Book Review: Sierra Leone, Bradt

I must own at least a dozen guide books to various countries, continents or regions but – daft as it might sound – I’d never read one before we moved to Sierra Leone.

I’d obviously flicked through them, looked at the photos, pored over sections and sought their advice. But I’d never properly read one.

Those sections on history and culture – even the bits on general detail about a city or region I was visiting – would leave me cold. Beyond plotting out a rough idea of a trip, I found them difficult to digest until I was actually in a place, and even then I tended to use them more for quick references to accommodation, restaurants, districts or specific sights.book_cover

That changed when we moved to Freetown. I suppose spending any great length of time in a place is going to change the way you read about it. But little did I know how much value I’d get out of our Bradt guide to Sierra Leone. Continue reading

An early Christmas present

It’s hard to believe a year has passed since we left Sierra Leone.

We’ve been back in Liverpool longer than we were in Freetown. So if this year seems to have gone by in a blur, our time in West Africa might almost not have happened.

Christmas with the in-laws in Ireland was a very different affair from last year’s beach jaunt, although there was still time for a dip.

The Christmas Swim has become something of a tradition in Greystones so, after run over the cliffs to nearby Bray, I joined my brother-in-law and a few dozen of Ireland’s more (fool?)hardy natives in taking the plunge.img-20161228-wa0024-11b


Brrrr: Spot the difference

The Irish Sea, I can confirm, is a whole lot colder than the sub-tropical Atlantic. There was certainly no Santa hat and PJs this year for the Flump, who stood shivering miserably in the drizzle, and even the usually tough-as-old-boots One With The Common Sense decided no wisdom lay ‘twixt those waves.

Rather than a backdrop of coconut palms, and whisky with fiery ginger for refreshment, it was the Wicklow Mountains and a flask of hot tea.

But I was glad to take a (very) brief dip to make a symbolic connection with last Christmas, when we were preparing to bid farewell to Sierra Leone.

Similarly, the continued popularity of this blog – it attracts more than 500 page views per month and is approaching 22,000 hits over its lifetime – has helped maintain this link. It has encouraged a few people to drop me a line to ask what they might expect when they arrive here.

Before you move somewhere, it’s hard to know whether you’ll be able to buy milk (in Salone, you won’t), or – as one vegan asked – how easily you might find dried pulses (very).

A section covering the practicalities of everyday life as an expat was the one thing I thought was lacking from the otherwise excellent Bradt guide to Sierra Leone. I told them as much when I offered some information while we were there.

So I was delighted to be contacted by Bradt’s updater Sean Connolly, who asked if I would write a short section covering this for the third edition, released a month ago.

I really wanted to describe the shock that many expats get when they realise just how difficult it is to get even simple things done in Sierra Leone, along with some brief practical information – similar to that under the Expat Life tab of this website.

But squeezing that into fewer than 1,000 words, while preserving Bradt’s easy-reading style, was quite some task.

Even tougher was conveying just what a challenge life can be, without losing sight of the fact it’s us expats who have it easy. I didn’t want it to come across as a massive whinge.  There are, after all, good reasons why visitors are so fond of the country, and why I often find myself flicking through an Afrobeat selection when I’m out running.

My worst fears were realised when I was sent some trimmed copy and noticed my concluding paragraph – summing up how overcoming these challenges lets you appreciate Salone as a friendly, fun and fascinating place – had been edited out.

I know how tricky it is when you need to lose words to make things fit. And I can be a fairly brutal editor when I want to be. But I was extremely grateful to Sean and the editors for welcoming my suggestions to tweak the edits to preserve a sense of my fondness for Salone, rather than having my name against a relentless grumblefest.

It came as an early Christmas present to pick up a copy of the newly-released guide in Waterstones and see my words of wisdom(!) there in black and white.

It’s been a while since my byline regularly appeared in the printed press, so it was great to experience the buzz of doing something a bit different.

And it came as a particular fillip given I’d missed out on longlisting of a children’s writing competition I’d entered, and that my attempt at a memoir of our time in Salone had first stalled and then gone West completely when our laptop was stolen in a burglary.

Guidebook information starts to go out-of-date from the minute they’re published and doubtless some of what I saw – particularly relating to prices – will soon be rendered inaccurate by inflation.

But hopefully it’ll give people a little advance warning of how they might settle into Salone – and perhaps even whet their appetite for what’s to come.

And on a personal level, it’s got me thinking again about how best to write that travel memoir you’ve all promised to buy…