18 September 2007

Loitering With Intent

August 26

Freetown, Sierra Leone

This morning I walked up Tower Hill on an intended trip to Fourah Bay College. It's a well-known university that, prior to the war, played host to many students from other West African countries. Indeed, my Gambian friends from U. of Ghana only came to Legon after the war started and they were airlifted out by U.S. Marines. So they finished their studies in Ghana. On the way up I saw lots of people and families in their Sunday best on their way to church.

On my stroll I left the road and came upon a memorial to Milton Margai, first prime minister of independent Sierra Leone. While reading his biography, I was accosted by a pair of middle-aged men. It turned out I had wandered onto the grounds of the national parliament. Officer Conteh and Izwe took me to their office, where they announced that I was under arrest for "loitering with intent." I was told that ignorance does not excuse the crime, which was documented in an ad hoc report. I was then offered a brief tour of the grounds with my hosts/captors angling for something in return. They pointed out Fourah Bay College - up another hill and not especially pretty so I decided to give it a miss. We returned to their office and I joined them for breakfast (the universal staple - rice with cassava leaf sauce). Afterwards, having abandoned their requests for soft drinks, they escorted me down the hill and expressed the hope that Peace Corps would soon return to Sierra Leone.

17 September 2007

Quotes from The Gambia and wider travels

Before I enter these, I must wonder how much of West Africa's internet usage is young African men posing as women and exchanging emails and instant messages with white men overseas. Hopefully the fiscal returns justify this...

First, a couple of quotes from a headmaster/principals meeting way back in March, discussing logistics of a prospective Cluster sports day and other issues.

Headmaster #1: "So it's agreed - three schools will contribute a sack of rice, the other eight will sell theirs and contribute the money."

Headmaster #2: "Don't forget to put the rice in another sack or the bitiks [stores] will try to cheat you because they know you shouldn't sell it."

Later, Cluster Monitor: "And, by the grace of God, your school will have a [football] field."

Headmaster of Bati Ndarr Lower Basic School: "God - sometimes he ignores things."

CM: "You! You are a Fula!"

August 1 - On the second day of our journey into Guinea, the driver took advantage of the rain and tossed some Omo powdered soap onto the windscreen. He then turned on the wipers to administer his improvised washer fluid. As I laughed at this display (carried out while driving), one of the passengers exclaimed, "C'est Afrique!", a familiar refrain after our night of breakdowns and washed-away roads.

August 3 - Exchange overheard on our abortive first attempt to reach Mali(ville).

Passenger: "Are we turning around because of the accident?"

Driver: "No, no, this is a different engine problem."

The accident in question took place just a couple of minutes after we left the car park/garage as our driver inexplicably veered off the road and into the gutter. We all got out and literally lifted the car out (gutters are deep in West Africa). Some time later the engine started acting up and the driver elected to return to the garage.

Sierra Leone

"I hear that in America they call the African a 'sex machine.' Is this true?" Fellow passenger on the road to Bo, while the driver attempts to fix the axle.


Christiana, from Sierra Leone: "What you're doing is illegal."

Liberian police officer: "Just give me something small."

All ECOWAS citizens are officially free to travel through member states without visas or paying fees. As the ride from the border to Monrovia demonstrated (with 10 police/immigration stops on a 150 kilometre trip), this often matters little to low-paid officials. As far as extracting bribes, the Liberians on this stretch of road are the worst I've seen in my West African travels.

Christopher, a Nigerian in the car that was hit up so often for bribes: "Ghanaian taxis are really comfortable - only one person sits in the front seat."

15 September 2007

Time for an update!

I am presently in Grand Bassam, the old colonial capital of Cote d'Ivoire. I really should have attempted the occasional update while travelling, but the computers aren't always reliable, and I am often lazy.

Anyway; I shall move chronologically and gradually post descriptions of my travels:

circa July 27, 2007

Yesterday we had a nice visit to the Salls in Nord Foire (sp? it's on the outskirts of Dakar). The mother Fatou is a sister of my host father in Njau (Chebo), so I have stayed with them on past visits to Dakar. I was here with Jon, who had just arrived a couple of mornings ago (and, as luck would have it, his luggage arrived early the next morning.

Elhaas's wife Astou cooked a delicious chicken yassa, and I got to say goodbye to the Salls, we watched Senegalese TV/Brazilian soap operas, and I again got grief for not marrying Sohna, their cute cousin who dropped in.

Mot Lamin's coworker Jack, from (PR) China; had some interesting geopolitical news from The Gambia for me -- President Jammeh has announced that should China invade Taiwan, he is ready to send 1,000 soldiers to Taiwan's aid. Gambia, you may recall, is one of Taiwan's allies/client states in its quest for international recognition, along with Nauru, Vanuatu and others.

Senegal recently switched allegiances to China (well, in 2005). Around that time, in September '05, they had a falling-out with Gambia after the Gambians doubled the fares for their ferries. So the Senegalese government imposed a blockade of sorts, requiring all trucks going between Dakar and Casamance to drive around The Gambia. At the time, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade proposed the following solutions:

1) build bridges (the river's not very wide),
2) let Senegal control ferries of their own, or
3) dig a tunnel running under The Gambia since it's so small.

The matter was resolved a few weeks later, when Gambia sheepishly returned ferry prices to their pre-blockade rates.