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

Yellow Woman Part 2

The rumours were started, as is common, by one person reporting what “they” had said, heard and/or seen. “They”, was a mysterious group of people who seemed to know everything but was never available to provide the necessary details thereby maintaining a convenient anonymity. So “they” started reporting sightings of a mysterious lady prowling the streets and beaches of Goderich. “They” said that the “Yellow Woman” was a Spirit of the sea, who would come to land to, amongst other things, prey on men. She was described as incredibly beautiful, with long flowing hair and a light complexion. She was also supposedly an expert at luring men into her trap and sometimes killing them....

As the rumours spread, the neighbourhood became more on edge...people walking around in groups if they absolutely had to go outside at night. She dominated most conversations but in typical Sierra Leonean way, most people would make light of the terror they felt. They often cracked jokes about it and young men in particular would be told to “cam bak quick o, u know say Yellow Woman dae around”[Don’t be late, the Yellow Woman is around] as they ventured out at night. Since Yellow Woman’s victims were all men, the women were spared the terror and I believe they must’ve secretly enjoyed the hysteria that had spread amongst the men. Wives with wayward husbands would be sure that their men would be good as long as you-know-who was on the prowl...

The increased anxiety in the neighbourhood started getting to me after a man I knew reported an encounter with the spirit.  Pa Lansana, a middle aged man with a slight build and a fondness for sleeveless white vests, had worked on some small repair jobs at our house. He led a small group of builders and did everything from repairing our roof to rebuilding our exterior fencing after a storm had knocked it down. He was always a chatty type, engaging in friendly banter with his crew and those of us just hanging around the compound...

I came home from school one day and was surprised to hear that our “Yellow Woman” problem had been discussed on local radio. I was even more taken aback to hear that Pa Lansana had been interviewed as a “witness” and had described a quite terrifying encounter with the spirit. Apparently, he had woken up just before dawn to say his prayers at the local mosque and had met the spirit on the way. He allegedly had a duel of some sort with the creature...he recited verses from the Koran and the creature initially resisted, assuming weird shapes but eventually gave up and ran away. As my cousins related all this information to me, I naturally laughed myself to tears....This man had a unique way of expressing his stories and I really wished I’d heard the interview first hand.....

The whole thing was so fantastic and barely believable but yet came from a man that I knew was neither insane nor a liar...this troubled me somewhat. As the days went by, more encounters were reported and I gradually avoided walking outside alone... Darkness almost always meant I’d be home and not hanging out a friend’s place or with the neighbours or just chilling outside the compound on the side of the road...The Yellow Woman worried me in a way that the super natural had never before. I became genuinely terrified of walking down the poorly lit, dusty roads that made their way from our house all the way down the hills, to the shops on the edge of the ocean. This walk usually took around 10-15 minutes....

One night, in this climate of fear, i decided to take the “risk” of an encounter and go down to the stores to buy some food. The N.P.A (National Power Authority to some, No Power Available to most) had plunged the whole neighbourhood into darkness as was normal back then. A full moon was up though, bathing the houses and trees in a magnificent, ghostly grey light. On nights like these, you could pretty much see everything in what would otherwise be absolute darkness. This extraordinary lighting did create some unnerving shadows though, especially from trees. The gently swaying branches and leaves cast shadows that looked like monsters crawling on the dirt....

I took a few steps out of the safety of the must’ve been sometime after 8 p.m. but I’m sure it wasn’t very late at night. I took a left turn, getting on the street, which was deserted as expected. Our fence cast an ominous shadow on the left side of the road, and a long stretch of tall grass lined the other side for at least a hundred metres. The gentle breeze that was blowing moved the grass slowly...left, then if someone was cutting a path through it. The road itself was pretty narrow and the usually reddish-brown dust had a beautiful grey glow.  I did a quick mental check to ensure I could call upon my spiritual protection should the need arise...I took a deep breath and started walking... [To be continued]

Yellow woman part 1

At 23 years old, i've lived a rather interesting life, lucky enough to travel and live in many different parts of the world and in vastly different cultures. From Africa, Europe and now North America, many neighbourhoods have shaped who i am today, but by far the most influential of these would have to be the little and oft derided fishing village of Goderich. Located in the suburbs of Freetown, it is about an hour's drive from the city centre even though it was probably only 10-15 kms away. Like most of Freetown, Goderich was built on the edge of the Atlantic, with most residents including myself, not more than a half hour's walk from the ocean. It is a sprawling area of mansions and corrugated zinc shacks or “pan bodies”, an army base, a college and a quarry. Even though most consider it a part of Freetown, it is technically outside the city limits. This may explain the appaling state of the road that leads to Goderich from Freetown. For many years i had to endure the teasing of class mates when we'd be dropped off at school with our car covered up to the headlights in mud. For years, i had to be extra careful not to let the windows down as we laboured through the 5 or so kilometres of torturous dirt road. To do so would risk getting to school with brown eyelashes and a dirty uniform. In the rainy season we'd have to carefully navigate the trenches created by poor drainage (to call them pot holes would be an understatement). In the dry season, visibility was minimal as drivers raced each other to avoid being caught behind a massive plume of dust. So much dust would accumulate on the side of the road, that whenever you returned from a stroll, you were forced to wash your feet.

Sure, Goderich had and probably still does have major infrastructural challenges but  also possesses its own unique charm. From the bay area, where local fishermen sold their goods to the foot of the hills where huge compounds and massive houses remain a common site. The local palm wine selling shacks or “poyo bars” were juxtaposed with fancy villas and compounds. Wealth and abundance stood shoulder to shoulder with extreme poverty. It was a common sight when walking on any street to see young men hanging outside the pan bodies having a drink, chatting up the girls that sold oranges on the street. These girls would have the oranges neatly peeled on a little cloth covered tray. The oranges would be arranged in threes or twos.."three for two block" they would enthusiastically offer...Older gentlemen, often shirtless would be playing checkers under the evening sun, chewing roasted peanuts and sharing their words of wisdom on everything from politics to football...

Close by, you'd probably have kids kicking a ball around hoping to be the next Mohamed Kallon or Junior Tumbu or J.J Okocha etc etc.... As we got older and european football fever invaded the country, nicknames like Gerrard and Van Nistelrooy became the norm... In the evenings you'd see the "big men" in the neighborhood being driven in their tinted, Air-conditioned SUVs...some were back from a hard day's work, others returning from chilling with their boys at China House...It was a simple existence, the few who had jobs going about their business, the many who were not so fortunate hanging around dreaming, praying ( to Jesus and Allah), hoping for a better future. Despair is not the Sierra Leonean way and somehow people always kept their hopes alive and a smile on their faces.

In those days, only two things could alter the average Sierra Leonean's laissez-faire approach to life, a rebel invasion and...THE UNDERWORLD. Yes you read it correct.The world of spirits inhabiting humans,owls and other animals...witches/wizards hitching rides at night to America in groundnut shells and returning before dawn...curses and charms, love potions...the whole nine yards. Underworld fever at one point had the whole city in near was what everyone talked about...Tales of witches confessing or “prooving” as they referred to it were everywhere.

It all made for fantastic stories but ever the skeptic, i never quite bought into them.... I often dismissed them as the product over an over-active imagination...after all i thought...Sierra Leoneans are masters at spinning stories from nothing. For months my views stayed the same until the “Yellow Woman” hit Goderich....[TO BE CONTINUED]

Allow me to introduce myself...

This is hopefully the first step in a journey that will help me carve out a little corner for myself in this vast ocean of bloggers and commentators. I will be sharing my views on the issues that matter most to me in global politics. I will also share stories and reflections on my life so far including my triumphs and failures, hopes for the future etc etc. I hope you enjoy it and feel free to add comments,negative or positive... i hope to use them to grow as an individual and a writer.