Dust and Diamonds

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’.

On the approach road into Koidu town is the red and yellow painted Kono Hotel. This is diamond mining territory with many expatriate miners in the locality. A few Irish miners were here but have since moved on to pastures new.  The skyline is dominated by a massive mound of blasted rock shaped a little like Ben Bulben on the way to Sligo.  In the distance there is a constant hum of machinery.

A man discovered the biggest diamond in ten years a few weeks ago. It was an alluvial stone discovered through sifting surface soil. Before he had washed through the soil he spotted the stone.

Every second shop on the streets of Koidu is a diamond trader.  They will all be hoping now to discover another stone of similar size and value. There are many rigid trucks on the road near the town going to and from the mines.

I am staying at a compound about 3km outside the town. It is rural quiet and cool in stark contrast to Freetown. Outside my window bananas and pawpaw ripen in the intense sunshine. In the distance mangos also swell and ripen, the fronds of palm trees flutter in the tiny breeze.  Every so often there is a sound like waves crashing on a stony beach or stones rumbling on an outgoing tide. It is part of the mining process. Birds twitter, pigeons coo, a whiff of wood smoke from three stone fires carries on the breeze. There is the dull thud thud of wood on wood as cassava is pounded to prepare the main meal of the day.

We are in the heart of Bintimani national park and about 40kms from the border with Guinea. This area was decimated during the 1990s civil war because of its rich mineral wealth. On the transport as people asked when I’d lived in this country they placed it as being ‘before the war’. The epochs of recent history before the war or since the war.

In the town there are many destroyed buildings lying grey-black and idle, a bleak reminder of that decade of inhumanity. Unlike in other parts of the country there doesn’t appear to be any signs of rebuilding or repairing that devastation. It crosses my mind that, in spite of almost 12 years of peace, do  people still not believe there is stability and, as yet, loath to invest in building for what might be an uncertain future. For me for now the quiet and soft sounds of a village is tranquil beauty.

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