An escape

No matter where you are in the world, sometimes you just have to get away.

On Saturday, we decamped for a night just a few miles down the road at Lakka.

We’d always fancied staying at Tommy’s Paradise Guesthouse, our favourite beach place, but didn’t think it’d be worth overnighting so close to home.

However, we’d had a bit of a week.

The poor Flump has been teething, meaning broken sleep for everyone. The One With The Common Sense had been suffering with her dermatitis, while my blistered feet had erupted into impressive and very sore abscesses.

My job-hunting had been frustrated by a lack of decent WiFi seemingly anywhere in Freetown. So I was stuck at home for long hours in a house reaching new levels of stickiness thanks to rising temperatures and lingering wet-season humidity.

Cooling off has been made more difficult by the faltering electricity supply. Our cooking gas ran out mid-noodles on Friday then, on Saturday, a plumber who was trying to sort out our dodgy emergency tank managed to sever supply to our downstairs.

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So it was with some relief that we dumped our bags at Tommy’s basic but comfortable bungalow ($40B&B), set in a lovely garden overlooking Lakka beach, clambered into a hammock and inhaled the sea air.

I say “we” but while I swung lazily on the verandah, the One With The Common Sense was using every last ounce of energy stopping the Flump drowning herself in the surf. (I had special dispensation, given I wasn’t feeling too well.)

Spending the night at the beach is so much nicer than a day trip. At day’s end, you avoid the full ferocity of the sun and can truly relax in and out of the water.

There’s nothing quite like watching the sun go down as you dine to the sound of waves lapping the shore.img_20161126_1738011

And the beauty of a beach bungalow is that you can put children to bed and sit outside, chatting over the music from parties at rowdier establishments further along.

Not that there was anything muted about the PA accompanying a record launch by a Nigerian artist that kept on until 4am just around the headland.

But it didn’t stop us sleeping and we felt sufficiently rested to enjoy our breakfast of toasted bread and omelette – accompanied by a massive flask of tea – out on the sands.

Normal water supplies might not have been restored on our return home but our spirits certainly had.

That didn’t last long for me, as a visit to the corrugated metal “cinema” to watch Everton lose yet again sent my blood pressure soaring once more.

If that abject performance hadn’t left me miserable enough, my worst-ever case of the trots left me confined to the bathroom for much of the following night.

Spare a thought for the One With the Common Sense, though. If she wasn’t woken by my dashing to-and-from the loo, then she was jolted awake by the Flump who, delirious with fever, would burst into a verse of Baa Baa Black Sheep at any moment.

Unsurprisingly, none of us were in condition to venture far the next day. We kept Flumpo off nursery, while the One With The Common Sense worked from home to allow me to catch up on some sleep.

Trust me. It doesn’t sound any better at 2am.

Our confinement to quarters could have been a whole lot worse. Miraculously, our power supply didn’t cut out all day.

Nearby roadworks have undoubtedly contributed to an increasing fragility of our supplies. However, given that power elsewhere appear has been relatively stable, there have been suggestions that someone locally might have annoyed a bigwig at the supplier.

I’ve no evidence for this and would dismiss it as nonsense, were it not for credible reports of a shopkeeper paying a bribe to secure a daily 22 hours of power, and a senior official guaranteeing supply to himself and close neighbours.

Still, we have the luxury of being able to turn on a generator. Spare a thought for those left sitting in the dark.

Times are especially hard for ordinary folk just now. A near 100% hike in electricity prices has been followed by the removal of a government subsidy on fuel.

Whatever the wisdom of subsidising petrol in the first place, you can imagine how hard the population is hit when prices go up by 60%.

While those like us who drive, or fire up diesel-hungry generators, might find our (hardly excessive) “first world” lifestyles increasingly uneconomical, we’re not likely to go hungry.

However, it’s caused chaos for the general population. Cab fares have risen 50% (from Le1,000-1,500, about 12p-18p), which sparks rows over a lack of Le500 coins for change. Cookeries are serving up smaller portions, while ever more of the weakening currency is required to buy imported staples like rice.

Unsurprisingly, people are angry. However, attempts at protest have been quelled by police on grounds that they did not have the prior approval required by law.

I can’t see that helping matters.

One day the other week, many businesses and most NGOs shut up shop over the prospect of an illegal protest. A WhatsApp message doing the rounds had suggested students were calling for violence against any vehicles out on the street that night.

It was exposed as a hoax in advance but the unusually empty streets, combined with apocalyptic thunder and rainfall, lent the city an uneasy air.

One student was later arrested on suspicion of sharing the message and locked up for five days until a coalition of lawyers working pro-bono negotiated her release

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Photo: Amjata Bayoh

This represented victory for the 100 or so students outside the court who risked protesting against what they saw as denial of free speech.

For most Sierra Leoneans life goes on, just harder than it already was a few months ago.

We felt awful telling our watchmen that we’d be leaving in a month or so, rendering them unemployed.

It won’t be easy for them to find work, no matter how glowing the references we leave behind. We can only hope the bit of help we give them on departure will give them a chance to further their prospects through education or training.

While we’ve tried to treat the lads well, I’ve generally been more reluctant to splash cash too readily in other ways for fear of appearing flashy or leaving myself open to exploitation.

However, I’ve recently taken to leaving change with street traders more often than previously. It’s particularly appreciated just now.

The bread vendors who spend days carrying crates high on their heads will make Le1,000 go a lot further than I will.

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So tasty I’d nearly finished it before I thought to take a photo

And it’s worth paying over-the-odds for the delicious fluffy Fula bread rolls or – my favourite – chewy baguette-style tapalapa (made with ground wheat, millet, maize and black bean) smothered in condensed milk.

It’s possible I embarrassed myself with ecstatic moans as I munched in the street when I first tried it.

With the clock ticking on our time here, I’m keen to taste more of Salone’s simple culinary pleasures but still haven’t come across half the street food mentioned in our Bradt guidebook.

I only noticed mention of Scotch eggs for the first time the other day and I’ll bet they’re different here from at home. I can’t believe fiery chilli doesn’t figure for a start.

I walked out of the gate the other week to find the assembled watchmen sucking on plastic bags containing something called “pap”, apparently a ball of sweetened rice.

So that’s another one for the list, along with porcupine soup, pounded corn and these little round cakes of something or other I keep seeing sold at the roadside that I’ve never got around to trying.20161124_1310401

I’d had plenty of fiery home-made ginger beer in bars but never from the street before one scorching day last week, when I bought a bottle from a coolbox. Served frozen, it melted into a sort of adult Slushy and cooled me down nicely as I walked up the hill.

It tasted fantastic.

Even as I drank, it did strike me that the old water bottle it was served in might previously have been fished out of our bin. And it was probably made with tapwater, which isn’t generally kind on foreigners’ guts.

Indeed, perhaps it was to blame for my weekend wildies. Perhaps not.

But then at least I was able to get away and escape life for a day or two at somewhere more comfortable.

Others aren’t so fortunate.

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