The trip to Kono was in many respects a comedy of errors. The big bus Melian was supposed to leave from Kissy around 5am. Abdulai took me there as it was still pitch dark. It was lovely to drive the deserted streets at that early hour. When we reached the departure spot it transpired that Melian wasn’t running just a poda poda. Decided to go anyway. Really it was a mini bus with an aisle of single seats and opposite two seats. Gradually the seats filled up. As each row was filled a plank was placed across the aisle and two people were squashed onto it. Finally a bench was placed at the front and three more were squeezed onto it. At the driver’s door and the passenger door an ‘apprentice’ stood and hung out the window. Every available space was packed to capacity with luggage and bags.
Almost 6.30 and we were ready to go. But the engine wouldn’t start. Got a push and jumped started. Went for about ten minutes and the engine died. It had run out of fuel. How the people cursed saying this was a rubbish driver and that he hadn’t prepared and that they would demand their money back. ‘dat was the legal law, for get refund’. The driver took a honda taxi and got five gallons of diesel. By now it was getting light and the people all the time good naturedly giving out to the driver. We had just cleared all the suburbs of Freetown and were on open road when we got a puncture. So once again the people cursed. The tyre was changed with much shouted encouragement from those passengers who had disembarked. And so we continued on our way. Then a lay preacher stood up in the bus to pray and give a sermon. SIN Satan Impart Negativity. Which continued onto the theme of adultery and idolatry and original sin in the garden of Eden. The sun rose in a pale red disk lighting up strands of mist across the hills outside Freetown.
We stopped at mile 47 to have the tyre repaired. The poda poda was parked under an almond tree which was full of weaver birds. These are vividly yellow birds who weave nests with long grasses. The nests are intricately woven upside down with the opening on the bottom. Fascinating to watch up close.
The road passing by Lunsar, Makeni and Magburaka is very well paved and we bowled along. There is a huge amount of construction work along the roadside the houses are made from bricks, plastered and tin pan roofs. There is less of mud wattle thatched with grass. We passed at least six mining projects along the way with a narrow gauge railway line visible for much of the way made to take the bauxitie to barges on the river and onwards to the port in Freetown.
Despite the delays due to ‘lack of proper maintenance’ we reached Matatoko shortly after 11am. This is the end of the good paved road and a pit stop to have breakfast or lunch and generally stretch the legs. Once we were on the way again a different lay preacher stood up to pray pretty much the same prayers and the same message regarding adultery and idolatry. For the first hour or so of this part of the journey the road has been repaired and is almost ready for tar. It is a beautiful journey across and through the hills. At times the poda poda struggled under its load to reach the top.
There are many hardwood trees, banana and palm trees all with many egrets perched on the branches. In places the scrub has been cleared usually near a swamp and rice, cassava and groundnut is planted. The road is laterite red yet the ‘farms’ are alluvial black clay. Work is done by hand ploughing with a hoe. The new rice is viridian green and the egrets brilliantly white against it. The hills are covered with trees one or two very tall cotton trees with balls of cotton at the end of the branches.
After an hour the road deteriorated to at times massive potholes, at others rutted dry laterite. The poda poda juddered over the ‘gallops’ shaking the people to bits. When we met the rare vehicle approaching from the other direction they emerged from clouds of billowing dust into which we then drove. As the day got hotter the talk and atmosphere on the bus stilled into a stupor as the passengers nodded off and dozed. And then as we lurched around corners and rolled downhill a puff of blue smoke and a popping sound. Unbelievably a second puncture. At least the other had been mended and was on the roof lashed to the rest of the cargo. We all disembarked and stood in the shade of roadside mango trees while the tyre was changed. Again back seat passengers gave out yards saying the driver didn’t have good tyres and wasn’t prepared for a long journey on poor roads. ‘Lack of proper maintenance’.
At last we entered Kono district so the end of the journey was in sight. The hills and trees seemed more beautiful with each passing mile. Everybody woke up again and the chat and banter began. This time mainly about government and the lack of infrastructure ‘proper government no dae’ repeated over and over.
Through chatting with the two men nearest me most of the transport knew who I was and that I had lived in Makeni over twenty years ago. They were all delighted that it was my first visit to Kono and offered advice about which part of the town to get off. They were also fascinated that I knew Krio and as one man said ‘we can’t gossip you, you go hear we’.
To be continued as patchy internet access allows