contact in Sierra Leone.
We are here to negotiate some business with an international company to sell our packaging products.
Room with a view
The room is what one would call ‘a room with a view’, overlooking the Emerald sea, 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 pulls out his hand fast, licking his fingers as if bitten by something.
All the girls scream and scatter in all directions.
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 at first.
Horrified I stand and watch this spectacle evolving right in front of me.
Suddenly, before the apparent hit the pilot raises the chopper up, sideways, he almost reaches my window, with a very close distance of say 100 yards seperating 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 still in my ears, blades beating thr early morning fog I clearly recognize the face of the Pilot I met the previous night at the bar as the daredevil .
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.
Before the arrivals of the Portuguese, it was a fertile country inhabited by several tribes. It became a “protectorate” of Portugal in the 1400s, and it was the Portuguese who built a fort as a trading post for gold, spices, ivory, and the most notorious of all trades – slaves.
Later 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, and 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, brutalized the people, and 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.
Airlines now offer exclusive twice-weekly flights to Sierra Leone. Schedules have been disrupted by the recent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are beaches along Sierra Leone’s golden peninsula which are the world’s best-kept secrets.
Especially the closest to the Cape mountain which had a lot of foreign visitors before the civil war began.
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 like Kent, Lumley, Sussex, and York mix with more African names like Bureh Town, Tokey and Mammah beach, and others more.
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 except for Mosquitoes and some other insects like sand flies, fire ants ( called regionally Charles Taylor ), as well as reptiles people need to watch out for.
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.
Reminders of colonial past
Fort, graveyards, some monuments are all reminders of the colonial British and Portuguese powers in Sierra Leone: they all are part of the country’s history and legacy.
Sixteen different ethnic groups live there, comprising of Krio, descendants of freed slaves who speak an English-based Creole called Krio, and visiting villages and chatting to people in markets and the streets are rewarding for all parties!
Freetown, without a doubt, is the most developed of the cities. It offers most amenities one will find in any other city within the region.
New Hotels and restaurants
Restaurants, Hotels, and nightclubs are being built like mushrooms, and dining out in Sierra Leone gives you a taste of traditional and international treats, including seafood which is cheap here.
Based on my own experiences, I feel that all lies in the hand of the people to make the difference.
Pride of citizens
Every citizen is proud of their country, proud of its progress, and excited about the future.
People welcome you, greeting aid-workers and travelers alike with smiles that you can only find in Africa, with an optimism – no, positivity – a thing that is lacking in many other countries.
For travelers who are looking for a still uncut gem, Sierra Leone offers a holiday.