Football, JuJu, how to deal with monkeys

It’s Saturday morning now. Murray and Jon are sitting outside talking to Chris, who has turned-up again, this time with his beautiful little daughter and a couple of musician guys.

I can hear them chatting, mixed in with all the streets sounds, the hooters pipping, the shouting. I think the plan is to give him a polite brush-off. We’d intended that today would be a day off, but this afternoon we’re having to go out with the kids again to make another film about the history of Freetown – should be pretty interesting, bit of a tour around some of the old areas settled by the freed slaves, see more of the crumbly old colonial/creole houses.

Thursday night I gave the Bob Marley night a miss. I’d got a sore throat and felt completely exhausted so lay on my bed for 12 hours and slept it off – I felt fine again yesterday.

Friday – a day of football

Friday was the turn of our iEARN ‘football’ group to make a film.
A big group of young fellas aged between 14 and 18, but as soon we set off the group somehow swelled to about 30 instead of the planned 19.
Thankfully, our fine friend Philip (his dad’s in the army) used his considerable leadership skills to get rid of the hangers-on.

We’d got a surprise for this lot. Adam Pearson, the chairman of Hull City FC, had donated 20 sky-blue away-kit shirts, and to much excitement (and chanting of Tigers! Tigers!) we handed them out.

The football field was a square of red dust which we reached by winding our way through a cemetery, the guys all trotting along in formation like an army platoon, Jon filming the whole thing. There’s such a strongly militaristic approach to the way people here seem to organise themselves – again, another reminder of the civil war; these people seem to be constantly ready to mobilise, it’s part of their culture.

The game was great. Huge dark clouds over the city but still a crisp bright light. Tigers’ shirt playing against skins – amazing, lean, athletic bodies.
The football is fast and very ‘street’, end-to-end, close interplay. Me and Jon pitch in for 15 minutes. Wow, it’s hot. I do okay, play left wing, set up a goal and manage to make a few decent passes. Toward the end Jon takes a tumble and cuts his leg, so head back to the hotel to clean it up and have lunch.

In the afternoon we head back to iEARN and interview a handful of the footballers about their favourite teams, the importance of football in the lives. And then somehow, out of nowhere, the government director of sport turns up and wants to speak on camera – he’s great, explaining how they’re launching the country’s first ever football development programme across all the provinces and chiefdoms in Sierra Leone. Chiefdoms. Mad.

Then we learn that an interview has also been set up for us next Monday with the Minister for Sport. Suddenly we’re Reuters or the BBC are we?

In the evening the three of us go with Barmmy Boy and Franklin to the National Stadium watch a Salone Premier league game (basically based in Freetown) between the two top teams, St Edward’s and I can’t remember the name of the other.

It’s fantastic. The football’s very similar to the game we saw on the dusty square – very fast, close interplay, opportunistic, all attack. The atmosphere is great – it’s a big stadium, in the round, concrete step-seating. I guess the Africa capacity would be around 50,000, but in the UK it’d seat 20,000. Tonight, I’d guess that there are maybe 2000 people scattered around (these people are poor, football’s a luxury). But it’s friendly, there’s a cool breeze, and on the pitch black hill behind you can see the lights from the few places that are lucky enough to have generators.

In the UK you get a pie. In Freetown there are women with trays balanced on their heads selling boiled eggs, fried plantains, fried fish, fried chicken, beers.
The game ends 1-0 to St Edward. As we leave the stadium in total and complete darkness, we pass street stalls with little, candlelit cabinets on wheels, selling the cold baked bean with mayonnaise and salad sandwiches that seems to be a street staple.

Night-time and juju

Before the game in the evening, but after the day’s filming, we head into town to exchange currency and sort various other bits and bobs.

Freetown by night is wild. It’s teeming with people, dogs wandering into the biggest main road in the country’s capital city, a guy on rollerblades with a thin pink nylon dressing gown flowing out behind him, swooping down the hill racing the taxis. The darkness falls and there’s no electricity apart from the odd few generators in Chicken Champ cafes, people huddle around kerosene lamps selling food and cigs from their little stalls. It’s like life after the apocalypse.
Come to think of it, it is life after the apocalypse.
When the rebels took Freetown they called the attack Operation No Living Thing.

The great thing about the darkness is that no-one can see that you’re a white boy.

We visit Universal Photos (the smile makers for picture takers) to get some disposable cameras developed. There are loads of young guys attached to the show – they’ve formed themselves into an organised guild of freelance photographers. It’s their job to go out and about trying to photograph events, get the pics developed and then take a tiny slice of commission.

Leaving the centre in a taxi always takes ages, people stepping in front of the car, no traffic systems or lights whatsoever, but it’s always an eye-opener and you can stare at the amazing things from the safety of the car.

We pass a secret society troup winding their way through the crowds. People completely covered but for a dark gauze in front of their face, a two headed figure, devils in red, all dancing an waving sticks.
Dark, strange and definitely not to be photographed.

Later, Barmmy and Franklin explain about these so called ‘secret societies’. They practise African black magic, juju. They have invisible witch guns which can shoot a person and kill them – and these guns do work, says Barmmy, they work every time. Stay away from these people.
If you need them to do work for you – maybe you need a neighbour bumping off – then they’ll do it for you. But the price you pay for their services is the sacrifice of one of your own family members.

How to deal with a monkey

Barmmy explains: if you see chimps up a tree and they’re throwing coconuts at you, what you need to do is pretend you’ve got a machete and make like you’re going to chop down the tree. They’ll scatter.

If you see a baboon, and there’s a stick on the ground, make sure you pick up the stick first, if the baboon beats you to it you’ll get a whupping.

Barmmy says people in the provinces get anxious about baboons because, if you’re not careful around them, they’ll slap you – and they’ve got really hard hands.

He says that Sierra Leone is the world’s biggest importer of chimpanzees. He says that if you go to the provinces and ask for a chimp, they’ll give you one for nothing.

He laughs a lot when I ask him where we can buy monkey eggs.

Later, at the footy, he jokingly refuses to eat fried plantain because he says that Bruno, the chimp who escaped from a reserve and recently killed a man, will be able to smell it on him and he’ll attack him while he’s sleeping.