Tag Archives: Africa

Our trip to Sierra Leone (part 1)

Note: I feel that I should point out that we were only in Sierra Leone for 9 days, and spent all of our time on the Freetown peninsula. Naturally, I could never claim to be an expert on the place after such a brief and limited visit. But I hope that my impressions might count for something, especially for anyone who’s never had the chance to visit.

Visiting Sierra Leone

Despite its stunning natural beauty, Sierra Leone doesn’t seem to strike people as the perfect holiday destination. Mention the West African state’s name to anyone here at home (and we did, ad nauseam, until we left), and they’ll generally respond with vague knowledge of war, bloodshed, diamonds, cocaine and guns. This is understandable because Sierra Leone isn’t generally mentioned in the media in Europe except in those terms. Films like Blood Diamond and Lord Of War, the only recent Hollywood depictions of the country, help to promote this view. But that was then. The civil war officially ended 9 years ago and ever since, Sierra Leone has been putting itself back together.

But at the same time, people are sort-of right: Sierra Leone is not a perfect holiday destination. We were lucky enough to be visiting a friend who works for a foreign agency in the country. Pretty much all the non-local people we met work in similar jobs, for various NGOs or for the UN. The rest were visiting friends who worked there, or were returning for a holiday having already spent time working for an aid agency. As I understand it, very few ‘complete’ tourists (that is, people with no-one to show them around/provide accommodation) ever seem to make the journey. And to be honest, I struggle to recommend such a visit at the moment, unless it’s done through the TribeWanted eco tourism project.

Sierra Leone, you see, doesn’t just lack tourist infrastructure. It lacks infrastructure. There are relatively few major metalled roads in the capital, Freetown, and only a handful outside, making travel in 4×4 practically essential. Lungi airport, the only realistic way of arriving in the country, is the most basic international airport I’ve ever used (it apparently has no computers, so check in when you leave is an entirely manual pen and paper task). There are relatively few shops, so visitors and ex-pats tend to rely on a handful of expensive supermarkets and the market area in town, where availability of goods can never be guaranteed. There are hotels, but some of them are, according to what I’ve been told, pretty dodgy.

All that said, Sierra Leone is a beautiful, enchanting and wonderful country. The beaches and forests of the Freetown peninsula are about as gorgeous as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Freetown itself, for all the dust, is a great city: full of movement, work, fun and music. The Sierra Leonean people we met were quietly confident about the future of their wonderful country and far more open to talking about local issues and their aspirations than people in many other countries I’ve visited. The restaurant business seems to be picking up, and while I need to return to try more of the local food, visitors can eat well in plenty of locations in Freetown.

Next part: Bureh & Lumley. You can see our Flickr set of our visit here.

Live8 was a revolting sham

It seems obvious, but I am willing to break into my summer holiday from blogging to note it: Live8 and the Make Poverty History campaign are a shocking abuse of people’s trust and intentions.

Live8 was a shameless day of self promotion by a bunch of people far richer than me parading their high morals in a sort of guilt-cleansing strip show. The idea behind it was even worse: with our rock star heroes, we are supposed to go cap-in-hand to the leaders of the G8, and ask them to make things better. BUT – we’re not allowed to mention, to suggest, that it might be those fat bastards who are to blame for the problems we’re all so upset about. That wouldn’t do.

There is no real moral equivalent for what’s been going on over the last few days but it is a little like asking the BNP to ‘fix the racist issue’ and then just leave them to it.

The leaders of G8 – some of the most powerful men in the world – should not be trusted. They have their power not because they are kings or lords, but because they have risen to power with the backing of big business. He who pays the piper, and so on.

There’s this creepy feeling now that whenever we discuss political change and solving the problems of the world, someone – sounding like the latest looping Coldplay noise – has to say “Oh well, obviously we can’t change the way we live” or “Socialism’s dead, so it’s best to just forget about it” or “There are some things that just never change – lets try and work with what we’ve got”.

No. What we’ve got is rotten and unstable. We’ve built our great nations on the rape of Africa. No one at G8 or at the Live8 concerts is really interested in changing that, because the changes we would all need to make are so huge that it’s much easier to just lie about it or close our eyes.

We need to change the way we live, the way we travel, the way we eat and the expectations we have from life. The reason these facts are being ignored is that our leaders have us hooked on all this crap we have around us at the moment: cheap, cheerful and shallow, but with just enough sugar to keep us going. If you try to take a look at life in 2005 from a distance, it’s really worrying just how flimsy and stupefying things have become. And it’s only going to get worse.

Hey, Live8, Make Poverty History, Angelina fucking Jolie, Tony Blair, Ronald MacDonald, Dido, Bob Geldof, Gordon Brown, Stevie Wonder, and the rest of you: this is one man saying I don’t give a fuck what you think. I am not interested in your warped morality or your perverse charity. You are wrong. Y esta.