Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dispatch from Sierra Leone - Saturday Before Departure

First a correction on the founding of Freetown. The information in the previous post, that it was founded for slaves emancipated from this country, is incorrect. I misunderstood my guide, I think. Today we traveled by boat up the Sierra Leone River to Bunce Island from which slaves were shipped to the Americas and the Caribbean. On the boat ride we were shown a video that included some history of Sierra Leone, and according to it, Freetown came to be when runaway slaves from Novia Scotia arrived in Sierra Leone, around 1792. However, the printed materials we were permitted to view at Bunce Island say that Freetown was founded by British philanthropists for repatriation to Africa of freed slaves in 1787.

Please forgive the confusion. I imagine that all three of these views are true in their own way.

Bunce Island is a must. The Gullah people on the south coast of our United States trace their roots to Africans gathered on Bunce Island for shipping for sale. The slaves from the rice countries were particularly valuable, hence the rice country of Sierra Leone being a primary shipping point. The United States rice industry owes its success to expertize of slaves exported from the rice countries of Africa.

For fun, I have two photos of monkey paw prints in the sand where we landed. Another debarkation and embarkation requiring a two-man carry across the water from or to the boat. A breakdown on the way back to Freetown - the inboard sucked in a piece of floating plastic and was disabled for about an hour, which included a side trip to another island to take on water for the engine after it was fixed and cooled down. The children on the island began to cheer when they saw our boat was coming to them! I didn't see any monkeys, but I certainly heard one shriek. All the birds were hiding. The place is rife with cotton trees. Unripened mangoes half chewed by monkeys littered the ground at the ruins of the island castle. And, my favorite story, a young boy helped me down two steep slopes in our tour of the island, so I tried to slip him 2000 Leones (less than a dollar American I'm afraid but worth two bowls of rice) but the ancient indigenous caretaker who was our tour guide saw it and I am assured he took the money from the child after having himself been paid a great sum of money for taking us around.

So, some odds and ends to end this phase of my reports from Sierra Leone. The boat rides, both to Banana Island in the dugout with the 15 hp outboard, and the speedboat to Bunce, were nice diversions. I love being on the water. The lunches, most of which were in local restaurants in Freetown, and home cooking at the motel in Waterloo, gave us an opportunity for indigenous foods. You must try olele sometime, and definitely groundnut stew (if you like it hot! They will not tone down the heat.) We will take the ferry to Lungi airport tomorrow at 4 pm for our midnight flight to Heathrow. (The next ferry will not be until Monday - too late!) We'll have a long wait in the airport, but I am assured there is a restaurant on the second floor, and one duty free shop. I have a detective story to keep me occupied.

Newlin, my BP, wrote that I must be exhausted. I am. Even the days that were listed as relaxation were exhausting. And I fear I won't have much time to recover when I return. But in the end it is going to prove to have been worth it. Even though last night and this morning, I couldn't wait to go home, I now find I wish there were time to go back and do a couple of things or see a couple of places again. And I never did get on the beach to watch up close the fish nets being hauled in. Alas, there is always something left on the plate from which one has to walk away.

Once I get home and read through what I did write about, I can begin to fill in the blanks of what I did not write about. For now, this is your correspondent in the field, signing off until our return to the States - on behalf of myself and my companions, Kathy Dies and John Sutton, Peace from us to you.


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