Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Are there any f*cking Germans in here?"

I've published a few posts about Stewart without mentioning much about its quirky little neighbour, Hyder. Dubbed "the friendliest Ghost town in Alaska", Hyder is more a village than a Town with its population under 100. It has no paved roads, no school, and land phones and cable services are provided from the Canadian side of the border...Hyder is a throwback into another era, a time capsule of sorts to what America was 50-60 years ago…Oh there is no law enforcement presence in the Town either.

There is no land connection with the rest of Alaska and the main road through the town only provides access to the gold and silver mines for both Canadian and American companies. Precious metals’ mining is on the rise again as prices have gone up in recent times.

Hyder is not only lagging behind in modern niceties but it is also has more than its fair share of bizarre personalities. Only recently a California man was captured after years on the run for a murder committed decades ago. He had successfully acquired a new identity and lived and raised a family in Hyder and no one caught on to it.

This brings me to a story that I heard about an incident that happened in a local Alaskan bar. It was the summer time and a few friends decided to cross the border into Alaska to have a few drinks at the end of the day. The local brew was flowing, and all was well…or so they thought. In the middle of all the merriment , there was a huge bang at the entrance as a scruffy looking man burst in armed with a rifle.

He was dirty, reeked of alcohol and was almost toothless… “ARE THERE ANY FUCKING GERMANS IN HERE?” he yelled...The whole bar came to a halt…[To be Continued]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Life On The Edge of The World...

I’ve lived in Canada for years now and yet after spending time in Stewart, I feel like I’m in a different country. It feels like I live on the very edge of civilization, with no cell phones or Tim Hortons and one Gas station.

The closest closest major town, Terrace, ( pop: 10,000) is well over 300 km away from here on wet, winding roads at the foot of majestic , snow-capped mountains. Vancouver is about 1,400 km away. Every now and then as I drive down to Terrace, I’d see a black bear on the edge of the road, munching away at its food and casting a lazy glance at me as I speed by. Sometimes they would wander across the road so that I have to slow down and repeatedly honk my horn to get them out of the way… They look at you as if to say "Whats your problem? can't you see I'm walking here".

I remember the first time I got here, when seeing a bear was a novelty, now its become almost routine. Something like Canada geese on UW’s campus, but nowhere near as irritating. I’ve settled into a pretty rigorous routine of waking up at 5a.m., breakfast at 6 a.m. and a 45 minute drive up rugged mountain side to our construction office.

I tend to drive in the middle of the road because I neither want to get too close to the mountain as there is a risk of rock falls nor do I want to get too close to the edge…a 600 ft+ drop that no one could possibly survive. There’s not much room for manoeuvre when you encounter another vehicle on the road so there are always scary moments when I’m going around bends and I can’t see what’s coming at me. It doesn’t help that there are some absolutely mad individuals on that road that do 100 km/h on stretches that I would hesitate to do 50. It takes some getting used for sure but i certainly prefer it over a Mississauga traffic jam.

It’s helped considerably that the tourists are no longer in town, driving up to see the breathtakingly beautiful Salmon Glacier. The comedy of watching old couples driving up in huge RVs along narrow roads is something I miss but the frustration of having to wait behind them bothered me no-end….

I’ve seen all types of cars come up these roads, everything from 7 series BMWs to Fiats and Jettas, Jeeps and Corollas. The summers make this place a true beehive of activity as tourists from all the U.S and Canada swarm the tiny little town. I've seen plates from Quebec, Florida, New York, Michigan...places thousands of miles away. Occasionally you see a clueless bastard try to get cell phone service when they are walking around Town…there’s nothing up here of course, but no one says a word …it’s too much fun watching their faces as they figure it out…

Friday, September 30, 2011

For 10 years, we've lied to ourselves to avoid asking the one real question

The article below was written by Robert Fisk. I read this today and remembered my "Freedom Fighters" post. I just thought i'd share. A link to Mr Fisk's column is attached below. He has some insightful material

By their books, ye shall know them.

I'm talking about the volumes, the libraries – nay, the very halls of literature – which the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001 have spawned. Many are spavined with pseudo-patriotism and self-regard, others rotten with the hopeless mythology of CIA/Mossad culprits, a few (from the Muslim world, alas) even referring to the killers as "boys", almost all avoiding the one thing which any cop looks for after a street crime: the motive.

Why so, I ask myself, after 10 years of war, hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths, lies and hypocrisy and betrayal and sadistic torture by the Americans – our MI5 chaps just heard, understood, maybe looked, of course no touchy-touchy nonsense – and the Taliban? Have we managed to silence ourselves as well as the world with our own fears? Are we still not able to say those three sentences: The 19 murderers of 9/11 claimed they were Muslims. They came from a place called the Middle East. Is there a problem out there?

American publishers first went to war in 2001 with massive photo-memorial volumes. Their titles spoke for themselves: Above Hallowed Ground, So Others Might Live, Strong of Heart, What We Saw, The Final Frontier, A Fury for God, The Shadow of Swords... Seeing this stuff piled on newsstands across America, who could doubt that the US was going to go to war? And long before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, another pile of tomes arrived to justify the war after the war. Most prominent among them was ex-CIA spook Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm – and didn't we all remember Churchill's The Gathering Storm? – which, needless to say, compared the forthcoming battle against Saddam with the crisis faced by Britain and France in 1938.

There were two themes to this work by Pollack – "one of the world's leading experts on Iraq," the blurb told readers, among whom was Fareed Zakaria ("one of the most important books on American foreign policy in years," he drivelled) – the first of which was a detailed account of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction; none of which, as we know, actually existed. The second theme was the opportunity to sever the "linkage" between "the Iraq issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict".

The Palestinians, deprived of the support of powerful Iraq, went the narrative, would be further weakened in their struggle against Israeli occupation. Pollack referred to the Palestinians' "vicious terrorist campaign" – but without any criticism of Israel. He wrote of "weekly terrorist attacks followed by Israeli responses (sic)", the standard Israeli version of events. America's bias towards Israel was no more than an Arab "belief". Well, at least the egregious Pollack had worked out, in however slovenly a fashion, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had something to do with 9/11, even if Saddam had not.

In the years since, of course, we've been deluged with a rich literature of post-9/11 trauma, from the eloquent The Looming Tower of Lawrence Wright to the Scholars for 9/11 Truth, whose supporters have told us that the plane wreckage outside the Pentagon was dropped by a C-130, that the jets that hit the World Trade Centre were remotely guided, that United 93 was shot down by a US missile, etc. Given the secretive, obtuse and sometimes dishonest account presented by the White House – not to mention the initial hoodwinking of the official 9/11 commission staff – I am not surprised that millions of Americans believe some of this, let alone the biggest government lie: that Saddam was behind 9/11. Leon Panetta, the CIA's newly appointed autocrat, repeated this same lie in Baghdad only this year.

There have been movies, too. Flight 93 re-imagined what may (or may not) have happened aboard the plane which fell into a Pennsylvania wood. Another told a highly romanticised story, in which the New York authorities oddly managed to prevent almost all filming on the actual streets of the city. And now we're being deluged with TV specials, all of which have accepted the lie that 9/11 did actually change the world – it was the Bush/Blair repetition of this dangerous notion that allowed their thugs to indulge in murderous invasions and torture – without for a moment asking why the press and television went along with the idea. So far, not one of these programmes has mentioned the word "Israel" – and Brian Lapping's Thursday night ITV offering mentioned "Iraq" once, without explaining the degree to which 11 September 2001 provided the excuse for this 2003 war crime. How many died on 9/11? Almost 3,000. How many died in the Iraq war? Who cares?

Publication of the official 9/11 report – in 2004, but read the new edition of 2011 – is indeed worth study, if only for the realities it does present, although its opening sentences read more like those of a novel than of a government inquiry. "Tuesday ... dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States... For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been better for a safe and pleasant journey. Among the travellers were Mohamed Atta..." Were these guys, I ask myself, interns at Time magazine?

But I'm drawn to Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan whose The Eleventh Day confronts what the West refused to face in the years that followed 9/11. "All the evidence ... indicates that Palestine was the factor that united the conspirators – at every level," they write. One of the organisers of the attack believed it would make Americans concentrate on "the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel". Palestine, the authors state, "was certainly the principal political grievance ... driving the young Arabs (who had lived) in Hamburg".

The motivation for the attacks was "ducked" even by the official 9/11 report, say the authors. The commissioners had disagreed on this "issue" Рclich̩ code word for "problem" Рand its two most senior officials, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, were later to explain: "This was sensitive ground ...Commissioners who argued that al-Qa'ida was motivated by a religious ideology Рand not by opposition to American policies Рrejected mentioning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... In their view, listing US support for Israel as a root cause of al-Qa'ida's opposition to the United States indicated that the United States should reassess that policy." And there you have it.

So what happened? The commissioners, Summers and Swan state, "settled on vague language that circumvented the issue of motive". There's a hint in the official report – but only in a footnote which, of course, few read. In other words, we still haven't told the truth about the crime which – we are supposed to believe – "changed the world for ever". Mind you, after watching Obama on his knees before Netanyahu last May, I'm really not surprised.

When the Israeli Prime Minister gets even the US Congress to grovel to him, the American people are not going to be told the answer to the most important and "sensitive" question of 9/11: why?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Life is not a bed of roses"

“Life is not a bed of roses”…

If you grew up in Sierra Leone, like I did, someone must’ve thrown this expression across your path at some point. Whether it was a parent or probably a teacher because it was definitely a favourite amongst my teachers…someone, in authority, must’ve uttered that line to you at some point, I guarantee it. I never liked that saying though, because it always meant I didn’t get what I was looking for and there was scarcely anything I could do about it. In hindsight, I could’ve argued that life is indeed a bed of roses...pretty to look at but a huge challenge to get through…

Growing up I’ve always been frustrated with the lack of clarity when I’ve asked for advice on how to proceed on certain things. “Well…you know…it’s difficult to say…these things aren’t precise…”…There was a shrug of the shoulders, a story about an era with which you could never relate, an old wise saying that you never full understood etc etc you get the picture…with time of course those sayings made sense, what was vague became crystal clear and all of this happened, of course, after the fact. When the shit had hit the proverbial fan and I was standing there amply fertilized...

Age teaches us that clarity is best confined to childhood, Mama and Papa may not know everything and there are times when no matter how close we are to family, we feel all alone. There are times when we have a million questions, yet the only answers we have to make do with are vague at best. We come to the unsettling conclusion that nobody really knows it all…that I think is the moment everyone starts to grow up.

My “holy shit” moment as I like to refer to this point in my life came when I was in my late teens just about to get into University…Given all this, at some point or the other, we all ask ourselves what’s the bloody point? What’s the point of sitting there and listening to all these people reminisce about the “good old days” when they were your age…

The answer I settled on after years of pondering through my teens is that listening to older people is not about getting the exact road map to life’s successes…nobody can offer that. It’s about gathering from those stories and experiences the strength to keep on going in life, the strength to pick yourself up when you’ve been let down…the kind of strength that allows self-belief to flourish and resilience to become second nature.

Growing older, It's harder to maintain a youthful zest for life and all its wonderful times when all you seem to face in life is troubles and deceit… cynicism becomes a solace for some although I personally refuse to give in. That strength to hang in there and persevere is weak or non-existent if those stories and experiences weren’t shared with you earlier in your life...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Glen Beck compares Norway shooting victims to Hitler Youth

More proof that the battle against extremism is lopsided. This man should not be on air!

"When you get to Stewart, you'll know there is a God..."

"When you get to Stewart, you'll know there is a God..." those were the words of a fellow passenger when i got off the Air Canada flight from Vancouver to the Northern town of Terrace. Not that i've ever doubted the prescence of the Almighty, but i knew exactly what those words meant when i drove through the spectacular scenery around town. This was postcard country and Stewart was supposed to be even better...There was greenery as far as the eyes could see, snow capped mountains and the air was fresh, crisp and unpolluted.

I drove another 4 hours north to get to Stewart...Population just under 500. African community? well i'm pretty much the only black person for 300+ kilometres! To be fair,everyone here has been great so far. Sure i've had the odd stare when i walk into the grocery store but it's a small town and you sort of expect them to be a bit curious. Its an everyone knows everyone else kind of place.

Set in a valley, just on the border with Alaska, Stewart is truly a breathtakingly beautiful little town. In the next couple of years i will posting pictures of the town because no matter how i write about it, images are worth a thousand words!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The day I was smuggled in the back of a rice van...Final part

I didn’t allow myself to think too much about the situation we were caught up in. Cars kept coming and going through the checkpoint, and we just sat there and watched it all like zombies. It's almost like an out of body experience.
The prospect of having to spend the night in the town was slowly maturing from a concept to a certainty.

When we thought all was lost, a white Suzuki Jeep pulled up to the checkpoint, stopped and two guys stepped out. I remember it was a Suzuki because those Jeeps have a very distinctive shape to them. The back end has a soft top cover with two really tiny back seats.

The younger of the two men, probably in his mid-20s, approached us and started up a conversation in French. After all these years I really can’t remember his name…For the purposes of story-telling I’ll call him Ahmad. He was travelling to Conakry with his driver, he explained, and we explained our situation. We told him that we were Sierra Leoneans and that we didn’t have any Guinean I.D.

At this point, to our relief, he switched from French to Krio. He saw our situation was desperate and vowed to help us get home.The fact that we were from the same tribe definitely helped things. We promised we’d pay him when we got to our house in Conakry and all we wanted was to get the hell out of that town.

His driver returned, after sorting out their ID issues with King Kong and his buddies. Our new friend pulled him to a corner and they had a long chat. They were obviously talking about us and Ahmad was trying to convince the driver to take a couple of “Leonais” (short form for “Sierra Leonais” – Sierra Leonean in French) in the jeep. We could pick up on some of the conversation as they decided on what to do next.

The driver being the older of the two men wasn’t as keen to have us on board, because there were so many checkpoints to go through. Eventually he relented and walked across to find one of the soldiers to talk about them letting us go.
Luckily the driver was from the same tribe as the soldiers and they started having a heated conversation to decide our fate.

Ahmad stood next to us and translated most of what was being said. Apparently King Kong was insisting that we weren’t going anywhere. He went on a rant about how rebels were infiltrating Guinea from the Sierra Leonean side and he was only doing his job and protecting his country…Ahmad’s driver countered by saying we were just kids looking to get to our house in Simbaya (a neighbourhood in Conakry). If we were rebels how would we know details about a place we'd never been to...

This back and forth went on for a while until the driver asked if they could have a conversation in private. They went away to deliberate…I was anxious to leave and prayed that these complete strangers would somehow save us. Ahmad assured us all would be ok and promptly followed the two men.

We just sat down calmly, completely vulnerable and helpless as the minutes ticked away…In such situations you lose all concept of time. All you can notice is your heart beating the crap out of your chest as the tension mounts….They came back, God knows how long later, and Ahmad told us to just follow him. We were free to go!. We didn’t a need a second invitation and quickly tagged along. As we climbed into the back seat of his Suzuki, he whispered that all King Kong’s objections were just to make sure he got more money…

As the driver returned and got us on our way, we talked about the plan for getting through the remainder of the checkpoints. There were bound to be more King Kongs on the road…it was agreed we were going to stay hidden from sight in the back seat.Since the driver was well known in most checkpoints, he would make sure that the car was never searched.

Each stop at the checkpoints was a incredibly tense as the driver would get out, walk over to soldiers to bribe our way through. Most times there’d be another soldier circling the vehicle, awaiting the go-ahead to search the car. Even though I didn’t see their faces, I could see the silhouettes of their bodies and weapons....

We eventually got through the last major checkpoint without being searched.At this point I was so tense and frightened I noticed I was hallucinating. I kept seeing checkpoints at each turn in the road when there weren’t any. I was stuck in that strange place where you can’t really tell if you are sleeping or you are still awake…your body wants to shut down but your mind is racing so fast it’s impossible to do so. After a long period without any stops, I didn’t even notice when I passed out…

The bumps woke me up. I was being pushed hard against my brother every time we hit a pothole. I could barely keep my eyes open but I realised that we were now in the heart of the city. The soft top of the Suzuki was more open now, and I could see more of the outside.We drove by a crowd of young people and i remember the driver mentioning that they were probably coming back from a night of clubbing…I passed out again.

When I woke up this time we were outside our house…it must’ve been at least 3 or 4 in the morning. Those who have been to Conakry will have heard of the notorious “bandits” (armed robbers) that roam the streets at that time of night. The front gate was locked, as expected, so i gave my brother a boost over the fence. He went in, got the gate keys and let us in.

We paid off the guys, got back in the house and crashed. What should’ve been an 8 hour trip had taken close to 24 but we were home and that was all that mattered. If it wasn't for the kindness of complete strangers, God knows what would have happened at that checkpoint.

I just googled the Jeep so you know what kind of vehicle it was. It looked something like this.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The day i was smuggled in the back of a rice van..part 2

The inside of the van was well ventilated but dark. The only source of light came from a little gap that separated the driver’s compartment from the back of the truck where we were seated. We could catch glimpses of where we were going as the van toiled its way through the rough, jungle route. The hairiest moment I remember was when we drove right past a police patrol that was going the other way. I tensed up for a moment but it soon became obvious that there was an “understanding” between the driver and the local police. We passed each other with no incident.

The crossing didn’t last very long (definitely less than an hour) and soon enough we came to a clearing on the other side of the border and merged on to the regular traffic. Apparently the locals really didn’t really bother with borders that were drawn up by Europeans to suit their interests, so to say the border was porous would be an understatement. Soon after the van pulled up into a truck stop, we were let out by the driver and we made our way over to one of the taxis looking to get on one for the trip to the Conakry. When I say truck stop, I’m not referring to some sanitized set of buildings with a McDonald’s and a Wendy’s and a gas station that you pull into off the 401.

I’m talking about a truck stop in the African sense, areas where motorcycles, mini-vans and people mingle in a perpetual haze of dust. I’m talking road side vendors that would be hawking everything from sunglasses, to plantains, to packaged water that you knew was probably unclean but you drank anyway because there was nothing better available for miles. Young people walking with dust covered feet selling chewing gums and cigarettes from little wooden boxes, rather large women selling “beef” on the side of the road…if you’ve ever been to a place like this before you know exactly what I’m talking about…If you haven’t, this would be a great item for your bucket list.

We managed to get in one of the taxis, which was packed with people and we were on our way. We drove for a while without any incident but then we started hitting checkpoints, manned by Guinea’s notorious soldiers… a bunch of sadistic pigs.Some would rather call them orang-utans because they were such brutes…in any case they were anything but human. These were nerve wracking because we had no Guinean ID and our Sierra Leonean ones would subject us to uncomfortable questions about how we came across the border. The first few we came across, we gave the driver money which he used to bribe his way through….no ID checks.

This worked a couple of times until we hit a checkpoint in a one of the larger towns en-route. We knew something was different this time because the driver took longer than usual to return to the car after he went to deal with the soldiers. He came back, looking a bit ruffled and told us we were going to have to see the soldier in charge of the checkpoint. We got out and went over to the side of the road where the soldier was standing.

As if just to fuck with us, he started talking to us in Soso, a language I couldn’t understand even if my life depended on it. We definitely could’ve had a conversation with him in French but a part of me didn’t think that he was the talking type. Built like a gorilla with the brain of maybe a chicken, he towered over us in his army uniform enjoying every bit of power that it offered him. He kept on asking us questions about IDs and where we were from and where we going…at least that’s what I suspect he was asking from his hand signals and occasional French word. We replied with blank stares and just stood there.

He motioned to the driver to walk away and he pointed us to a little wooden bench. We sat down,almost in a trance,and watched as the Taxi driver walked to his cab and drove off. The sun was almost out at this moment and kerosene lamps were lighting up all around us as the locals set up their stalls to sell stuff at night. We had no idea where we were, we had some money but not a whole lot left and we were being detained by King Kong who spoke a language that we didn’t understand. It was gonna be a long night…

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The day I was smuggled in the back of a rice van

I was reflecting on the events that have shaped me so far in life and stumbled upon a memory that i have suppressed for so's been almost a decade. It's incredible really,when i look back at it, that this actually happened. These days, in my sedate surroundings of Mississauga Ontario, it feels like i'm living another life on another planet far far away. Come to think of it, the things that i (and many others like me) grew up with was not normal, but back then it was all we knew. We learned to lay flat on the ground when we heard gunfire, we knew to run whenever we heard someone say “Den dae cam” (“They are coming”). Rarely did anyone ask who's coming? we naturally assumed they meant rebels...Where were they coming from? Where should we run to? We just ran because fear had become part of the routine, a way to survive...better to overreact and live right?

This particular story begins during the rainy season of 2001...the closing stages of the war. School had just finished up for the year and my brother and i were desperate to find out if we would be visiting my mom in Guinea. We'd lived apart for two years at the time since our family had been split up for safety mom, sister and younger brother in Guinea and my older brother and I in Freetown. I saw my mom for about a month each year, hard on a 14 year old who barely knew how to do anything on his own. I had been forced to grow up, fast...

To our delight, we found that we would indeed be going,embarking on the 12+ hour drive from Freetown to Conakry on dusty, treacherous roads. There had been rumours circulating that the border with Guinea was closed, but we were so desperate to get out of Freetown we convinced my Dad that it was worth a shot trying to cross...If it was closed we would simply return to Freetown, if not we would go straight through to Guinea, no harm done. My uncle was driving us, so we were in the safest hands possible. Little did we know that the following 18 hours would be anything but straightforward....

The drive to the border town was long,bumpy, dirty but it didn't matter as all we wanted was to get out of the country. We arrived at the border crossing at Pamelap in the evening, i remember that it was in the evening because the sun was less intense that it would be in mid-afternoon. The mid-afternoon sun in Sierra Leone is uncompromising as it gently cooks anything beneath it.

We'd been stopped at countless military checkpoints manned by fierce looking men with rifles. The same routine would be repeated over and over again...We'd get out of the car, open the trunk, show IDs, get patted down, walk across the barrier and back into the car. Some of the soldiers would have their guns casually laying on their laps, their military boots replaced with casual flip flops or plastic sandals...others would be holed up in fortified sand-bagged positions with their machine guns pointed in both directions on the road. Some may wonder why a 14 year old would be checked for weapons but boys my age were probably one of the most feared combatants of the conflict...Rape, murder, mutilation...they did it all.

We drove up to the last Sierra Leonean checkpoint before crossing into Guinea and were stopped as usual, but this time something was different. My uncle went into the little police hut that was beside the checkpoint, but it took him what seemed like forever to come out. When he finally emerged, you could tell by the look on his face that he was disappointed. He came over to the car and broke the news that the border had been closed and that we probably had to return to Freetown the next morning...i was gutted.

We were just absorbing the news when a police officer walked over to us with the kind of arrogance only a uniform would provide. He looked straight at my uncle and told him that we would have to follow him to the main police station and give statements. Apparently attempting to cross a closed border is an offence and it was his duty to report it to his superiors. We were all a bit taken aback by this because the firm way he put it, we didn't seem to have much of a choice in the matter. His fellow officers weren't eager as they all knew “Timbo” (my Uncle) very well... he had earned a reputation for roughing up Police Officers so they all came to respect him and knew to leave him alone. There was a tense silence as my Uncle considered his next move...He eventually agreed we would go along to the station.

I guess we were technically in custody but we just casually walked side by side with the officer for another half-hour or so to the station. He then sat us down, took our statements and gave us a stern warning not to try crossing again. We walked out of the station in silence, nobody quite understanding what had just happened. To this day, i strongly believe that officer only took our statements because of our last name, he was out to prove a point.

Whilst we were mulling another gruelling drive back, my uncle already had a new plan forming in his head, one that we knew nothing about. We got back to the car, which was still parked at the checkpoint,and he asked us to wait for him there...he had to go see a friend. We sat down and waited, absolutely exhausted both mentally and physically from the whole drama of the day. It was about to get a lot more hectic..

My uncle returned....with a broad grin this time, explaining how he might have found us a way to get through. It boiled down to we were going to be smuggled across the border by the friend of the friend he went to see. The catch was that he wouldn't be coming with us. He explained that it was going to be all fine because his friend had vouched for this guy and as soon we got across the border all we had to do was take a taxi straight to Conakry. All seemed alright with the plan...If he thought it was ok then it was...simple as that.

We walked the few hundred metres from the checkpoint to the main truck stop to meet the guy who would be smuggling us. I don't remember what he looked like but i will never forget his truck. A beastly looking dark blue cargo van, with sliding doors on the side. It wasn't in the best condition but it was in much better shape than the other cars and trucks around it.The deal was done, money exchanged hands and we were ready to go. The driver walked over and slid open the door.Inside, stacked high to the roof except for the front end, were bags of rice...

He motioned for us to get on and we did, slowly and hesitantly sitting on the rice bags which were our “seats” for the journey. I numbed my mind to what was going on around me and just thought about my final destination...The driver slammed the door and plunged us into semi-darkness and I could hear his feet scraping the ground as he made his way across to the driver side...The engine chugged and sputtered to life...We were on our way...(to be continued)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Isatu "Fak Fak" and the Kringlish phenomenon

As a Sierra Leonean living thousands of miles away from home, I’m always on the lookout for news articles from the motherland. The yearning for a connection to what is familiar is strong and gets stronger as the years fly by. The 7+ years I’ve been in Canada is the longest stretch I’ve ever had in one country, Sierra Leone included, so I’m naturally eager to stay connected to my roots.

This desire for quality information means that I often spend hours on google looking for anything related to Sierra Leone or Sierra Leoneans. A positive development over the years is the increased number of websites dedicated to Sierra Leonean politics, music, travel etc. The unfortunate downside to this surge in online presence is the shocking lack of editorial quality in many of these websites especially those dedicated to news and current affairs.

I always like to point out the positives in most things related to my country but this is an issue that has bothered me for years. The articles are often barely understandable and given the grammar is at primary school level I often get too frustrated to read beyond a few lines. I’ve read some articles discussing legal issues, for example, which use contractual language that is incomprehensible to the average Sierra Leonean. Why would you write an article that is meant to inform the public and yet make it inaccessible by using words that barely anyone understands? Is it to justify your label as an educated man/woman?

Some journalists have chosen to act as nothing but outlets for political propaganda with no attempt at performing any analysis, their sole purpose being to smear opponents and throw degrading insults like a bunch of pre-teen, playground gangsters. Other outlets have articles that are so poorly written that if you don’t understand Krio, you would never figure out what they were talking about. The articles seem to have been literally translated from Krio to English.

I’d just like to go on a bit of a tangent here and tell you the story of Isatu “Fak Fak”, a story I heard a couple of days ago. A boy in Isatu’s class was causing some trouble at the back of the class but the teacher didn’t notice. Isatu decided to draw the teacher’s attention to the issue and so raised her hand and yelled.

“Teacher! Teacher! That boy is ‘fak, fakking’”

The story of Isatu “Fak Fak” just highlights the often blurred lines between Krio and English, what I like to refer to as the “Kringlish phenomenon”.This phenomenon has meant the average Sierra Leonean student’s grasp of English is worse than a Francophone West African’s grasp of French. The absence of a creole version of French in West Africa just proves the devastating effect of Krio on the English spoken in our country. (Note: To any non-Krio speakers, "Fak Fak" can hold several meanings in Krio. My best translation in the context of the story would be that it means to be Hyperactive)

I always laugh about this issue with my siblings, not because it’s amusing, but because it’s so sad and disappointing. You can only blame the individuals for so long before you are compelled to take a closer a look at the education system in the country. The primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions are crumbling and in desperate need of overhaul and renewal in terms of both the infrastructure and teaching methods. The rich pay for good private schools and the masses make do with the poor quality public schools. This is probably true for some western countries as well but the gap between public/private in Sierra Leone is just unacceptably large.

We are always so proud to have been referred to as the “Athens of West Africa”, a reference to our history of excellence in education but yet that just serves to show how far we’ve fallen. I’ve put together a few examples from recent articles to emphasise my point.

“Accolade must be given the late President Joseph Saidu Momoh for straight forwardly telling Sierra Leoneans that he failed his exams as he navigated the ship of state."

“It makes no disputation whatsoever that President Koroma has indeed demonstrated his willingness to issues of infrastructural concern.”

“Sierra Leoneans are reportedly fed up of lies preached them by state officials and have virtually attributed same as not having the traits of late President Momoh’s straight forward governance doctrine.”

“She furthered that she grudged no hatred and detestation for anyone including the unborn. That with unity, love and oneness it is sure Sierra Leone has a place in the next 50 years.”

“In spite of the fact that Afsatu Kabba was taken to the wells of the high courts to answer for believable corruption indictments, it is of the conviction of the electorates that the likes of Afsatu Kabba makes better in the swift and unrestraint development of Sierra Leone in the years to come.”

I must stress that I’m not raising this issue because I want to belittle Sierra Leoneans, I’m doing this because I’m fed up with being presented with mediocrity when I know we can do better. I’ve always refused to believe the current state of affairs is “good enough” just because it’s African. We cannot improve as individuals or as a society if we do not always insist on the best.

I’d like you to think of this rebuke as the cold water you splash on your face every morning to wake you up. It stings but it’s for your own good. I am not a journalist and I’m certain those at the top of the profession would have issues with my writing but is it too much to ask that our journalists use their media to inform rather than confuse us?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Pregnancy Gamble

I saw this video a few months ago and its a sobering reminder of the work that we have to do in Sierra Leone. Our work is cut out for us. Stories like these are so disturbing that it prompts some serious self-reflection. I know corruption is not the sole thing to blame for such a terrible situation but when people steal state funds they should be shown this video. After all, for every dollar these guys siphon off to a foreign bank account they are depriving vulnerable women and children. I'm sure they are aware of it, but visuals have a way of driving home the message.

WARNING: The contents of this video are extremely disturbing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Return of Goderich Boy

So i started this blog experience with the aim of giving my opinions on a consistent basis but i fell off the wagon somewhat. The end of my undergraduate journey and the inevitable post-exam celebrations meant that i lost my way for weeks. For that i apologize to those who were starting to enjoy my regular postings.

A lot has happened since i last posted. Ivory Coast was on fire and Gbagbo was still defying the will of his people and indeed all logic. He has since been deposed, although it must be said Ivory Coast is in a very delicate phase. A president that is struggling to establish legitimacy, evidence of atrocities being unearthed on a regular basis and a significant portion of Gbagbo's supporters lying dormant. A process of reconciliation is vital to ensure long term stability. Good to luck to Ouattara, his success is important to Ivorians and the whole sub-region.

Since my last post, Bin Laden has been assassinated, Ghaddafi is getting stronger and stronger, Gas prices are criminally high, the Palestinians are moving towards another large scale uprising, Pakistan is wobbling and it all seems like the World is still going to shit...Same old same old. There is a malaise that is still gripping the world but we must not despair, each generation has its challenges. We must accept the burden that is being passed to us from our parents and re-shape our future before it's too late. We still have time!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cote D'Ivoire's greatest export

Ivory Coast is now in a state of undeclared civil war, there was shelling today by Gbagbo's troops that killed many people in a opposition dominated neighbourhood of Abidjan(according to the BBC). Ouattara's forces have taken over parts of the city. My great fear is that not only that hundreds, if not thousands will lose their lives but also that Gbagbo will seek to destabilise Liberia, the same thing Charles Taylor did to Sierra Leone in the early 90s. The U.N has finally agreed to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, when are they going to get tough with Gbagbo? The region might suffer badly if he stays.

Listen to the words of this song. Alpha Blondy's beautiful commentary on leadership in Africa. My best part is when he sings about "Certain Chef d'etat se prennent pour des rois.." ..."Some heads of state think they are kings"...couldn't agree more...In my opinion he is that country's greatest export...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nelson Mandela: The Terrorist

The following article was written by Gwynne Dyer of the North County Times back in 2006. It gives us a sobering reminder of why the term "terrorist" is not clearly defined and why we need to be probing in our discussion of terrorism. It was a good read, i just thought i'd share

"The oddest bit of news this week has been the tale of the hunt for Nelson Mandela's pistol, buried on a farm near Johannesburg 43 years ago.

It was a Soviet-made Makarov automatic pistol, given to Mandela when he was undergoing military training in Ethiopia. (He also went to Algeria, to learn from the revolutionaries who had just fought a savage eight-year war of independence to drive out their French colonial rulers.) A week after he buried the gun, he was arrested by the apartheid regime's police as a terrorist and jailed for life.

It's very hard now to imagine Nelson Mandela as a terrorist. He is the most universally admired living human being, almost a secular saint, and the idea that he had a gun and was prepared to shoot people with it just doesn't fit our picture of him. But that just shows how naive and conflicted our attitudes towards terrorism are.

Nelson Mandela never did kill anybody personally. He spent the next 27 years in jail, and only emerged as an old man to negotiate South Africa's transition to democracy with the very regime that had jailed him.

But he was a founder and commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the African National Congress, and MK, as it was known, was a terrorist outfit. Well, a revolutionary movement that was willing to use terrorist tactics, to be precise, but that kind of fine distinction is not permissible in polite company today.

As terrorist outfits go, MK was at the more responsible end of the spectrum. For a long time, it only attacked symbols and servants of the apartheid state, shunning random attacks on white civilians even though they were the main beneficiaries of that regime. By the time it did start bombing bars and the like in the 1980s, Mandela had been in prison for 20 years and bore no direct responsibility for the MK's acts -- but neither he nor the ANC ever disowned the organization. Indeed, after the transition to majority rule in 1994, MK's cadres were integrated into the new South African Defense Force alongside the former regime's troops.

There's nothing unusual about all this. Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Archbishop Makarios in Cyprus, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and a dozen other national leaders emerged from prison to negotiate independence after "terrorist" organisations loyal to them had worn down the imperial forces that occupied their countries. In the era of decolonisation, terrorism was a widely accepted technique for driving the occupiers out. South Africa was lucky to see so little of it, but terrorism was part of the struggle there too.

Terrorism is a tool, not an ideology. Its great attraction is that it offers small or weak groups a means of imposing great changes on their societies. Some of those changes you might support, even if you don't like the chosen means; others you would detest. But the technique itself is just one more way of effecting political change by violence -- a nasty but relatively cheap way to force a society to change course, and not intrinsically a more wicked technique than dropping bombs on civilians from warplanes to make them change their behavior.
Neither terrorism nor military force has a very high success rate these days: Most people will not let themselves be bullied into changing their fundamental views by a few bombs. Even in South Africa's case, MK's bombs had far less influence on the outcome than the economic and moral pressures that were brought to bear on the apartheid regime. But that is not to say that all right-thinking people everywhere reject terrorist methods. They don't.

What determines most people's views about the legitimacy of terrorist violence is how they feel about the specific political context in which force is being used. Most Irish Catholics felt at least a sneaking sympathy for the IRA's attacks in Northern Ireland. Most non-white South Africans approved of MK's attacks, even if they ran some slight risk of being hurt in them themselves. Most Tamils both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere support the cause of the Tamil Tigers, and many accept its methods as necessary. Americans understandably see all terrorist attacks on the United States and its forces overseas as irredeemably wicked, but most Arabs and many other Muslims are ambivalent about them, or even approve of them.

We may deplore these brutal truths, but we would be foolish to deny them. Yet in much of the world at the moment it is regarded as heretical or even obscene to say these things out loud, mainly because the United States, having been suffered a major attack by Arab terrorists in 2001, has declared a "global war on terror." Rational discussion of why so many Arabs are willing to die in order to hurt the United States is suppressed by treating it as support for terrorism, and so the whole phenomenon comes to be seen by most people as irrational and inexplicable.

And meanwhile, on a former farm near Johannesburg that was long ago subdivided for suburban housing, they have torn down all the new houses and are systematically digging up the ground with a back-hoe in search of the pistol that Saint Nelson Mandela, would-be terrorist leader, buried there in 1963. If they find it, it will be treated with as much reverence as the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. The passage of time changes many things."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How long will the world ignore Cote D'Ivoire?

This video shows you to what extent our "leaders" will go to cling on to power. True statesmen are non-existent on our continent. We are being ruled by animals.

You can see the majority in the crowd are unarmed women. What is the justification for opening fire with live rounds? No attempt at tear gas, water cannons, nothing but LIVE ROUNDS. They are murdering them in cold blood. The international community is standing by as people are being murdered and only lame attempts are being made to stop this. The U.N needs to grow teeth and actually start protecting civilians.

Civil War is brewing in Cote D'Ivoire, its much easier to stop now than when the killings intensify...Wake up people and bring attention to this tragedy!

WARNING: The video below contains graphic imagery

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ivory Coast Crisis Deepens

As Laurent Gbagbo clings on to power, his security forces are resorting to extreme violence to silence legitimate dissent. This has to stop. The uprisings in North Africa have overshadowed a conflict that may be more bloody and prolonged than anything we've seen this year. In the midst of all this violence, there are reports that Gbagbo has been disrupting power supply to regions where opposition to his rule is strongest. This tyrant must be stopped!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Money, Money, Money!

A fascinating debate on the rising inequalities in income across the globe. We have been through an economic meltdown, yet certain parts of society have emerged richer than before. I found this video very educational and if you can spare 40 minutes, it's a must-see.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More on Ivory Coast's problems

I hope people don't forget the Ivorians in the midst of all the revolutions going on in the continent.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dear Uncle Laurent...

I still remember listening to the BBC’s Focus on Africa program on Christmas Eve 1999 and hearing the announcement that the military had seized power in Ivory Coast, appointing a retired General (Robert Guei) as its leader. The coup had apparently come as the culmination of a dispute between the then president Henri Konan Bedie and the military. It came as somewhat of a surprise that one of West Africa’s most stable and prosperous nations had fallen to the curse of the coup. In the 90’s, coups in West Africa were sadly not unusual; Nigeria, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and my own dear Sierra Leone had all been through one (in our case three).

General Guei, as is common among coup leaders, tried to cling on to power after elections were held the following year. He was however forced out of office by popular protests that swept a certain Laurent Gbagbo to power. A coup attempt against Gbagbo’s rule in 2002 led to the start of the Ivorian Civil war as forces loyal to the president were able to prevent the rebels from capturing the capital. This led to the country being split in two as rebels controlled the northern half and the elected government southern portion of the country, which included the capital. A peace agreement called for democratic elections that were delayed for years by Gbagbo but were eventually held late last year.

The polls went to a second round and opposition leader Alhassane Ouattara was declared winner by the independent electoral commission, a decision that was overturned by the Constitutional council (led by an ally of Gbagbo). These conflicting verdicts have led to a dangerous stalemate in the country as both men have formed rival cabinets and dug in. The reaction of the international community has ranged from commendable to counterproductive.

ECOWAS were quick to condemn Gbagbo and recognize Ouattara as the legitimate winner but were too hasty in threatening military intervention to install Ouattara. Their rush to appear firm and assertive could potentially open up the door for some serious embarrassment. It was an amateurish diplomatic move and they risk being perceived as toothless, if they do not follow through. Following through will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of lives as Ivory Coast has a fairly robust military.

While I feel they were right in condemning Gbagbo and threatening military intervention, they should not have done so in public. We all know the only thing bigger than African leaders’ mansions is their egos. Threatening Gbagbo in public doesn’t offer a dignified exit and can play right into his strategy of whipping up nationalistic fervour. He can now sell himself as the “protector” of Ivorian dignity and self-esteem. Ivory Coast is a regional giant in its own right and its people wouldn’t be too keen on their country being invaded by foreigners.

The UN and western governments were also quick to recognize Ouattara but this support may yet backfire for Ouattara. Whilst I do believe he was the legitimate winner, the overt support from outside groups just makes it easier for him to be branded an agent of foreign powers. For years, Ouattara was accused of being from Burkina Faso and hence not “Ivorian” enough to rule the country. His political opponents have long played on ethnic differences to create an intense hatred towards so-called foreigners.

In staying, and ignoring the will of the Ivorian people Gbagbo has reversed the recent trend of democratization that was spreading in the region. His greed and selfishness endangers the whole region as instability spreads easily. In a bid to crush anti-government sentiment in the aftermath of the elections he’s reported to have hired former fighters from Liberia’s Civil war. This threatens Liberia’s fragile peace as funding these fighters will re-activate elements in Liberia that have remained dormant since the end of the war. This would be a serious problem for Sierra Leone and Guinea that share borders with Liberia.

While some may be tempted, in the interests of stability, to tolerate Gbagbo and form a Kenyan-style unity government I feel it is of utmost importance that he is removed. If he were to remain, it would be sending a message to other presidents in the region that it’s alright to overstay their welcome. We need to set a new tone with our leaders… you lose elections, you get out.

Gbagbo is quite simply a disgrace. He has accumulated vast amounts of personal wealth courtesy of the country’s coffers and after a decade in power, still wants to cling on. He’s stirred up ethnic rivalries, xenophobia and turned a blind eye to atrocities committed by his youth groups just to ensure that he remains in office. He came to power on the back of popular protests and has sought to harness the power of young, energetic and unemployed young men to silence dissent. He has shown the classic signs of a dictator and as a continent we need to say a collective “no!” to leaders likes these. The election was a missed opportunity to start the healing process after the tumultuous decade the country had undergone. The unrest has pushed back the reconciliation process by a few years and, sadly it could yet get worse.

It pains me personally to hear Western governments condemning yet another African leader for staying too long in power. It pains me because they are right and it proves yet again our nations are just not mature enough to sort out their problems peacefully. We need to stop looking to the West for solutions and we need to take responsibility for our weaknesses. Africa is lacking visionary leaders, that's why I believe it’s up to our generation to weed out the ego-centric, selfish and the incompetent and allow true statesmen to flourish.

Our generation needs to accept our leadership shortcomings and not allow politicians to hide their incompetence and corruption behind anti-colonial rhetoric. That is the only hope we have to get away from the current state of weak governments and institutions that only serve the elite. A popular Tunisian-style uprising is needed in Ivory Coast but will only be a possible when the young realise that men like Gbagbo are a curse they must rid themselves of. This is only a matter of time. The likes of Gbagbo are a threat to the prosperity and safety of our generation and the generations to come.

Tunisia has shown us that people power is a timeless concept that cannot be matched, even by brute force. It’s time the young of Ivory Coast take to the streets and enforce the change that they know their country desperately needs.

If I could write a letter to Gbagbo it would start something like this;

“Dear uncle Laurent, the young are coming to get you…”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

An Excellent assessment of Education as we know it....

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Freedom Fighters [Written in 2007]

My first taste of Middle East politics came way back in 2000 when all hell broke loose after Ariel Sharon's infamous visit to Temple Mount. Before that i didn't really care about what happened in the rest of the world because my country, Sierra Leone, was in a hell of it's own. So during the relative calm of the new millenium this event drew my attention to a complicated conflict that had been going on decades before i was born. The level of hatred involved was astonishing and was the main thing that caught my attention. The way my 13 year old brain interepreted it was that the Palestinians were fighting for their freedom and the right to their land and Israelis were struggling against "terrorists"( i just don't like that word). This was better than a movie, a great novel, or a "reality show" this was real, exciting, brutal and i was hooked.

Fast forward a year and the U.S was hit on September 11th 2001. I still remember that day and how strange everything seemed, how very un-real the television images were. The U.S attacked on their home soil? no way!!!!!!!!!. The first two questions that came to mind, to i'm sure alot of people, were "who would dare?" and just simply "why?". George Bush would want us to believe that these men were jealous of American freedoms and has embarked on what is nothing more than a crusade to spread his ideology across the world. The world needs freedom and democracy and they need it NOW! a quick fix, using a syringe instead of pills to cure this world of "Islamic terrorism". I put those two words in inverted commas because there is no such thing as Islamic terrorism. There's terrorism and there's Islam, the two are incompatible.

The "Why?" question the america people were asking was given the wrong answer. They hate our freedom and democracy . What Freedom i ask? Is this the same America that for hundreds of years considered blacks to be less than human and treated them as such? the same America that murdered, raped, lynched and stripped of all identity millions of people?thrived on the free labour for so many years? is this the same America that helps to fund the occupation and heavy handedness of the Jewish state against the palestinians and other arabs? Is this the same America that supports arab dictatorships, yet brand "undemocratic" and "evil" those that dare stand up?? Freedom is the wrong answer. i can hear the people that are screaming "anti-american!", "anti-semite!" and i say to you this I'm not anti-american ( i'm anti-american FOREIGN POLICY) nor am i anti-semitic whether u believe it or not is up to you. And no i don't have a jewish friend to prove it lol. The Hollywood-like propaganda speeches Bush dishes out is hard to swallow and to think that man has the most destructive force in human history( the U.S military) at his disposal is extremely worrying.

I'm against anything and everything that includes oppression and needless suffering and though America is not the only culprit it's right up there with the worst. Foreign policy is the obvious reason why america is disliked, the bias it shows( israeli occupation, Lebanon war in 2006) makes lot of Middle Eastern people angry. How the state of Israel can do no wrong in the eyes of America is astonishing and deeply disturbing.Is Israel always right? was it right in killing at least 1000 civilians in a month? "Militants hide among civilians!" is the cry i hear, Did British forces flatten Northern Ireland because the IRA were amongst civilians? i'll leave that for you to answer.

Iraq is supposedly a front on the so-called war on terror and countless civilians perish for the fight,in america's eyes, for the ever elusive freedom. Are Iraqis better off now than under Saddam? HELL NO!!!!! is FREEDOM brought about by an invading force( whose primary interest is energy) going to last? would america spend some 300 billion dollars just because it felt iraq should be free and not harbour "terrorists"( even though Binladen and Saddam didn't like each other)?Will America win in Iraq? will Nato win in Afghanistan? You'd have to be either uncommonly optimistic or have chosen to hide the cloud of ignorance and fear that is hanging over the average westerner to believe in victory.

so as America prepares to send thousands of it's "freedom fighters" to Iraq they should remember a few things. Freedom and democracy cannot be brought by an invading force, Freedom and democracy are an illusion under the current occupation, Freedom cannot be brought by a country that doesn't practice what it so dramitically preaches (Guantanamo Bay anyone?). Genuine Freedom like so many things is a desire shared by all ( not only Americans!!!!) and can only come from within. I'm no expert at all this but i have chosen to do what many in the "Free World" are afraid of, ASK QUESTIONS and get ANSWERS not PROPAGANDA.

A Tribute to my country [Originally written in 2006]

For those who don’t know, I come from Sierra Leone. Yes the “Blood Diamond” country. It’s sad to see that most beautiful and proud nation be known for conflict. I wasn’t born in Sierra Leone (Both my parents are Sierra Leonean) but that doesn’t mean that I love it any less. I went there in ’87 when I was just a few months old and spent a total of 14 glorious years there. 

It’s the country where the people are nice to a fault, where everyone greets you with a smile even if they didn’t have breakfast that morning or even if they are unable to feed their loved ones. Sierra Leoneans are easily the most tolerant and jovial people on earth, the streets are lined with celebrations when the animists have their “devil” parades(I’ve been to a few), the gorgeous beaches are full of people on Christmas day and Easter, and on Eid everyone (Muslim or non-Muslim) joins in the celebration. We are a very laid back and relaxed people.

If only the world would follow our lead. I miss the minibuses with their social messages painted artistically all over them. “In God we trust”, “No condition is permanent”, “Jah Bless” are some I remember from my days there. Through all the murderous rampages, the hacked limbs and the sheer terror of conflict if you asked any Sierra Leonean how they felt they will most probably just shrug and say “God Dae”, loosely translated means “In God we trust”. The ability to turn despair into hope is what makes Sierra Leoneans a special people. 

If you have been fortunate enough to visit the country its natural beauty is there for all to see. The white sandy beaches that meet the Atlantic Ocean, magnificent forests and wildlife and the islands off the coast are truly great places to visit. Bunce Island and its connection to the transatlantic slave trade, where so many of our fellow Africans were shipped into bondage, is rarely spoken of. The fact that Freetown was a venue for a battle during the American War of Independence (attacked by the French) has been relegated to the very Dark alleys of History. The fact that Sierra Leone was once known as the “Athens of West Africa” due its once renowned Post-Secondary education system,( The Fourah Bay College was established in 1827) where Nigerians and Ghanaians and others would come for education. We’ve got historical landmarks, churches and mosques that are close to 200 years old, older than the nation of Canada as we know it. We have secondary schools that were built in the 1840s.

Yet it is conflict that most people associate this great nation with, murder, greed and corruption are what we are world renowned for now. We have a great history full of achievements, challenges and we are well connected to one of humanity’s great failures: The Transatlantic Slave trade. We still have that connection to this day, the descendants of Jamaicans, Nova Scotians, Londoners live amongst us, and indeed are a part of us now. Bob Marley day (May 11th) is celebrated with great enthusiasm by Reggae fans in Freetown. 

So I’ll conclude by saying that the reason I love my country is because of the nature of the people, the kindness they are capable of, and the tolerance that is a part of our identity. The events in “Blood Diamond” did happen and were by no means exaggerated (it was sanitized in my opinion). The war started when I was 4, ended when I was 15, so I and many like me knew only war in our childhood. Having said that, you should realise that the true nature of Sierra Leoneans is the direct opposite of what is seen in the movie. Think of heaven with beautiful people and stunning landscape and know that’s what Sierra Leone truly is like. The future holds greatness for my country, I can feel it, because as we say back home “God Dae”… 

The Reality of War

What goes through the mind of a killer? I've always wanted to know what motivates others to kill. A bit odd i agree but still something that has fascinated me for a long time. I'm aware of the obvious ones; greed, jealousy, intoxicants etc...What i have never understood is people who kill because they seem to like it. I have never understood those with an appetite for gratuitous violence...

There was so much random violence that when i look back at the days of the war, i realize how lucky we were that we escaped relatively unscathed. My mental scars remain but are nothing compared to those who came closer to the violence than i did, those who participated.... Those who witnessed the rapes, mutilations and cannibalism were left scarred for life. For many years, bad things seemed to happen to people i knew but never to myself or immediate family, for that i am forever grateful. When i went back in 2008, people were getting on with life though, despite daunting challenges. A limited supply of safe drinking water, electricity, healthcare, education...the basics. Such is the infectious optimism Sierra Leoneans are born with that they never outwardly seem to be broken but most suffer inner torment. It is that spirit, the spirit of “God Dae” (loosely translated means “In God we trust”) that pulled many through the dark days....

“Una Gi me Wata” , .. “Give me some water” he was pleading desperately even though he barely had a mouth left. Half of his face had been blown off by shrapnel and he was bleeding to death. He had a hole in his face and all you could see was a mix of blood, bone and tissue as he stood there. He stumbled in and found a place to sit, still pleading for water. I will NEVER forget that man. This is not a scene from a movie but a home video shot by a brave soul of the bombing of the Army Headquarters in 1998 by ECOMOG forces. I was living in Guinea during the bombing campaign but i was extremely eager to catch a glimpse of what was going on. My mom had warned us to stay away from the videos that were circulating, but the forbidden fruit is always so appealing.

We had walked down the street to a friend's house, sat down in front of the T.V, and slotted the video in...I was excited to finally see the war up close and personal, I'd heard the shots, the shelling and i had even seen a live bombing raid but i still didn't have the images to connect everything...this was my chance.... 

It started with an execution, a group of young men, thought to be petty thieves were driven in on the back of huge army transport trucks to a deserted piece of land. The grass was about about knee height, and wet from the rains.They were maybe a dozen or so, shabbily dressed with desperately sad faces. They were begging for their lives, knowing that they only had minutes to live. Most claimed they had been wrongly accused, a few admitted their crime but pointed out that they were only thieves and thus should be spared. The soldiers were not in a conciliatory mood as they dragged them down from the trucks. They gave them them a few seconds to say last words to the camera and offered each of the condemned a cigarette. The rifles were readied as the poor men looked on, their eyes praying for a miracle. 

As each man finished a cigarette, their heads would be covered with empty bags of rice and they were led a few metres away. The soldiers would step back and the men would be brought down in a hail of bullets, their legs twitching as their lives were extinguished. They were all executed in the same cold blooded and inhumane manner. Needless to say i was terrified at this point of the video even though i was behind the safety of a T.V screen, as i couldn't quite understand what i had just seen.

The soldiers didn't seem to care that they were being taped, or that they were executing petty thieves. They didn't seem bothered, taking to their grim tasks without a care in the world. It was so arbitrary, so casual that it didn't feel real. I guess that was how i protected myself from the brutality that i just witnessed. Surely i convinced myself, this can't be real!! but it was, every single bit of it.

The video went on, showing clips of the aftermath of ECOMOG bombings...dismembered limbs, disfigured bodies. Men, women and children lying in pools of blood as their relatives screamed and shouted for help. I remember one scene when the camera zoomed in on a piece of clothing lying in blood in the middle of the road. Someone lifted it up and it was a severed arm. I felt like throwing up!!!The screaming of the scared, the injured and the bereaved would move even the toughest of people to tears. I was stunned into silence and absorbed each scene like my life depended on it.

I watched the rest of the video and it was more of the same...bodies, destruction, mindless violence, fear and hopelessness. Some of the dead just lay there, their limbs twisted into bizarre positions, intertwined with others. You couldn't tell what was what, what body part belonged to whom, there was that much blood.

I wrote this note out of frustration at seeing people on Canadian/U.S T.V preach war as tool of democratization or go on about its benefits. A necessary evil to “liberate” those they perceive as “oppressed”. They talk about precision bombing and laser guided missiles, when there is no such thing. They would have you believe that technology has made war less terrible for the innocent men, women and children that suffer the consequences. The reality of war is that it guarantees suffering, destruction and fear and precious little else. We lose a bit of our humanity everytime a conflict is sparked off....What is also VERY frustrating is that those who instigate conflicts, the so-called “hawks” are the ones that rarely ever volunteer for combat. As someone famous once said “I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in...”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

War Stories: A Tale of Two Dogs

This story starts in the month of October in 1996 and i had just returned to Freetown after two years in Belgium. I wasn’t too happy about it, the country was in the middle of a Civil War and i was leaving comfortable, safe surroundings. I didn’t want to move yet again and have to re-establish friends yet again. It was in this state of confusion, anger and fear that i met Milo( prounounced Meelo) the new dog in our house. 

Our old dog Tiger had died the year before much to everyone’s sadness, Tiger was well liked by all and was a great dog. He was a loyal, great with people but could be tough with outsiders too.....We used to walk around the neighborhood with Tiger as kids just to see him beat up other dogs, made me so proud...

Anyways so its safe to say that Milo had a lot of work to do to win me over. Its been so long but i remember he was around the size of a german shepherd(dont know what breed he was) and light coloured. After a few months living with him Milo was turning out to be an alright dog, not too aggressive and quite friendly but very easily alarmed. Stamping your foot on the ground was enough to get him scrambling for cover.....

Of course he wasn’t helped by the fact that our house is about 200 to 300 metres away from an army base. So when the 1997 coup happened, the poor thing was going nuts. Every gun shot would have Milo running for cover, behind the trees in the compound, under the cars, in the kitchen....everywhere!!!

During the initial hours of the coup, everyone locked themselves indoors as soldiers went on a rampage trying to commandeer vehicles and steal whatever they could. The early hours of coups are always uncertain and rife with violence. Everyone knew it was best to keep away from windows, crawl instead of walk upright to avoid stray bullets etc...the usual.. after all we’d had a coup only 5 years before.Everyone was safely indoors except..... Milo...running around the compound like a dog on a mission frantically trying to enter the front door, kitchen door, any door!!! but they were all shut.

Nobody wanted to open the front door because it was so dangerous outside and i remember someone saying “Someone let the dog in!”. I cant remember what brave soul did let him in but i could never forget the sound of him running around, panicked and terrified beyond imagination. He was panting like he always did when he was scared, and behaving like a dog on steroids. I remember how absurd the situation felt like with everyone too scared to help the dog out. 

After the first day of Junta rule, plans were being made for us to leave the country as it was too uncertain and dangerous to stay. We left on June 6th 1997(what can i say, i remember things!!!!) , 11 days after the coup, and drove to neighbouring Guinea. We stayed in Guinea for a year during which Milo only came to mind when i thought his antics during the gunfire. The Military rulers were eventually kicked out of office by a Nigerian led peacekeeping force in 1998. In July of the same year we finally returned home after a year of exile.

When we got back to our House, Milo wasn’t there permanently anymore. He came by once in a while but he was mostly out on the streets, the Old boy had snapped. God knows what had happened to him in the year we were away. Who knows? perhaps he didn’t feel safe anymore. To those who might suggest that we should have crossed borders with time of war the last thing you think about is a dog... The base next to us was now occupied by the Nigerians, having kicked out the rebels.

As the months went by and Freetown was invaded once again in January 1999 ii hadn’t seen Milo much but in my mind he may have just ran away, couldn’t cope with the stress anymore...I really did not think much of his disappearance and life went on. A few weeks after the fighting in the city subsided one of our neighbors approached us about giving away brother and i readily accepted...i took the dark brown one for myself and my bro took the light colored one ( I’m much darker than my brother so it was only natural lol). We found out from the lady that Milo had been making conjugal visits to her dog and the puppies were the thats where he was all the time!!!!

I found it amusing that that was how he coped with war lol...I wondered again where he was, deadbeat dad running away from responsibility....I found out later to my utter amazement what had happened to dear old Milo....

Some kid in the neighborhood reportedly saw him going towards the barracks where the Nigerians were staying. Thats the last time anyone saw Milo.There were persistent rumours that Nigerians were quite fond of Dog “Pepper Soup”.This made me certain that he had met an untimely end and i had to reconcile with the possibility that he was probably in a pot somewhere, the key ingredient in someone’s “Pepper Soup”. Rumour had it his girlfriend met the same end.......

Yellow Woman Part 3

Each step I took would raise a slight puff of dust as my flip flops penetrated the thick film of powder on the road. The sound of rubber gently hitting the underside of my foot was louder than usual partly because I was walking briskly but mostly because my senses were being stretched to their limits. There were only 3 or so houses close enough to the road that could provide me with any sense of comfort. I knew that in a worst case scenario, an encounter with you-know-who….at the very least people would hear my screams.

 My plan was to make it between these “safe zones” and spend as little time as possible in the relatively darker areas with head-high grass. I made my way through the first 50 or so meters rather quickly, keeping a watchful eye on the swaying blades of grass to my right.  I figured that if I was gonna get attacked, it would almost certainly come from beyond the wall of grass, which seemed so innocent in the day. Our fence was on the left so I was pretty sure nothing would be coming from that end. I avoided its shadow though and kept what I regarded as a safe distance from the grass on the right… I ended up walking straight through the middle.

I made it to my first “safe zone” intact, a bit sweaty and shaken but otherwise ok. I could hear the reassuring sound of the neighbours’ conversations from behind the wall as I walked by. It was a few seconds of respite for my hardworking heart… furiously beating at my chest from the inside. I knew that a second stretch of deserted road was literally just around the corner. Much longer than the first, it also had a couple of half constructed homes along the way.

These homes under construction were particularly terrifying at night as they cast ominous shadows. I started my walk, or was it a slight jog? I can’t really recall… but somehow I was moving and getting closer to where i wanted to be. I remember the growing sense of relief I felt as I approached the main intersection that connected the side street I was walking on with the main road. I could hear faint sounds of the conversations that drifted through the wind…I thought I was home and dry, my heart slowed down a little, my neck relaxed just a touch…and then I felt it

A sharp gust of wind hit me from my right; I could hear the movement of the grass as the wind picked up dust and stones and swept them right across my path. My clothes billowed in the wind... I FROZE….too terrified to run away as my legs were too weak to move and were barely propping me up. I couldn’t turn around either and check out what was going on because I didn’t want to see whatMIGHT be there…I thought to myself, “This is it…” my end has come, I’m going to be killed by a man-hating spirit… I heard what i thought was the rustling of clothing and I thought she was making her way over to me…but I still couldn’t move or turn around...

As I processed the situation, I tried in vain to recall all those koranic verses that I’d memorized for such a confrontation but I couldn’t remember a single thing… Arabic wasn’t my first language and I always sucked at it so I desperately searched my brain for an alternative …something that would be as effective at warding off evil…

Just as a side note, you should know that I’m descended on both sides of my family from conservative Muslims…my ancestors had waged jihad to establish an Islamic Kingdom, with the capital at Timbo, my ancestral home…

…yet in my deepest hour of need, when my brain was blanked and my feet paralysed by terror, I called out “I am covered in the blood of Jesus, you cannot harm me”… over and over again…I waited to be struck by evil, my heart was racing, my palms were sweaty as I held a fist, my neck ached from being held rigidly in one position. My mouth kept repeating that intoxicating chant. As if I was in a trance, my mouth moved like it had taken a life of its own... everything seemed to slow down, like my life was put on slow motion... my senses were so heightened I could swear I felt each hair on my skin move, I could hear myself breathe, I could smell the barbeques from the shacks near the intersection…

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, the wind stopped, the grass calmed and everything went back to normal…I lifted my head up and ran as fast as i could… all the way down the hill. Even though I’ve never been renowned for my athleticism, i ran extremely fast and didn't feel out of breath or tired when I got to the stores.I bought my food as quickly as I could and I started on the return journey…

Emboldened by my earlier “victory”, I was a lot calmer as I negotiated the little dusty side street on my way home… By calmer, I mean I jogged instead of ran home invoking Jesus and Allah (I was starting to recall some things) along the way. I got home tired, dirty and just plain relieved to be intact and alive.

 Looking back at that incident a decade later, I can’t explain what really happened that night. I tend to think these days that all the ghost stories must have made my brain overreact and imagine sounds… after all strong gusts of wind are not uncommon in a seaside community. However the African in me will always wonder… what if the wind and dust was actually her “appearing”…what if I had actually managed to defeat an evil spirit…somehow to think that I had repelled the Yellow Woman makes me feel rather good.

…..                          THE END