In village after village we saw the red crosses and steadily increasing numbers on the houses – I seem to remember it got to over 500. North of Kamakwie it was only a long term plan to widen the road, but instead we got evidence of another change that had occurred since my last visit. Near the ferry across the Little Scarcies River, there was a massive truck piled high with thick tree trunks. The driver was being assisted by a couple of others to load more massive timber in the vehicle… he was planning to drive it back towards Freetown that evening. I’d seen parts of the road had deteriorated even further from what I remember already. I speculated what more damage this vehicle would do. I also wondered how these huge trucks got through the occasional drains, or crossed the strange little bridges that were frequent along the northern section of the road. They were basically a large tube covered in a square of concrete. I think at one time the top of the block would be level with the road, but the road either side tended to erode away, and vehicles had to bump their way up on to these bridges and bounce down the other side. Not so bad in a light 4WD but a nightmare for a heavily laden lorry.
These lorries had not been going up and down this route last time I had been here, but the government had reversed a policy that allowed logging concessions in the forest. This was not good news for our project. We were trying to find ways to work with the communities to conserve and regenerate the remaining precious Guinea Forest. Our work was slow and incremental. Compared to the loggers who came in with their chainsaws and heavy machinery could clear the best and most precious gallery forest for these gigantic logs a million times faster than our efforts to regrow trees. It was quite depressing to see before we had even reached Fintonia to start out own work.
Sunset on the Scarcies River
Timber Lorries plundering the forest
Busy scenes at the ferry
It was sunset as we got on the river bank and the serene atmosphere calmed the spirits; we waited for the ferry to come over from the north bank, with a ancient blue tractor aboard.
Compared to my previous journey to Fintonia, we had a very simple trip. It had only been eight months since I had last been in the area but I was shocked at the changes. Somehow you believe these rural areas of Africa never change but here was the evidence against it. A new road was being created “for development” through to the regional town in the north, Kamakwie. On the long drive from the central town of Makeni, we saw where clearance of the bush had already taken place; usually along the course of the old road. Our road passed through countless villages, which had weatherworn but solid houses with verandahs, and many villages had thriving communities and resources; the water pumps were along the road, there were community centres, mosques and churches, many little stores. But the plan seemed to be to drive the road through the centre of these villages instead of making bypasses. They were condemning every house in its path; portentous red crosses marked the ones to be destroyed; and ominous numbers which gradually increased from the Makeni end of the new road. It was astonishing that anyone was contemplating ripping apart these communities for the sake of the people travelling through. How long these villages had stood here I could only guess at – certainly the houses looked 40,50 ,60 years old, maybe some were older; and maybe they were built on previous structures that had stood there much longer. How come they would destroy this? Why not bend the road around one side of a village or the other. The only downside to my solution seemed to be that some good farmland would be lost, but the alternative was that the village would be permanently split in two or completely relocated. I’d seen the results of the first on the highways closer to Freetown. Four Wheel Drives and heavy trucks screamed along these tarred roads and residents took their lives in their own hands every time they tried to get from one side to the other. And their livestock often did not make it at all. What it did for human health living next to all the fumes was not worth thinking about. To relocate, though, was to lose the benefits of the existing location. These villages were often chosen as they were near a good source of water, the soils were better around them (indeed had been improved by years of cultivation) and they were probably situated so the worst of the rainy season was avoided. What would the new locations be like?
On the road north