A random entry today, the day after a national holiday. Yesterday we celebrated the Prophet’s birthday, later this week we celebrate Easter. The finest thing about Sierra Leone is its religious tolerance. And what better demonstration than this week. Everyone gets a three day week, regardless of their religion!
Last week we had a rare moment of culture, the US graciously sent us a jazz band. Terribly decent of them. We sat in the grounds of Forah Bay College, raised above Freetown. Hawks circled in easy curiosity overhead and the sun sank into the green hills around us. Ah culture. I realised how I missed it only when it was there in front of me. We swayed to the Charlie Porter Quartet. They were seriously good so I’m going to break a rule and not only name-check them, but recommend you look them up if you’re ever in New York. And if you do, tell them I sent you. I got to know Charlie quite well.
Atmospheric as that concert was, it was eclipsed by the journey home. My colleague and I drove out using a route we didn’t know and ended up surrounded by taxis and people in the east end of the city. I got boxed in and was being waved back by a taxi driver when I tapped the car behind. The impact was low, but the Landrover I was in is like a tank and though I thought it was undamaged at the time, it seems I broke the other car’s light. As a man stood alongside shouting at me to pull over, I could hear the swell of noise behind the car as people began to set the world to rights, loudly. Anna was shaking; I was trying not to appear as terrified as I was becoming. It was dark. The road ahead was clear. I looked at Anna, looked ahead, put my foot down and floored it. We ended up lost on the Kissy Road, heading further east. As if in some bad cop drama we did one u-turn and overtake after another to find our bearings and lose the driver of the damaged car (who wasn’t following us). Finally I spotted a slum I once visited, and got us into Ecowas Street and then the main drag. I’ve never been so grateful to see our guards opening the gates of the compound.
On Tuesday last week the driver turned up with the police. Fortunately, Inspector Sesay was a rational, practical man. We emphasised our good reputation and our desire to clear it up quickly. I physically shrank in the chair to demonstrate how small and young I was, and how the dark unknown east had been too much for my sensibilities. The driver was a decent guy who just wanted his car fixed. Inspector Sesay wanted to let us sort it out ourselves. I kept my license. He joked as he left that his call sign was ‘Charlie Mobile’. I laughed hollowly, warming to him mainly for his leniency. The next day the other driver returned with a receipt from the garage and I handed over a brick of cash, about £50. He asked me how work was going, and I him, and it was all very convivial. It could have been a lot worse.
Those of you who know me well will know that the last few months have been tough. That the party seemed lacklustre for me. That I questioned whether I’d really thrive here any more. The dry season has been unusually dark and empty. Last week as grey clouds arrived, signalling the creeping arrival of the rainy season, that darkness lifted. Maybe I’ll be singing in the rain after all…