The cockerel in the distance has been crowing the day underway for the past thirty minutes, the dawn chorus is nearly finished. A smell of woodsmoke wafts in the slightly cool breeze as people get fires underway to begin cooking. Pale-golden light is creeping over the blue-grey hills as the sun rises on another Sierra Leonean day.
Eventually arrived here last Saturday night after delays at Cork and Heathrow due to the inclement weather. Given the season of storms we’ve been having it was a pleasant surprise to land on the appointed day, albeit three hours late. As I stood on the steps waiting to disembark the familiar, welcoming wall of heat hit me. The smell of dust and heat and aviation fuel caught at the back of my throat. I couldn’t wait to get inside the terminal and shed some of the winter-clothing layers. Everyone at passport control and baggage reclaim was calm and efficient, smiling welcomes and offering assistance in spite of the delay and the late hour.
Mass on Sunday morning at a small church in Lungi (the town near the airport) was very solemn and prayerful. Full participation from every member of the congregation, paying rapt attention to the sermon in English from an Italian priest. The readings were in Krio which was lovely to listen to. During the announcements, towards the end of the hour long ceremony, the lay reader asked the ‘stranger’s to introduce ourselves and say where we were from. There is no hiding here.
The ferry across the Rokel river to the capital, Freetown, was a colourful experience of loud reggae music alternating with country and western. Women in vibrant dresses sold cold drinks, meat sticks or fried plantain. Everyone spoke at the top of their voices, partly to be heard over the loud music and partly because this is Salone. There is nothing quiet or subdued in this country. A young man effortlessly toted my 24 kg suitcase on his head when we reached the ferry terminal at Kissy. We then hurtled through streets thronged with people- walking in the road, crossing in front of our taxi or just calling friendly greetings to one another.
It is wonderful to be here walking the streets the characters in my novel have been walking in my head for the last few years. Though they are my creations it now feels as if it is I following in their footsteps.
Some of the people I’ve met so far remember me from when I volunteered here with VSO in the late 80’s. They’ve greeted me with exuberant embraces and warm smiles. And served me groundnut soup and rice one of my favourite meals. Am looking forward to meeting more people, eating more rice and getting to the beach at Lumley.
For now it is good to be here listening to the sounds of the day unfolding, hearing the characters in ‘Cast a long Shadow’ whispering to me about where they would like to go in the story. The challenge will be not to confuse fiction with fact!
Keep plodding on. Happy writing.