Into the Jungle – The last village in Sierra Leone

We had parked by a different style of construction.  It was made up of open wooden frames in a square and a huge roof made of grass coming to an open point.  It was used as a meeting room by the community and we squeezed in to the space.  We waited a while for the chief and his elders to congregate then had a brief meeting looking at the issues in Sanya.  We were not to go on a tour of the town, but we were to be given lunch here and from a nearby house huge plates and bowls of rice, chicken curry, fish stew, okra, came into this meeting room.  We ate with the elders and then made our farewells as we still had to cross the border.

Sanya is the last village in Sierra Leone, and now I looked more carefully, had some of the trappings, albeit on a small scale, of a border settlement.  There was steady traffic in both directions but not just the usual bikes and motorbikes, but more heavily laden taxis and trucks.  One of our vehicles did not have the permit to cross into Guinea, and Hugo had to return to Freetown to catch a plane home.  So there was a lot of reorganisation of the luggage.  Haba’s STEWARD car roof rack was piled even higher and the tarpaulin carefully tied over the top as the rain appeared to be returning.  While this was going on I was once more observing the village life around me. During the meeting and lunch, the sides of the meeting room were filled with dozens of pairs of eyes as the children of Sanya came to look at the visitors – I felt even more in a cage than in Sumata.  When the feast was over, there was a lot of spare rice and sauce.  The main cook stood on the step of her veranda and ladled out spoon after spoon to the children who mobbed around her.  They were not especially under or malnourished, but the opportunity to get some extra calories and different tastes was not to be missed, and if you saw your friend getting some, why not you?

But for some of the kids they were torn; do they continue to watch these weird outsiders in their funny clothes taking pictures on little machines and talking in strange languages, or do you go for the ladle.  Some tried to do both, looking at us in one direction while their hands were stretched out in the other, i.e. towards the rice dish.

As far as you can go – The power of the RMS

Tiny, distant, away from the interaction of so much of the world but with a treasury of jewels to offer up, as well as an insight in how to live simply.  St Helena was a perfect location…. but on its own terms.  I feared the upheaval that the Access Project was to bring.  But knew there were many benefits for the island.  Since my last visit there, the Access Project has moved far beyond the consultation stage – the new port at Rupert’s Bay was put in place, a road etched out of Rupert’s Valley and onto Deadwood Plain to give access for trucks to take heavy plant, materials and supplies up to the airport site (the gate at Jamestown would never had been big enough to get what was needed through, let alone having traffic head up to the east through all the existing settlement in Jamestown and Alarm Forest), the Dry Gut is filled in, the runway built and the terminal building standing.  What will it be like when the tourists and visitors first arrive at the east end of the island and have to drop all the way in to Jamestown, instead of approaching the capital from the sea?

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A runway is here now

 

I know what will change.  The rhythm of the island will never be the same again.  You get used to the quiet week or maybe several weeks when the RMS is away.  And you notice the ramping up of the pace of life when it draws near.  Wholesalers, traders, DIY enthusiasts, all rush down to the customs shed soon after the ship arrives to load up their pickup trucks and take their new supplies away. I saw one time where the process was too rushed.  I was sitting in the National Trust office at the end of my first visit, typing up the proposal we were making to the UK Government, when I heard an almighty crash.  We all rushed out of the office but came to a halt at the front steps, as our way was blocked by pints of yoghurt.  A small truck had picked up a month’s worth of yoghurt cartons, I think it was for Thorpe’s supermarket.  But the driver had not secured the ropes carefully enough round the palettes and as he sped up Main Street they became unstable and the load was spilt right outside the offices.  Fortunately no-one was walking along the pavement there at the time or there would have been some nasty injuries, but as it was there was a sticky mess for some time after this.  And a severe shortage of low calorie desserts for the next month!

Big events often take place on the island when the ship is in.  The same afternoon as the yoghurt spillage, I attended a moment in history.  Tucked away in a gorgeous old stone warehouse where once where electricity on the island was created, is now the island’s museum collection.  Well set out on two floors, it covers key stages in the island’s history – the early sail days, the immigration onto the island from so many nations that gave St Helena its diverse ethnic mix, the incarcerations of Zulu, Boer and of course Napoleon, the old houses and the history of the governors and other key people, the history of electricity and telegraphy, astronomy (Halley set up observatories here in the clear southern skies),  life on the island, the various RMS ships and other visiting craft, and key events.  As well as the large ground floor space there is a first floor terrace with displays.  The problem till that day was that anyone who had trouble with stairs could not visit the top floor.  So I went to see the inaugural journey of the first elevator or lift on the whole of St Helena.  The governor was there, with the bishop, the speaker of the house, the chief clerk,  the head of the National Trust, and the duty RMS captain, who presented a model of the RMS to the museum’s collection.  And the guest of honour was Mrs Thorpe, the matriarch of the Thorp family, in whose house I had been staying.  She took her place on the ground floor, and like an Aged Venus rising from the sea, she emerged to the crowd of dignitaries on the first floor.