18 September 2010

Walkabout

Since we have all been patiently waiting for school to start many of us decided to get a little R&r by the beach before we hit the classroom. We headed to a hotspot in Sierra Leone called River Number 2 or a.k.a Paradise. It’s where a River, presumably Number 2, meets the Atlantic creating a lagoon. White sandy ocean beach with thatched roofed palva huts, brightly colored long narrow fishing boats resting peacefully on the shore, rolling jungle hills who were often engulfed by low misting clouds to as a backdrop…beautiful. West African Wins Again. We enjoyed a weekend of hanging out on the beach, swimming in the ocean and sitting by a bonfire. The place was pretty quiet probably in part that it’s the wet season and our only enemy was the rain. The down pouring forced Welsh and I to head to Freetown for a day of browsing cassettes and junks. Bur the real story has yet to begin. The events of note came on our journey back to Moyamba.



From Freetown, we took a bush taxi on the spectacularly paved highway to a place called Moyamba Junction. This is a bustling pit stop for most cars head either west or east on the highway. Vendors are selling food, cold drinks and there is usually a ton of people around, especially if your whiteness is impossible to hide. You basically get swarmed but we are used to it by now. At the Junction, Meg and I needed to switch cares and head south on our bumpy jungle road to Moyamba. We approached the drivers inquiring who was heading south. They all jumped when we walked up telling us that it was going to cost 40,000 leones for a trip that is usually around 5,000 leones. They were trying to take advantage and make a few extra leones off the white girls. Fair enough and understandable but I wasn’t going to give in. Well, we were not particularly happy and tried our best to negiotate wit them, always smiling of course. They didn’t budge. So we said fine an din a stubborn, angered defiance and self preservation, we decided to walk. It was early in the day, we had water and bananas, so we headed down the road.


Side note: It’s 22 miles and everyone we passed reminded us of this fact.


Our walkabout turned out to be on big cultural exchange on many levels. Wasn’t it Forrest Gump who ran across America and met a bunch of interesting characters along the way. The first was a bicycle riding guy we have affectionately named Reggae Charles. He is a singer/songwriter who was inspired by our desire to walk and said he wanted to write a reggae song about the “walking white girls”.


As is the nature of news, its travels fast and in our case, it traveled faster then we could walk. The okada drivers (motorcycle taxis) thought there was no way we were going to make to Moyamba. I have a sneaky feeling the told everyone they came across. As we walked into village after village, all the children would be waiting alone the edge of the road for us. They were enthusiastic fans and often walked with us for a few miles out of each villages. We would greet and wave to all the elderly sitting on their verandas. Getting out of the village left us with the mahogany dirt road canopied by the brilliant green palms and jungle foliage. Sometimes, I can’t believe this is my life right now and the utter beauty of Sierra Leone is something that never ceases to amaze me.


Somewhere between our fifth or sixth village, we came across a group of ladies literally singing and dancing their way down the road. And, of course, when they saw Welsh and I, they only sang louder and danced quicker. Naturally, the only thing to do was dance back at them. The group of 15 and our group of two danced towards each other, merged to have a short dance off in the middle of the road, both groups smiled and departed their respected was, leaving with smiles and not many words exchanged.


We enjoyed the peaceful nature of the walk, with the silence only interrupted by the sounds of birds, frogs and monkeys. Yep, saw some wild monkeys jumping and playing in a near by tree along the road. Sadly, several miles before we had seen a dead one strapped to a man’s bicycle. Depressing but the circle of life, I guess. The silence wasn’t always broken by things we were expecting. The sound of children swimming in a stream was something not entirely rare and we were anticipating to be swarmed by excited naked children. However, when we came to the stream, we were awkwardly shocked to find a group of naked full grown men. Meg and I tried our best to hide the surprise in our faces and politely waved and quickly vacated the scene.


Our walk wouldn’t have been complete without a couple drenching rains, again it is the rainy season. My body welcomed the clear water as I really hadn’t properly bathed in about three days or washed my beach hair for five. At about mile 14 or 15, a taxi stopped along the road where we were walking. The nice driver had heard we were walking and saved us two seats in his car and only charged us 4000 leones to take us the last miles to Moyamba. The generosity and welcoming nature of Sierra Leoneans still sometimes catches me off guard. My feet were especially happy for the ride and we made it to Moyamba safe and sound.


When I think back on our walkabout, I feel it was an incredible way to see the region in which I will be living for two years, greet those in surrounding villages and of course a little physical activity doesn’t hurt either. So I think I owe a thank you to the drivers who made me mad because one amazing journey came out of it. When you don’t have wheels, go ahead and walka, walka.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Alison, This is amazing. I am so impressed by your adventure. I am a Sierra Leonean born and bread in the provincial surburbs of Bo and Pujehun in the south but I have never walked for over ten miles in my life. You have done 15 in a strange Country. I like your courage and boldness. I am glad that you enjoyed your walk...saw beautiful scenes including a life monkey,naked people etc. Congrats!!

Moses M. Fawundu
Financial Specialist
Peace Corps Sierra Leone

Chrystal Fleharty said...

Alli,

I guess those taxi drivers did not know what they were up against with a stubborn midwest farm girl! How long did it take you to walk almost 15 miles?? I'm glad that it was such a good (but unexpected) adventure. We think about you often and love to read your blog!

Stay safe,

Chrystal

Tim said...

Hi Alli, I must say I was both soooo... incredibly amused and encouraged to read your post. I leave in less than three weeks to spend three months walking throughout the entire country!! Oh yeah, I'll be wondering through your neck of the woods as well.. ;) (check it out at www.walkinglion.org).

Anyway, love the defiance!! Strength in character has no substitute.. enjoy...

tim

Anonymous said...

Wow, Allison, what can we say but we're glad we did not know about this at the time! What a wonderful way to experience the country, the people, and the culture. Glad to hear your watching your $$$.
Love, Mom & Dad

John said...

Wow! You took on the bush taxi mafia and came through okay:) You certainly got to see stuff few pumuys ever do - thanks for the vivid description of the dance off on the Moyamba Road. Could be worked into a musical about your life as a PCV - you know the unbvelievable old movies where people break into song and dance routines on street corners and laundromats and stuff. Buyt this time it would be women singing in high-pitched voices dancing int heri bare feet all the while carrying pikin dem ont heir backs and heavy loads on their heads. Ginger Rogers never did that!