Sunday, 19 February 2012

Back with more and a little more…

Hi everyone. I bet you’ve all been wondering what’s happened to me… or not… Well, I’ll clue you in either way. After completing my ‘very interesting’ – and yet rewarding – year as a VSO volunteer, I left Sierra Leone and returned to England with the prospect of securing a nice job in the UK to begin my career – at last – only to secure another – fantastic – Fellowship position back in Sierra Leone for 10 more months, while I was on holiday in the States. So my poor parents only got to see me for a total of two and a half weeks before I jollied back to my old-new home of Freetown.

So I now work on an amazing malaria prevention public health messaging programme with faith leaders for a worthwhile organisation out here in Sierra Leone and I have to admit that second time round, this country has grown more on me… No friends, that doesn’t mean I’ve packed all my stuff up and moved out here for good (even though my colleague says that might change if I meet a Conteh-Bangura out here… ... …). That could however have a lot to do with the fact that my living conditions have dramatically improved; my worries having changed from ‘has the broken pipe in the bathroom leaked enough into the bowl for me to have a bucket bath?’ to ‘Oh, I hope I can find a softener that makes my machine washed clothes smell as nice as my last one!’

Of course this might convey a certain vapid-ness in my new lifestyle, however let me assure you that my ability to function in an electrically enabled house is somehow directly proportional to my ability to keep sane? No, that’s not it… I mean my ability to work effectively with the nature of the high capacity of my current position. I must say that I certainly enjoyed the simplicity of life in my last position and oh, who can ever get over the amazing-ness of those poda-podas!! However I am glad to have more amenities and an amazing landlord that takes his duties as a house owner seriously (one should never underestimate the blessing of a dutiful-landlord), as this means I am more at liberty to do those things which I would previously have found too difficult or laborious because of lack of access to necessary facilities. 

In spite of the slight upgrade in lifestyle however, I have to say that my life hasn’t changed all that much. Electricity still cuts in and out (however less frequently – due to the improvements in generation of power from the Bumbuna dam?) I still take taxis and podas (albeit less often), I still get spoken in Krio because people assume I’m Salonean (will that ever change?) I still swim at the UN gym and I still go out of my way to purchase street food such as popcorn, yoghurt, plantain chips and street meat (this has interesting increased, almost exponentially, since my  colleagues and I discovered a great seller down at the convenient location of Congo Cross.

So apart from being able to travel quickly in a 4x4 and not having to complain about mouldy wall (even though I now have a strange case of termites on my dressing table – just saying!), I really am doing all the things I did the last time round… well almost. Anyway this post was not originally meant to bore you with the particulars of my change in lifesyle but just to say hey, I’m back in the blogging world. Don’t expect writings of literary genius or too many divulgences into my work life – there must be a separation and a different medium for that – however, expect fun filled, thought provoking stories into my life here in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

PS, no need to donate anymore, so you can now read on without the niggling guilt of not having monetarily supporting my organisation!! Plus, if you find this post slightly erratic, that is because I am up writing it at 4:30 am after being kept up by a residential-home-turned-party-house across the street!

Till next time,


Friday, 17 June 2011

The not-so-problem problem with my Tailor Hassan!

If you were to ask me of the people I will miss the most when I leave Sierra Leone, I can draw up a sizable list of people from my daily life in Sierra Leone. One of these people is Hassan, the local tailor that works at the top of the Ngobeh Drive, on a road that can at the best of times be mistaken as a riverbed.

Hassan is a lovely man. Hassan always smiles at me when I walk up the rickety steps to his shop and always chuckles, Whenever I see him, he says vibrantly, ‘Banki, you’ve been away, where?’ with a careless flick of his hand in an unknown direction. Hassan on a few occasions has made me smocked dresses that are lovely and always a treat to wear, both casually and to dressy occasions. Hassan sews clothes for Le 25,000, which is just over three quid. Hassan also ensures that if you need measurements, adjustments and alterations to your outfit, he will personally make visits to the comfort of your home – even if it means he is chased in an out by our crazy dogs…

But amidst all these praises, there is one problem with Hassan my tailor. Hassan never does what you ask him to do! Hassan will always make modifications to your design that you could never have conceived in your fashion conscious brain. At times, he will create a masterpiece so abstruse, that even the cleverest mind would find it difficult to retrace the steps back to its original pattern. Many times, I have taken a patterned material to Hassan and told him, I want this and that, and when I collect it a couple of day later, I have an outfit completely different to what I asked for. My favourite phrase, when I see him is now, ‘Hassan (in an exasperated voice), this isn’t what I drew?!!’ He then stares at me with a perplexed and guilty look to that akin to that of a cheeky kid who was caught cheating in a test he didn’t even pass. He then pleads with me and says, ‘don’t worry, I’ll fix it. I know exactly what you mean’!

Last week, I asked him to complement a purple cotton print with black material, but Hassan instead used blue. When I asked him why he did not use the colour I asked for, he looked at the material all shocked and exclaimed, ‘but look, the material has blue/black in it. So I used that!’ Then I asked him to line the skirt, as it was quite see-through, to which he gave it back to me lined to just below the waist! Again when I gave it back to him, he looked like it was practically impossible that such a confusion had been made. Lydia can attest to this look!

After all this, you may ask, ‘why do you go back to him?’ Well even after all of the drama of interesting and yet ridiculous mutations of perfectly good designs, the thing is, you just can’t stay mad at Hassan. Hassan is too lovely to hold a grudge against. He never gets angry or upset when you tell him what he’s done wrong, and he always pleads to do better in a way in which even you kick yourself, as if you were the one who got the idea all wrong. And eventually – often after multiple returns – he always brings out an outfit you can wear proudly and turn heads in. Besides, the price for the ‘experience’ really is very reasonable.

So I will miss crying out, ‘HASSAN’, and getting clothes custom made and walking past his shop, just to find him calling my name and waving emphatically with the purest smile. Good Old Tailor Hassan!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Ferrous Let-down!

Yesterday, I was very excited. Today I said, I was finally going to do my bit for society and give blood.

I had been told I could give blood here, since the blood bank in the hospitals here are always short on blood because not enough people are willing to or able to donate. So I made a decision, I was going to give blood before I leave Salone… on the conditions that someone give blood with me and they also test for my blood group…

-----------------------2008 – Trying to give blood…

Blood letting has been something that I had been extremely anxious about, since my second year in UCL, where some friends an I went excitedly to a mobile NHS blood drive. My friend Funke sat down and the nurse began to poke around for her vein. All of a sudden, the nurse poked at one of her rhythmically fast pumping veins and blood spurted on poor Funke’s jeans and to our horror, on the nurse’s face.

Now, I’m not squeamish or scared of needles, but you can see why all four friends backed away through the exit, handing back the half-filled forms in quick succession. Since that day, I was a little – shall we say – mistrustful of unknown docs and nurses who wanted to stick a needle in my arm.  

--------------------------------------------2010 – Trying to give blood…

So when I got this placement in Sierra Leone, I had to receive about 9 prophylactic injections which should keep me healthy in Salone (So far so good. I’m still well!). One thing that was missing however was my blood group. I didn’t know what it was, so I was advised by Interhealth to give blood. Good idea, I thought, then I conjured up the image of blood flying at the nurses face and I thought, ‘erm… maybe not!’ But I swallowed my insecurities and completed the red and white form. I held on to it and decided to give blood before I travelled…

But then I got the flu and had to wait a month. Then after that month, I excitedly filled in the form again and decided to definitely do it this time…. But then I got ill… again… And since it was 6 days before I was travelling to Salone, I knew I would not be able to give blood in the UK again for another year after I returned. Slightly upset and put out without my blood group, I travelled to Salone.

-----------------------------------------------------------------2011- Trying to give blood….

So this week, my friend Fred nicely agreed to come with me and since he gives blood at the Ola During Children’s Hospital regularly anyway, I felt reasonably safe. We arrived at the blood services department and after a slightly painful prick of my finger, it was dabbed on a dish with 3 circular grooves with A, B, O inscribed on it. My finger was then squeezed, ejecting some of my blood into a clear object, which was then placed into a Hb count checking machine (obviously there is a more accurate and scientific name for this!). After a few minutes, I was told my blood group was A+, but sadly, ‘the lower limit for a woman is 12.3, you are 10.7, so sorry you can’t give blood today!’ 

So, turns out I am slightly too anaemic to give blood. Another let-down! At least I know my blood group now!

No one can say that I haven’t tried!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Freetown VS London… City change or trade?

clip_image001Today I did a very nostalgic/strange thing. I nipped into the local supermarket to buy a pint of milk for breakfast tomorrow morning. It wasn’t till I got out of the store that I caught myself and thought, Gosh, I would have done the exact same thing on a Thursday evening in London.

So it got me thinking… how much of my lifestyle has actually changed while I have been out here in Sierra Leone? Bear in mind that this is the time for true and deep reflection as I prepare to finish my placement and return to my life in the UK.

So, I decided to make a table of the similarities and differences between my lifestyle in the UK and in Freetown.




Waking Up

Wake at 6.30 to beat traffic on the S. Circular

Wake up at 7.45am (post fixing of Wilks Road)

Walking down my road

Wander past my neighbours, wondering when the people from 256 moved out and show surprise that the woman from 258 has a baby, when I didn’t know she was pregnant

Greet my neighbours as I pass, mostly with their first names, and have regular conversations with Mr footballer at the end of the raod, Isata who works next door and Hassan the local tailor.

Getting to work

Take a crowded double-decker bus or cycle happily to work

Take an overcrowded poda-poda with no rear view mirror into work, a little scared and anxious the whole way


Go home... swimming pool is in the other direction!

Stop at the UN pool for a well needed, cool dip after work

Chilling after work

Sit at an overcrowded bar/restaurant, wondering when its holiday time

Have moonlit dinner at Roy’s overlooking the waves crashing into the beach

Watching movies

Go to the Cinema and watch an exciting movie with comfy seats and surround sound

Sneak into a slightly shady Lebanese owned DVD store or movie share with friends

Getting Post

Receive post 2-3 days later courtesy of the Royal Mail

Good Luck... I simply haven't received one since September... even though I know its been sent!

Food Shopping

Shop at my local Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s

Shop at the Local Supermarkets St. Mary’s or Foodland

Clothes Shopping

Overspend at Topshop, Zara and Other high street stores

Overspend... oops! At the local tailor who makes fab clothes!


Broadband wireless every where... duh!

Spend at least 6 hours a week at the Internet Cafe.


Spend in tens, i.e. average meal costs £15-20

Spend in thousands, i.e. average meal costs Le 20,000 – 40,000

Power and Water

It’s always there…

Savour every moment of it; the most apt description of it is, ‘here one moment, gone the next’!


Stop off at the your local music store or download off Itunes or Spotify

Lean out of your car/taxi window, and a young man selling compilations of the latest Salone tracks for a Le5,000 (72p), will run over


Monthly plan, preferring to make calls to friends

Mostly send text messages to friends, calls only when absolutely necessary – and that’s why I got a QWERTY phone!

There are many things in my daily life has changed, however I have noticed that there are a few things I have settled into that are not so different to the way I functioned back at home. I am still doing similar things, only the process and the environment in which I am doing them are drastically different. The difference is mostly in the regularity at which each action occurs.

I have concluded that in spite of the difficulties of living in Sierra Leone and the extreme heat, there are many amazing things here that I will definitely miss and try to incorporate into my life at home. For one, I will try to get to know my neighbours more (because its just nice), exercise more and appreciate the fact that in the UK, we get constant electricity and water!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

And, THAT’s why there is a policy!

Last week, I finally got the chance to get out of Freetown with work and travel up-line. The Sierra Leone Nurses Association runs an annual conference and scientific symposium to celebrate International Nurses Day, to which this year’s event was to be held in Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone. I was quite excited and got packed without delay, once I heard that we would be going on the Wednesday, which was great, because the conference started on Thursday morning and there is nothing worse than having to wake up at 4am to attend an 8 hour conference.

I arrived at the Faculty of Nursing to meet with my line manager, where she was busy organising the bus loads of students and nurses, making sure everything ran smoothly. I quickly settled into her office, getting things ready for my recruitment sessions, which I was to manage at the conference. Time quickly flew by, as I waited to depart from Freetown. Looking at the clock, it was 13:30pm. I thought to myself, there is still time. There is not need to worry about going beyond the time set in the policy…

See, there is a VSO policy which states that a VSO volunteer should not travel in the dark, therefore should avoid travel which exceeds 17:00 and no travel must be begun from Freetown past 16:30pm.

It was now 15:00 and one of the large busses had lost a tire somewhere up-country and was currently at a garage being placed and as I was travelling with the person tirelessly trying to organise the situation, I was still seated in the office twiddling my thumbs thinking, ‘Gosh, its getting late.’ Finally at 15:53pm, the Admin Assistant from my office comes in and tells me its finally time to go. I breathed a sigh of release as had it gone past 16:30, I would have had to refuse to go…

Now, I had been advised that it takes 2.5 hours to get to Bo, so by my calculation, we should reach Bo before it got dark. But forty minutes later, we were still stuck on Kissy Road, tailing a funeral procession on its way to Kissy Cemetery. Luckily, not too long later, we pulled out onto Bai Bureh road and picked up speed. For the next few hour I alternated between humming along to my ipod and reading ‘The Constant Gardener’ by John le Carre. We even stopped by the Salone Tesco (below) to get drinks.

DSC04572The tip here is to never listen to those who say it takes 2 hours to get to get to Bo, because its 19:31 and I’m still sitting, front seat and filming the hills and trees, and I realise its almost dark. And then it starts to rain and it gets even darker. But at this point, its still exciting… you know, the return of the rainy season, going further up country than I had been before…

But then a few miles after Makonde, it became really hard to see. It had been raining heavily during the second hour of the journey, and this combined with the intense heat of the tarred roads meant that steam began to rise off the road; up to 2 meters off the ground. Now, in the daytime, this is all quite exciting, watching condensation at work, however at almost 8pm in the dark, I am starting to freak out a little. It felt like we were travelling through the vortex of space and time; our car lights reflecting on the almost ghost like wisps rising well above our heads. Being in the passengers seat of the car, I had the benefit of the same experience as the driver, so I was very worried – in fact at the edge of my seat – because I couldn’t see past 2 metres on the road. What’s worse, because our lights reflected back at us, there was no way to tell whether we were on the right side of the road, or even worse weather a car was passing in the opposite direction.

The wisps would appear and disappear almost as unexpectedly as seeing another car on the road, so the car spent almost a half hour accelerating and jerking to a slower speed. Then my mum called and I explained the situation to her in Yoruba. Since Yoruba can be more direct at times than English, my explanation that we were in the dark and in the middle of nowhere did not inspire any confidence of how OK I was actually feeling. I managed to giggle and set her mind at rest (not really), and by the time we got to the outskirts of Bo, I was seeing the funny side of it. As I tumbled out of the car and walked tiredly into the hotel twenty minutes later, it occurred to me that a lot of Sierra Leoneans do this kind of journey in the dark all the time (some busses don’t leave the capital till 12 midnight!), but this was not a risk that I was ever willing to take again. It was not anyone’s fault, since many unavoidable factors played into our delay, however I know fully realise why there is a VSO policy on travel and will not be taking it for granted again!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

DON’T EAT THAT STREET MEAT!!! and other latest Salone tales…

I wrote this on the eve of the 50th Anniversary, but did not post it, but i thought I might as well publish it. Enjoy!

As it comes up to the 50th Anniversary on Independence for Sierra Leone, we have been noticing some grand changes in Freetown. Some Amazing, some interesting, informative and exciting. Some hilarious and downright ridiculous at the same time. These boundaries are in no way mutually exclusive, therefore a lot of the changes straddle them all. As the title suggests, I believe one of them is the police crackdown on rogue street traders… but I’ll get to that in point 4. (See all pictures at the bottom of the page)

1. Green White Blue… EVERYWHERE!

If you live in England and think the population has gone overboard with the union jack bunting and the endless Kate and William wedding memorabilia (yes, I’ve been reading the BBC news), then you certainly have not been to Freetown! As the pictures below suggest, as the country prepares for the celebrations of its 50th year of independence on Wed 27th April 2011, you will not go anywhere in Freetown where a mark of the motto: ‘50 years Forward’ is not present in some shape or form. From logoed pens and rulers to knitted scarves (????, I know right!), to stickers, flags, billboards, key chains, caps with flag colours objects…. You name it, its being sold by street traders. In the centre of town, flag coloured bunting has strewn up everywhere, with no exception. It really creates an atmosphere of anticipation. I’m quite looking forward to the day. What I find most interesting yet bizzare is that everything has been painted green, white and blue (if you are not aware, these are the colours of the flag of Sierra Leone). The bottom third of lamp posts, railings, walls, central reservations, tree stumps… If it can be painted, It has been! And there is little discrimination with regard to the disparity in the shades of colour used (a nuance really). So you would go from one street with deep and subtle coloured flags to another with bright neon colours that increases the heat (at least that’s how it feels). Its all extremely strange, but again the atmosphere is so energetic and alive because of all the vibrant colour and the race for each group to show their patriotism ahead of the celebrations. Is great and it makes me so happy I’m here in Salone right now!!

2. Wilkinson Road is Looking Up!!

You may remember from my previous posts that Wilkinson Road is being widened and completely reconstructed. Well the Chinese Seventh Group Company are pressing on (though it is my personal opinion that if the whole thing had been approved and started just 6 months earlier, they would be completed by now… but no one asked for my opinion so…). Again as the pictures show, the roads are mostly now dual carriage way… at least that which has been completed. There is still a lot of work to be done, there's plenty of unmoving traffic and its still really dusty as you walk home from Congo Cross (what an amazing name!), but the workers are now tarring the roads and we can walk without feeling we are going to be crushed by a poda or unlawful okada drivers.

Which reminds me, the other day a fellow volunteer Lydia and I were walking to Congo cross, when an okada driver left the road and climbed straight on to the pavement – not that there’s much of it –and honked for us to get out of the way. Imagine our chagrin! I said to him, ‘This na fo feet not okada notto so’, and he shouted back as he bumped past, ‘Don’t worry!’ Great!!

3. The J C’s are back!

J C’s an abbreviation for ‘Just Come’, a term used by local Saloneans to describe their diaspora counterparts who return for holidays and special occasions.  Freya mentioned that she had seen a few more Diaspora in town than normal, so I was on the lookout. Low and behold, every so often, you would see someone who looked and dressed slightly differently to those who you would normally would see. A little more flashy, dressy and a slightly different way of walking. More people chartering taxis and asking to be dropped at a hotel or another. I often wonder if this is what I as a Black non-Salonean must seem like to local people… I have noticed however that I am now treated slightly differently by these locals at this time. Where they would normally have asked, ‘are you an intern or a volunteer? or when did you arrive in Salone?’ I have now been asked, ‘did you go to international school? or when did you return?’. But one thing is clear, the Diaspora are happy to be here to celebrate the anniversary of their Mama Salone!

4. Crackdown on Unlawful Individuals!!

On Thursday 7th April, a photo news piece was published on the front page of the daily newspaper ‘Pemier News’. The headline reads ‘DOG MEAT FOR SALE’. Underneath the caption reads, ‘Yusufu Bangura caught on this week roasting a dog for sale as roast meat.’ After reading this, I was immediately transported back to the days prior to the publishing of this photo. I had been in a taxi, travelling to Kingtom area, when passing the National Sports Stadium on Syke Street, we met unexpected traffic and a commotion further forward. People were chanting and crowding and moving in the general direction of town. All of a sudden, the reason for the commotion became clear as a man emerged from the crowd with a half gutted dog slung on his back. As he walked, tens of men and young boys ran after him singing and chanting loudly in Krio. Perplexed, I leaned out of the window to take a closer look. In true Salonean style, the taxi driver leaned over me and shouted to a near passer-by, ‘Wetin ‘appen?’ The passer-by leaned in and relayed something in fast Krio which I couldn’t quite catch. The driver then explained to me that they had caught this man trying to cut up the dog and sell it on the street. He had been caught and was currently being walked to the police station. He was therefore required – as a mark of disgrace and guilt – required to carry the item which he had broken the law with. All the way to Kingtom, the driver lamented about how humans could be so cruel to each other. I on the other hand, sat there with an anxious flurry in my stomach, thinking back to the previous night when one of my housemates and I had eaten some street meat! Since then, every time I walk by, the wafting of roast meat drifting in my general direction, I picture a street dog staring at me, and I quickly move on. Saying this however, If I have tasted this animal, I certainly didn’t notice a great difference…

blog pics

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A day in a life of the beach coconut


Okay, so this is hardly a serious blog entry, but I was walking on the beach yesterday with my camera, playing with the focus and varying the depth of focus, and I found a lonely hollow coconut and felt I should tell the epic (well not so epic) of its dream of going to sea. I’m sure pictures on their own would suffice, but this is more entertaining.

DSC03943‘Beach Coconut had done its job. It had offered its nutritious, sweet milky water and soft white flesh to tourists lazing by Lumley Beach just that morning. It had been punctured and carved rather mercilessly by the young local seller, but it didn’t mind because it knew that if the tourist forgot that it was wrong to litter on the beach, it might just be lucky enough to get to go to sea! Unfortunately, its owner after consuming its refreshing innards, threw him on the sand far away from the water and simply walked off!’




‘The water was so close. It could smell its closeness, almost taste its cool salty disposition. But the tide was still out and though it had been kicked a few times by beach runners and strolling lovers over the last few hours it was no closer. Frustrated but determined, Beach coconut waited patiently.’






‘A couple of hours later, it heard the roar of the waves as it rolled unto the beach, closer than it had ever been. As it receded, it heard the fizzing of the bubbles and it grew excited. The water was coming for him. He would finally get to go to sea.’




‘Poised for impact, it used all its might to roll the lip of its opening to a most advantageous position of receiving the cool water and rolling toward it. The waves crashed once more and enveloped Beach coconut in a big bubbling whoosh. The push of the water rolled it sideways and upwards, the sand exfoliating its rough exterior.’




‘Sadly, the force of the wave was not sufficient to pull him out to sea and the disappointed Beach coconut was left soaked on the sand, forced to watch while the water grew more distant.’







‘Minutes crawled by, the sand warmed and its sandy skin dried. As the sun moved across the sky, Beach coconut’s optimism and excitedness fell. It was so quiet, it could hardly hear the water.’




‘Suddenly with little warning, a big wave rushed in, offsetting Beach coconut from its depressed position. Its hollow insides were filled with water and gave it the momentum be pulled, finally into the deeper waters. Overcome by the great power of the waves, Beach coconut shouted for joy as it floated to the surface, only to be pushed under by the heavy wall of the falling water and carried further away from the shore. Beach Coconut had finally done it. It was going out to sea.’


And then I went to have dinner at Roy’s Restaurant with Theo!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Hiking (or rather, climbing) up ‘small small’ Sugar Loaf Mountain!

On Saturday, a group of us decided to hike up sugar loaf mountain, one of the many hills that make up the beautiful Peninsular of the ‘Western Area’ region of Sierra Leone. Since my experience of hiking dates well back to a year 9 biology trip to Somerset somewhere on a trip to study fresh-water plankton, ending in a random hike up a hill in the sticky British July summer heat, my first impression was ‘erm… can i really be bothered?’ Also, having spent the last couple of weeks sick, of nausea and dizziness possibly attributed a combination of the lack of iron in my diet and the side effects of the anti-malarials i am currently taking, I wasn’t sure I was fit enough for a 2 hour ascent up a bumpy hill.

Waking up on Saturday morning, with one eye creaking open, when I looked out of the window to see clouds  engorged with an ostensible promise of rain, I mentally composed an apologetic text message to the others to say I was so staying in bed! But like clockwork, my body and mind had drifted into ‘awake-time’ and I knew sleep would not come till it became once more dark. So I got up and got dressed (to the surprise of my housemate, who commented on the fact that I was up and ready to go!)

So we hurried out of the house and got a lift up the hill to the Hill Station St. Mary’s Supermarket (according to them ‘the mother of all supermarkets’!) and waited for the rest of the group. Outside the supermarket were a large group of a mixed school group of local and expat kids in matching logoed white t-shirts, surrounded by adults, obviously there to supervise them on a walk/run of some kind. We noted that it seemed like a competitive sort of outing, since some of the adults had come in running gear, some fashionable, others obviously ready to claim first place at the end of the day, leaving us to wonder whether they were there to support the excited kids or the other way round! Anyway, the rest of our group appeared and we left the group jogging up the winding hilly road (which in my opinion seemed quite unsafe…).

We soon arrived in Regent, where we alighted and with our backpacks (I was teased for taking my longchamp backpack, for looking a bit too ladylike for a hiking trip! <shrug>) and water bottles, began our trek into the terrain of the sugar loaf. We had instructions to follow a trail of red white and blue splodges, marked earlier by kind hikers who had found their way to the top. So armed with this information, we set off, following the pipeline to the entrance point. Within 10 minutes, we were into the green of the forest, climbing and reaching, and hoisting ourselves up to higher ground, and as can be expected on an unguided trip into the unknown, were already shouting back and forth that we could no longer see any of the coloured splodges, and must therefore be off the designated path!

hik1 However, being the heroic pioneers we were, we decided to press on and find our own route (i mean all routes upwards lead to the top, right??!!). By the time half an hour had passed, I was completely out of breath, clothes drenched with sweat and the moist of the air, ankles screaming for respite from the twisting, stretching and pushing, and arms scratched and pricked by mother nature’s evergreens. But I was enjoying myself, completely alive!! With over 12 of us hiking to the top, we often had to shout down ‘are-we-all-okay’s’ to make sure no one was left behind. Luckily, no one disappeared or fell backwards down the hill as my mind had naughtily indulged in, pessimistically. Ducking under vines, slipping past animal snares, leaping off large mossy stones, we edged our way higher. Many-a-times I had to slap my leg to get rid of ants crawling up my inner thigh, hoping none of them were champion flies.

NOTE TO READER: CHAMPION FLIES are small two-tone ants, that look innocent enough, but if you accidentally brush them off, they release acidic content into your skin, causing a painful and red track wherever your infected hand touches. It looks as painful as it sounds! A friend mentioned that it will make us all a bit more Buddhist in our regard for tiny creatures, as we are forced to blow them off gently!

We finally made it to a flat clearing, where we all rested and sat down for some snacks and recuperated. But wait, this surely wasn’t the top! We were told there was a visible mark at the top, but besides the fact there was nothing to see apart from a small clearing (i had expected a bronzed image of a sugar loaf, personally!), it had only taken us an hour to get there! Though brave pioneers we were, hacking our own route to the top, there was no way we could have done it in an hour! After minutes of peering at the map and turning it in different directions, enlightenment dawned and one of the team announced that we were not at the summit of Sugar Loaf Mountain as expected, but had in fact climbed the adjacent hill. OOPS! Feeling slightly sheepish, we all agreed to descend and climb the actual mountain. I mean we still had hours of daylight left!

An hour later, following plenty of ‘no, no, not this way, not the path, we need to go back and find another route’, we met up with another group who were to meet us, who had laughably climbed the wrong hill too! Then collectively, we scrambled around searching for the right mountain, temporarily loosing a member of the group in the process. By this juncture, we had forgone the idea of following coloured splodges (It had been a couple of hours since we had spotted one either way!) After minutes of descending, the hikers at the front finally found the splodges and correct path… hurray… and a dynamic few decided to continue to the top. The rest of us cut our losses and decided to save the sweet loaf for another day, deciding instead to pass our next couple of hours with a sumptuous, well-deserved meal at Mamba Point!

So after all that, what did I learn? I learnt that if you want to climb a mountain, you had better make sure you have a guide that knows the way or you WILL get lost, and that short sleeves on sugar loaf is a bad idea! Even still, with a minor rash from poisonous scratches and a slight limp due to a sprained muscle in my foot, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself, and though my next credit card bill won’t be to a climbing course, I would definitely consider doing it again!

Banke xxx

N.B. We named our newly discovered mountain ‘small small’ sugar loaf!


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A birthday in the sun! and a great night at Alex’s



I had been a little worried about spending my birthday away from my family and friends, especially on this special occasion of my quarter centenary celebration. But I have to say I genuinely had a great time. See, living in London, November is usually the time of frosty cold weather, and more recently, snowy. So it was nice for a change to be in an environment where I could wake up on the morning of my birthday, put on a bathing suit and go swimming in the sea, without anticipating a painful frostbite!


So this year, Carole has planned a weekend at Hamilton beach, reserving the beach huts at Samso’s (If you’re coming to SL, and would like to spend a few nights on the beach, Samso’s is well worth a try. Great location, affordable prices, good food… okay, I’m starting to sound like an infomercial!).

On Saturday afternoon, courtesy of Sam, we drove to the beach to meet with the weekending party of VSO vols and NGO friends. I had an absolutely amazing time, swimming, lying on the beach, taking pictures, helping to put together a Hobie 16 Catamaran… (don’t get too impressed; knowing squat about boats, my idea of helping was pulling ropes, unfolding the mast, slotting pins in the right place and tilting my head to one side with a wise-ish look on my face, while saying thoughtfully, ‘yes, that looks about right’. At least I now know what a shroud is!)


In the evening, we had a wonderful dinner of skewered barracuda and sweet potato chips and I received a birthday song and a pineapple cake. No, an actual pineapple with a lit candle on top and biscuit pieces crumbled over the top. As someone who is not a massive fan of actual cake, this was a prize and a half! We then ended the night by the campfire. I stayed up until the wee hours, captivated by the soothing impression of the burning flames on my senses.

I woke up on my birthday to the sound of the crashing waves (amazing!) and immediately put on my bathing suit and went for a quick morning swim, followed by breakfast. Coming home on the Sunday, even I had to admit that I had out-swum myself, spending over an hour an a half in the sea… so as soon as I got home, I fell into bed for a quick nap.


Later in the evening, we went to an absolutely amazing restaurant by the beach called Alex’s to eat with a few friends. 

So all together, it was a totally enjoyable birthday, and I really appreciate all of those who celebrated it with me. We all know how I am about birthdays, so thanks for indulging me, even suggesting more fun activities for next year’s 26 tasks. Also, thanks to you all, I have received the most thoughtful, useful and amusing birthday presents this year, one of which being my very own bistro (below) in the kitchen, where we can now add corned beef hash, spaghetti Bolognese and peanuts to the menu…


Banke xxx

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

And the walls came tumbling down…

There have been a few noticeable changes in Freetown over the past few weeks. There have also been some things which we would have expected to change, but have annoyingly stayed the same! In a way, I feel words won’t do, so I’ll let pictures show tell the story.

What has stayed the same

1. Rainy season turns to dry season… nope, still here… 

See, by the end of September, what we were all expecting was this…

…but instead, what we’ve been having is still a whole load of this…

DSC00892 DSC02319

How annoying right! On that particular day, I had to wade through the mucky water to get to the bank. Not enough antiseptic spray can make that seem ok!


Before I attempted to catch a taxi from the VSO programme office to go to the bank, I called my housemate, saying, ‘I don’t know, I think I’m going to brave it to the bank.’ to which she replied, ‘no, I think what you mean is, you’re about to stupid it to the bank!’

She was quite right!


DSC0267612. Yep, you guessed, there is still a lot of traffic… and yes, there are still a few unpleasant smells you have to endure sitting in a hot poda, and yes we’re still taking the exciting route down the hills of Freetown!


What has changed

DSC02679 1. The most dramatic change which all Freetonians can attest to is the widening of Wilkinson Road. Okay so at the moment, its more of reducing the walls to rubble and possibly destroying the livelihoods of shop owners and street sellers (even though, I have this uncanny feeling that the street sellers are quite accustomed to being moved, and so will find a new spot to sell their produce before the diggers move in!).

A couple of weeks ago, this scene was eerily reminiscent of the aftermath of civil unrest, something all too familiar to the history of Sierra Leone. I DSC02691have to applaud the workers on their efforts however, it has returned to looking like the Peaceful Salone I know! The rubble is being cleared at a speedy rate, workers are ACTUALLY working! and the roads actually looks like they might have a fighting chance of being finished by the given deadline.

See, the plan is to widen the roads in Lumley, and also complete the extension of Wilkinson road from 2 lanes (or 4-5 lanes depending on whether you define it using the road traffic rules or from the lawless Freetonian drivers point of view) to 4 lanes in time for Sierra Leone’s 50th Anniversary of Independence, led by the Chinese railway construction group. The idea is to reduce the traffic and congestion going into town, which is a good thing, since it means a 15 minute journey will no longer take an hour! Also, there is a hopeful possibility that they will put in pavements, meaning we won’t have to fear for our legs or life when walking down the road, which we currently share with cars, trucks, lorries and believe it or not, mangy dogs!

a jim

Jimmy the Chimp from the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary says hello!

Well worth a trip if you ever visit Freetown!

Till Next time,

Banke xoxox