Today is my seventh day in Salone… Stephen has left for North America, and I’m officially on my own.
Except, I’m not.
I’ve got 5 million Sierra Leoneans around to help me out. As a general rule here, people want to help in any way they can. Of course there are grumps like anywhere in the world, but if you need to get somewhere all you need to do is ask on the street how to get there. Someone will help find you a taxi, or tell you where to wait for one – all the while asking how you are, where you are from and why you are in Salone. I’m not nervous about getting around the city myself, since I know if I get lost there will be bystanders willing to help (as evidenced by the crazy okada driver when I was going up to Fourah Bay College). There aren’t a lot of foreigners here (3000 call it home, plus the people like me who are visiting), and certainly there are very, very few tourists… Sierra Leoneans are fiercely proud of their beautiful country, and my impression is that they want to make sure I enjoy my time here as much as possible.
Speaking of Fourah Bay College, they cancelled the election… after the votes were cast. The suspicion is that the white camp (backed by the current national ruling party, the APC) had lost to the black camp (backed by the opposition party, the SLPP) – again, remembering that the colours have nothing to do with skin tone. (I know nothing about the intricacies of politics in Salone, but I do know that both parties are ideologically very similar… so I was pulling for the black camp because they were running a woman for president – and it would have been revolutionary if she had won.) In general I’ve heard that the tides are turning against the APC on a national level, so it’s no surprise that they would try to do everything they could to ‘nullify’ an election where their proxy party had lost. However, as Adam said, “Can you IMAGINE if they just CANCELLED an election in Canada or the U.S. after we’d all already voted?” Before they officially cancelled the results of the vote, there were riots on the campus – stabbings and fights. Stephen got a call from one of his students who was stuck there, as it’s on a big mountain and any way up or down had been blocked off. He told her to keep her back to a wall and try to stay away from crowds.
I was speaking with Stephen’s girlfriend, Mary, who is from Salone – and she was saying that they know that the government and elections are corrupt, but they also know what war feels like. To her, and to many other Saloneans, it is more valuable to them to stay safe and live their life quietly than cause a stir and re-live the 1990s. Sad, but so, so understandable.
I just finished my first research interview, with a young journalist at one of the local private TV stations – which has been off the air for two months because of transmission problems. I have to do about 12-15 interviews to have a sufficient sample size for my thesis, so being able to say “one down!” is actually a big step in the right direction. This afternoon I’m hoping to interview the editor of one of the independent newspapers, but we’ll see if he’s free.
I had my first Freetown dance club experience last night – and I mean the REAL Freetown. There are plenty of ex-pat bars along the beach, Ace’s and Paddy’s to name a few. They’re mostly owned by Lebanese men and made for white people and richer locals. I haven’t been to any of them yet, but from what I hear, they are basically music, pool tables and lots of prostitutes. They’re ‘fancy’ for these surroundings but back home they’d be considered a dive (aside from the ocean view).
No, last night Adam and I went to Congo’s. It’s owned by the brother of one of the guys we’ve met here, Usman, and it is where the not-rich Sierra Leoneans go to party. Hidden in behind the local food market in amongst the improvised housing off the main road, you have to navigate unlit paths that wind through garbage piles and over open sewers. The club is built of corrugated tin and rough hewn wooden poles – it’s maybe 30 feet by 30 feet, with the dance floor spilling out onto the hard-packed earth outside. There is no bar, no servers – just a vendor or two outside selling cheap beer and one-shots of gin in little plastic packets (sort of like a juice box of liquor). You can barely hear the hum of the generator over the pumping African hip-hop, and every time a new song comes on the patrons cheer… doesn’t matter what song it is. The air is thick with sweat and smoke from all kinds of substances. The club was about 85% men (in fact I was told I was only the second white woman to ever come), and many of the girls there were ‘working’ – apparently you can buy a good time with one of these women for 5000 leones (less than CDN$2). It was depressing and uplifting at the same time to experience the abject poverty of these near-children selling their bodies for food – but at the same time, to experience the reverie and joyousness of the Sierra Leoneans living it up on the dance floor.
It’s 2:10 now… time to venture out for lunch and try to track down that editor for an interview… as well as bargain someone for a towel. I brought a towel with me, but one isn’t enough here – with three showers a day, by bedtime it’s not useful for anything at all.