Monday, 29 January 2007

From the sub-machine gun to the ridiculous

As expected by the old hands, Freetown demonstrated that it is a city that has normalised violence. Things calmed imperceptibly. Atsons opened unusually on Sunday to recoup its lost earnings from the day before. I drove past it on Sunday lunchtime and all was exactly as it had been on Friday, and every other day. I woke up on Sunday morning much the same as many Sundays here; tired and hungover as all hell. I said I wouldn't talk about the social life, but I'm going to because it demonstrates that no matter what, we conceited expats will still have a good time. And that Saloneans will too.

On Saturday night, a friend’s birthday dinner turned into a viewing of the Borat film, which had us in drunken tears. We followed this up by putting in an appearance at a house party in time to move onto a club with them. At 2am, true to usual scheduling, local ABCTV turned up with Sierra Leone’s most famous singer, Emerson. This was the man who made it acceptable to voice political dissatisfaction through music by writing catchy, down-to-earth tunes people can’t resist dancing to. In a country where the press barely scrutinise government, it’s left to the rockstars to expose corruption and rant on behalf of the voiceless populace. I’m a big fan. I had mum and dad dancing to Emerson’s ‘Tutu Party’ on Christmas day. So, naturally I grabbed a friend’s camera and drunkenly took photos of the event. Possibly a little close to the great man, as I managed to get myself on telly at the same time, the arm of the presenter round me as we both waved to his camera. Only in Salone. Similarly only here would I find myself at 4.30am at Paddys, the city’s most famous club, singing along to Beyonce with a devastatingly beautiful Salonean woman, who was certainly there for business reasons, and was utterly charming. She was warm, fun, unashamed, and incredibly classy, even in a tight backless dress. Somewhere along the way a man cut in to our group and I never saw her again. Something told me she could handle herself.

This is more than I could say for myself on Sunday, getting out of bed at midday, barely able to stand in the shower without leaning on the wall. There was only one way to go. The beach. A friend drove us out there and we joined a big group who had managed to get up more successfully than me. There’s not much to say about Bureh town beach, except that it’s beautiful. This photo does it more justice than my words ever will. It’s the surf beach and yesterday the waves were rough. We go to the beach to escape the smell of the rubbish-strewn streets. To get away from the heat and the hawkers and breath out in the sunshine. Few of us ever try to get a tan. The sand is powdery and crunches like snowdrifts underfoot. At Bureh on a Sunday, Saloneans gather to dance to huge amplifiers belting out Emerson, Daddy Saj and Jimmy B.

As it started to get late, we drove back to the city. I watched the sunset from Leicester Peak, the city’s highest point. At the parking spot the US embassy had erected a tent, installed a cook and were having a barbeque. Of course. So we parked a bit lower sat on the roof to clear the treeline. Below the city shimmered in the late evening heat. The sea and the horizon became one in the absence of cloud to punctuate the skyline. From up there the city looked peaceful and lovely. The hills around Freetown, bunched with tall green trees, balanced out the brown of the houses. The awful sanitation, broken and burnt buildings, ragged children and bubbling unrest were invisible at that height.

As Graham Greene was first to notice, with dusk the city turned purple. The sun glowed progressively more orange, and then slowly disappeared. The moon came up behind us and a single star appeared as if on cue above the valley. It got chilly and we left. The Americans were still eating.

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