Sierra Leone was basking in a perfectly pleasant environment of between 26 and 30 degrees. There were gently refreshing breezes coming in off the Atlantic. The sun was out, and what was more, so were the people. I was heading off to Fintonia within a couple of days of arriving so did not have much time to soak up the atmosphere, but the office team were much more sociable than they had been in the wet season and I was invited to join them at an event on Lumley Beach. We gathered at the car park at the top of the compound and split into two cars, and picked up a couple of others from houses nearby then headed down the hill to the west. The short journey to Lumley would normally take about 20 minutes in the wet season as we picked our way around the potholes, but now we were across the Aberdeen Bridge where I pick up the ferry to the airport in less than ten. True, the Chinese were starting to make progress on a series of dual carriageways which were cutting through the suburbs, but just being able to see where you are going without the windscreen wipers on overdrive sped up the journey no end.
I’d driven along the long strip of Lumley Beach in previous visits but all I had seen was windswept beaches and boarded up bars and restaurants. Now there were twenty or thirty establishments all exposed to the air, their neon lights, lit up menus and tables and chairs on decks made the strip like a holiday resort anywhere. We parked up on the beach side and went through a wooden shack to order some drinks. The air was too stuffy inside the shack so we grouped a bunch of chairs around a table on the beach and settled down to study the menus. The sea was rolling in about twenty metres away and the boom boxes were playing up and down the clubs along the strip. Behind us next to the road an area of the beach had been cordoned off by grass fences. A stage had been put up flanked by walls of speakers. After dinner and a couple of beers we pulled up our chairs into this temporary arena and settled down.
The entertainment was provided by an NGO called “Performers Without Borders”. A few Europeans had teamed up with entertainers from across West Africa and there was a dazzling show of music, dance and skits. Yes the crowd were mainly expats but there was a life and a buzz which I had never before seen in Freetown.