So it was not much of a surprise to find out when I got back in the dry season that most of the resident project team had made Franco’s a regular spot to hang out. About ten of us travelled down in convoy, there were no problems finding the turn off in the light and when we entered the compound in the full sunlight it was like I was in a different world. It was now bustling with several families, the kids running in amongst the bushes. There were groups of young people, obviously aid workers of one sort or another. Some more affluent Sierra Leonean families were there too and we were lucky to find a couple of free tables.
We set up on the beach around a couple of pulled together plastic tables and we ferreted around the compound for enough plastic chairs. I sat down on mine which promptly sank eighteen inches into the sand, buckled and tipped me onto the ground. Any attempt at cool beach behaviour was now lost. We ordered some food and I took a beer and wandered around. The restaurant and main house of the hotel was sat on a small artificial spit of land built on a lagoon. One the east side the mud flats extended out naturally into a patch of mangroves, on the inside there had been some dredging of the sand which made a slight harbour from which both fishing and pleasure boats with shallow drafts could nestle. In front of the beach was a large estuary that curved back on itself before discharging in the sea a couple of hundred metres away from us. At the moment the lagoon had a fair amount of water in it and only a few more adventurous people were wading out across to the far side where there seemed to be a high bank of sand dunes.
So we ate lunch and chatted and joked, fell asleep , sun bathed and relaxed. It was a good day after all the hardships of living up in Fintonia and the work we had done the previous week. We observed a few people swimming out from the jetty, a couple of locals passed by with dug out fishing boats to inspect their nets up the river. All the time the tide was retreating and more of the sand became exposed. At one point a large group of young guys all in the same style of red t-shirt but dressed in various shorts, boxers or briefs, energetically ran across the largest emergent sand bank. They did acrobatics, tossed a football around and fooled around with each other before heading out over the sand dunes.
Stevan had a wild idea to go and find another place he had been told about on the development worker network. It was called Franco’s which to be honest seemed a strange name for somewhere in Sierra Leone. He had vague instructions for how to get there – it was in the Sussex area down that peninsula coastline. Stevan was a savvy South African. He had only been established in Freetown for about a month when I arrived but had established a small network of reliable drivers to get him around and one of his main guys turned up at my apartment. The driver had already collected Ezra from his hotel and Stevan from his apartment up the street from me and we drove through the usual mix of traffic in the dark and wet of Freetown. The centre of Lumley was chaotic, the Chinese were trying to build their dual carriageway through a thriving market place which even at this hour was throbbing with activity. Once out of town progress was still slow. This taxi was an series of metal sheets held together by the rust, so to preserve its longevity, the driver would go at barely 10 miles an hour and drive round every pothole. In the dark the journey was interminable – we got mouthed off at by a herd of Boers who tailgated us with full beams then shouted obscenities at us as they zipped off in front leaving us in a splatter of mud.
Stevan tried to spot where our destination was in the gloom. We saw a sign on the right hand side of the road which said “Francos, 800m”. This was very encouraging and we crept along the right side of the highway looking out for a second sign. But we ended up in Sussex village itself and Stevan declared that we’d gone too far – it was supposed to be on the Freetown side about a kilometre from Sussex. Now, being a geographer I always have problems with directions which tell you to do something a kilometre before a town. We came back along the road and ended up by the sign again. This time I noticed in the head lights that while we had seen the “Francos, 800m” quite clearly, the small arrow pointing off the road was almost invisible. Bit of a doh moment.
We bumped down a very ill made road which appeared to be heading for the centre of a village, but eventually we saw white fluorescent lights and a big gate set in a whitewashed wall. After parking up we had a wander into the compound. All was deserted. It was after all the wet season and while we had been driving along it had started raining once again. But the lights were on and the tables were set in a grass thatch roofed restaurant open on three sides to the elements. We ordered a few beers and some fish and while waiting for it to be cooked up we took a brief look at the resort. Although pitch dark out the front we realised the restaurant opened out on to a beach in a sheltered bay. To the left was a large old house which was “Florence’s Resort”. Florence and Franco were a married couple and you could tell that one looked after the restaurant and the other the hotel side. Indeed this old Italian grandfather type came out of the kitchen while we were there and sat at a table at the back of the restaurant. A few other people did arrive while we ate but even though the atmosphere was subdued, Stevan took an immediate likening to the location. He was a rather manic man to say the least, always talking so fast and on diverse topics it was a struggle to keep up with him, but you could see the bustle and hustle in Freetown could be very wearing and Franco’s seemed like the perfect oasis for him.