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 hysteria...it 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]