Freetown to Monrovia

History is history but I think it can answer some questions and can also determine one’s direction. Sierra Lone and Liberia finish 20th and start 21st century with down side of human; war and brutality. But also emerge with new optimism and hope most notable; First elected female president in Africa. Ellen Johnson Sieleaf.

20140119-170104.jpgAs I cycle to Freetown I was curious to see the remnants of decade long civil war, many have fade away with time and the city is booming. Traffic congestion and over crowded small part of peninsula, lack of roads, running water, electricity, etc. Partly explain that while others were moving forward someone here was moving backward. This will be more vivid in Liberia, electric polls, roads and others showed that once there were infrastructures here.

20140119-170215.jpgOne of the account which bring the stories of what other called ”Senseless War” and it madness close to our imagination is from a former child soldier; Ishmael Beah ‘a long way gone’. In this memoir book Ishmael tell the story from the time when his was just a boy in the village of Mattru Jong (which I had chance to pass through), the time things where normal to the time when he will lose his family and forced to become frontline soldier while he was still 13 years old.

Stories still exist in the rural areas I cycle through, I chart with formal child soldiers who are now in the late 20s, old folks, etc. The most effected were venerable rural areas and poor, the victims were uniformed youth, children and woman. War took long time and the madness reach the peak because partly was fueled with drugs, it was hard to tell from soldiers and rebels as most turned into groups of looters and reapers.

Sierra Leone is beautiful country of many rivers, white sand beach, mountains and forest. This natural beauty added with indomitable spirit of it people. Majority of Sierra Leones are kind, friendly and welcoming just like they have never see or experience other side of human character.

It one of the former British colon which I find to preserve well the link. The name of places are like; Water Loo, Kent, York, Liecester, New England, etc.

20140119-170426.jpgThe answers are often ‘Yes Sir’, ‘No Sir’. And most asked question; What is you mission in Sierra Leone Sir?

I was fascinated with their Krio language; broken English with drop of French words and African languages. ‘How de bodi ?, De bodi is fine…!’ that is the greeting goes.

20140119-170308.jpgThank to my host friend and family, Paul Lamin for trying to teach me without much success.

Most of the things are in the bottom rug of moving up, many young people are in the streets with luck of education and essential skills they still have hard time to make their way into economy with limit opportunities.
I was luck to present to young professionals of Environmental Protection Agency, their questions demonstrate the commitment and enthusiasm. One of the thing I will remember this agency is a treatment of proper meal. I can’t think of other country with such simple food which could also be descried as luck of food and passion to prepare it. Most of the meals are boiled rice, cassava sometime mixed with sweet potatoes and plantain. This is saved with ponded cassava leaves or potatoes leaves with piece of fish, plenty of palm oil and hot paper.

….in the jungle…
Out of Freetown I team up with Matias, Danish dude bound to South Africa. After 50km along the coast we were to see if we could hitch the boat to the other side across the bay or make couple of hundred kilometer detour to the town of Bo then down to Liberia.

20140119-165843.jpgWe arrived at the conspicuous port due to the crowd of people and shakers settlements around. Before we though twice about the ideal we shuffled into open wood boat, I was bit hesitant but Mat’s bike was already on board. All the pushing and jostling was like the boat will leave next minutes. Before I remove my shoes so I could walk the depth of almost chest size to reach the boat, a muscles dude offer to lift me up on his shoulder. I though it was kind of joke but the man was serious, of course it is not a free service. It fun looking at him lifting up huge mama.

Arrived at the boat I was shocked with the number of people and cargo. This shock remain with me for the entire 2 hours and half trip which seem to be like two year of my journey. It took about 3 hours of shouting, jostling and engineering to switch on the small yamaha engine. We venture into immense ocean, I didn’t had courage to watch and enjoy the white sand beaches decorated with tall palms and green mountains on the back ground with dotes of colorful villagers. Roughly there were more than 60 people with cargo on the boat, the wooden fleet was so deep one could touch the water. I sat down barry on my book avoiding to look around the blue ocean scared that I might spot the wave like those I have seen in the other coast which could easily cover all of us.

The boat could only make it to 15km/h, it greet luck that the ocean was calm that day. I was so reveled when I saw land but my jubilation was when I set a feet on it and regain my sense of confident.

Chiefs…
At Shenge village we were taken to paramount chief, we were instructed to sit on thatch shelter join with other old mans. I was surprised when old lady emerge from the house we were asked to stand up. For the first time I met female chief. She didn’t bother us much, guess she didn’t had much energy. She offer us banana and instruct that we shown place to camp. If were not lot of formality and old man hang around I wished to have more personal chart with ”her majesty” How did you become a chief? How is to be a chief in this culture where woman not only can not enjoy the same privilege but still has long way to change their mentality to realize the equality.

This will be the same formality for every village in Sierra Leone as foreigner we had to report to chief especial when wanted to spend night in the village. Sierra Leone still maintain chiefdom, it said that chiefs are elected but it can be for life time as it mix of tradition and modern democracy. Most of the chiefs they were very nice to use. I find it interest to talk with them, all of those I met got good education, some have lived in America, some saved a good position in the government and now a chief position seem to be retirement. It seem that there is big gap between their people who are majority illiterate living in the isolated villages in the forest, ocean or river side. Most didn’t suffer with these villagers especial in the time of war. The swagger, respect and fair to these leaders I think it can hinder democracy.

20140119-170954.jpgThe road to Liberian border was quite challenge, there are plenty of roads as there isolated small villages. Most of them are like footpath with so many rivers and creeks. Moto cycle is only fast link. The think forest is rolling terrain. It hot and humid which suck water from the body.

20140119-170702.jpgIn the diamond mining area road get better but huge mining trucks constantly steer dust which cause temporary blindness.

In this road I develop worst saddle sour ever for last 2 years, when the blisters bust contracted with sweat I couldn’t seat neither walk. It was quite painful to try to pedal because there were few options.

Tommy George…

20140119-170859.jpgAt one evening in the village of Maselelo contemplating of place to sleep, Mat was feeling the bottles while I was waiting in the edge of the village. I engaged in the conversation with a young boy was standing there watch the river, I asked him about direction and distance. He spoke very clear with good English which is not common in these remote villages. I went on to ask him where he study. I come to find out that the boy who sound quite intelligent was in secondary school but following the death of his father last year he was now out of school unable to finish two years to high school. He is living with his grand mother. Knowing the harshness of this place, I felt the weight of this boy life. What are hopes and chances for this young man in this remote village ? Look around his grand mother thatch house and small field of cassava and ground nuts. The distance from the last village and the distance to next village with rivers to cross, she can not make much profit if luckily she can sell some harvest.

Tommy, 13 years old. His annual school fees is 200, 000 (leones) US $ 46, this is lot of money for people who are leaving under $1 per day. I decide that I will give the boy my food money.Thanks to Mat who decide to share and contribute for 100,000 (leones). This make use run out of cash in the last villages but glad to see the Tommy back to school. Hope I will hear back from him sometime or my friends of in Freetown can help out.

Liberia….

20140119-171221.jpgEven though I was too tired and with additional pain of saddle sour, I find it surprising and fascinating as we arrive at Liberia boarder. It was like arriving int the lost state of America not only because of flag but the immigration police uniform, military and most notable; the language. Till right now I have had time to understand Liberia English, it is half way american accent spiced with jamaican slang.

Who said this country never colonialized? It was America colon with Ameico-Liberia through American Colonization Society from 1820. Indigenous become citizen 1904, possibly that what make it second oldest modern African state after Ethiopia.

A day cycling from the border (137km) through new villages and few war ruins, tarmac road brought us to Monrovia. Arriving in Monrovia a small city/town but dense populated, It was like entering into Hollywood live scene. Broken buildings, houses with tall walls and barber wire on top, military barracks, slum duelers, lot of UN vehicle racing around, etc. All this at small space.

We were luck to find home in the middle of what is said to be among of expensive African cities, they say this is due to lot of aid workers, huge number of UN staffs, mining companies, etc. Thank you so much Kate and Ivan for the help and share your diversity experience from the farms in South Africa to all the way up here.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:31 am by Marianne | Permalink

    Dear Elvis, Since the days you stayed in my house in Emmen (Holland), i follow your journey with much interest. Thank you for the stories and information. Allways nice to read.
    Now almost in Ghana, where i was traveling with my doughter in 2004. I loved it so much. Good luck and stay healthy!!
    Love, Marianne.

  2. Posted February 3, 2014 at 3:09 pm by Norman Robson | Permalink

    Hi I have just read with interest your information .
    I was last in Sierra Leone in 1977 I have to say there seems to have been little advance in the Rural areas to the people living tough conditions which is sad . I worked at Sierra Rutile and later on the Road construction from Monrovia to Bomi Hills . Have a safe trip and take care i may be in Monrovia in March ?
    Regards Norm

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