The hotel is really quite good. It’s uphill (cooler, peaceful, less mozzies) and set in landscaped grounds with a great view of the houses Krio, Colonial houses and shacks huddled together on opposite side of the valley.
The aircon, water and electricity work most of the time, the manager Alusine is very charming, it’s clean and friendly, the rooms are large.
Saturday morning, slow start. Jon’s involved with his technology, we’re waiting for various people to show up and things to happen. Franklyn comes along at 10 and takes Simon off for some orientation and sightseeing.
Around lunchtime Jon, Murray and I head to down to the Globe Cinema on Syke Street for the first ever Freetown Film Festival. I don’t quite have the wide-eyed quality that I had on my first visit last year. Freetown is just as chaotic, lively and fascinating, but some things are more commonplace to me now, I’m not agog when I see people carrying things on their heads.
The Globe is bang in the middle of the area where we worked last year so we’re on familiar ground. It’s fantastic to turn up and the kids who we worked with last year are there waiting to se me (they’d welcomed Jon and Murray earlier in the week).
It’s brilliant to see Mohamed, Ibrahim, Philip and Alfred again. Mohamed is over the moon. Mohamed is the kid who wanted me to adopt him. He’s kept in touch all year and now we’ve found him some friends in Hull who are going to pay for his education. He’s so happy to see me, it’s very touching. He asks over and over again “How is your son Barney? I want him to be my brother… how is Barney?”
I’ll be seeing more of Mohamed later in the week.
Philip is as fantastic and charismatic as ever. His father has now been promoted to the rank of Colonel in the Sierra Leone army and Philip’s clearly proud of him. He makes great conversation. I like Philip.
Wow. It’s hot too. Pitch black in the Globe and we show the films we’ve produced with kids in Hull and Sierra Leone to a packed audience. I sit and sweat. Philip gets me a coke and some excellent little meat pies and fried fish balls which we share around.
After the show things get a little odd (things always get odd when we’re in Freetown). It turns out that some of the people we’ve been working with have got involved in some sort of conflict of personalities and interests and there’s a danger we could get pulled into it.
It wouldn’t be right to go into loads of details here, but I end up spending the next few hours trying diplomatically to pick various confusing threads out of a very mixed-up knot.
More on all that later…
Our 15 year-old friend Sidibay turns up at The Globe. He’s a great kid and I’ve brought him some football kit which he’s delighted with.
In the evening me, Murray and Simon take him to watch a big game at the National Stadium, two top-of-the-league local teams (Blackpool and another whose name escapes me) – Jon stays back at the hotel to talk to a journalist from the Concord Times about our work.
It’s a pretty dull match, but there’s a big crowd in and the atmosphere’s great – tropical heat with laughter and chat. The ladies carry drinks, fried fish, shawarmas (my favourite flatbread and meat wraps) around, we buy snack, drink beer and chill under the floodlights, looking at the tiny lights powered by generators in the inky darkness of the mountains on which Freetown is built.
Sidibay talks about magic and traditional beliefs. He tells me how a Murriman (witch doctor) can kill a person or protect them or make them become invisible. He tells me about ritual sacrifices and strange dark magic. He tells me he doesn’t believe that it can work on him, but that it can work if you believe it.
We talk about power, nature and nurture, manipulation, corruption and politics.
Manipulation and maintaining power are big issues for people here. It seems that even at the most personal level, corruption, paranoia and mistrust are embedded in people’s beliefs and behaviours.
Anyway, after the footy we meet Jon and head out to Aberdeen for a Patrick’s Day celebration followed by a couple of hours at Freetown’s finest nightspot, the famous Paddy’s – but more on that (and more) tomorrow. I’m worn out.