Tag Archives: food

If you’ve got it, flaunt it

Aurore, Auruare The Northern Lights

The lightening here is quite incredible. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It can be going for a long, long time before any rain comes.

Sometimes it lights up the entire sky especially when it’s behind some clouds and sometimes you get some amazing horizontal lightening that really does look like the classic bolt from Zeus’ thumb. That’s my favourite.


Scousers, making Jocks seem sensible

Catriona suffered from the lack of water, she had pins and needles in her arms and she lost her vision for ten seconds at the end of the race.

I sent her a text the next day to see how she was faring.

“Yeah, fine. You up for football at 7 tonight?”

Really?! Oh, go on then.


I guess it would be called something different now…

I really like the London Trilogy, obviously Absolute Beginners is the famous one but Ace Of Spades is really good as well. It’s about a young guy who moves from Africa to London in the late fifties, or maybe, very, early sixties. Anyway, the colloquialism that they use for white people is ‘jumbles’ which derives from John Bull.

This is a very long winded way of saying that I got called John Bull last night when I was walking down the street.

And it made me laugh.


I thought that it was just a film

Got a lift from Freetown to Bo, use the ex-pat grapevine sometimes ‘is anyone heading to Bo?’ better than the bus. Anyway, I was sitting in the car just outside my house wondering internal debating the pros and cons of an evening run. Stepped outside and the world just started spinning around me. Felt awful, just completely disorientated. Luckily I was meeting my doctor friend in the pub in an hour so I just sent him a text (if you’re not well should we meet in the hospital instead of the pub? No, pub’s fine!) saying what was wrong.

You, really worry when you feel unwell here. At home there’s very few times, that you feel unwell, even really unwell and become instantly concerned, I guess it becomes slightly different as you get older but I’ve never really been so unwell at home that I didn’t think that bed was the best cure.

So, I met Niall and he immediately diagnosed vertigo, it’s amazing how much doctor’s know exactly the right questions to ask ‘is the world spinning, or are you spinning?’ I didn’t even know that was an illness. Thought that it was a phobia, you’ve caught arachnophobia, take these pills and stay away from spiders for a week. But it’s not, it’s an inner ear infection. Whatever it is I was glad to have it and glad to be told that I didn’t have any of the symptoms of malaria or typhoid- although I still had the test you don’t want to be the idiot ex-pat that doesn’t take the test and doesn’t get the treatment. Just takes to bed.

And then dies.


The idiot ex-pat

Lad called Jesse (nae luck, mate) was staying at the Briggs Bo Boarding House he met Niall and I down at TOT. He looked awful, really awful. Niall said he had all of the symptoms of malaria. Niall’s a doctor in Africa, he’s pretty au fait with the symptoms of malaria. He said Jesse should go to bed and then Niall would take him to hospital in the morning.

Malaria comes and goes, that’s one of the symptoms of malaria. Jesse woke up in the morning feeling better and couldn’t be bothered going to the hospital, or even to the pharmacy, to take the test. Which, to be fair, is 3 dollars saved.

My dad says when you do stupid things, stupid things happen.


If you’ve got it, flaunt it

It’s blisteringly hot today, which is why young Daniel has come to work in a red ski jacket.


A beginners guide to eating monkey…and human.

monkey stew


Sam’s not a man to make a wahala

I’m going to see Fanta because she had something to eat and then she drop.*

Was it something that she ate?

Well, either that or she’s pregnant.


* Was sick


If it takes one man an hour to paint the fence, how long would it take two men?

One hour.

Louise comes round the house and cooks and cleans for us while we’re at the factory. She comes round for asks us what we want, takes the money for the ingredients, does the shopping and cooks dinner.

All very nice.

Whatever you ask for the ingredients cost 30,000 leones, OK we’re not painting from a very broad palette here but even so there must be some price variation. Surely.

Especially when there’s a variation on the number that she’s cooking for…

So, I’m just on my own I ask for jollof rice. 30,000. But it’s just for me. Lemme say 25,000. But it’s just for me, Louise, I can go to a restaurant and get a plate of fish and rice for that. 25,000.

Which is exactly what I do. Country Side. Fish and rice. By the pool. Lovely.

And that’s fish and rice, groundnut and cruin cruin are only 7,000 in there. And only 4,000 at Palamino, where I could definitely go as I haven’t yet used up all the antibiotics that I brought over.

I just don’t get it, obviously there’s a little bit of creaming from the top, but surely by not being reasonable you’re killing the goose.

Now if it’s only two in the house we don’t bother asking her, next stage is to replace her with someone who can cook for less than it costs to go to a restaurant.


What were you doing ten years ago Sam?

Always worries me that when Sam meets a friend in the pub he greets them by shouting “SOJA”.


Zen burgers

All the white people eat at Sab’s. It’s a small café that sells European and Lebanese food- schwarma, falafel, burgers, fried chicken that sort of thing. Most importantly it’s air-conditioned to a fridge like temperature and has a toilet that actually flushes.

I try not to go too often, it’s not expensive but within my slightly fictitious budget it is- a really large burger that has loads of coleslaw and chips in the bun is 20,000, so that’s less than five bucks, less than three quid.

But if I’m having a frustrating day and I’m over heating sometimes I just feel the need to leave my oven like office get on a bike and treat myself.

My standard order is a falafel, a vanilla milk and changing the channel from the WWF or a movie to Al Jazeera. It actually feels like my little bubble of calm.

And if that isn’t the name of a really shite book it certainly should be.


Go on then, just a little one

People keep trying to get me to try the monkey soup (stew), apparently it’s a really sweet beef (meat). I’m quite tempted but I’m definitely not doing it. Not quite sure why, is it endangered round here? I’m not sure. Is it because they’re cute little guys and a little too much like us? I can’t answer that either.

I guess I am tempted.

But not quite tempted enough.


Sole food

There’s evidence that a lot of humans were eaten during The Great Leap Forward. What seems even more tragic was that there were cases of people eating their own families. Nan’s popped her clogs get a fire going, that sort of thing.

Anyway, the story goes that the real treat is the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.

In case you were ever wondering…


You’ve either got it or you don’t.

Breast is best

Some of the highest infant mortality rates are amongst the children born to unmarried mothers of 16 or 17 years of age.

This is because they feel that they have a stark choice between losing their figure and, potentially, their boyfriend at the same time or breast feeding their child and greatly increasing the chances of having a healthy baby


You’ve either got it or you don’t.

Just saw a dude with a grey beard, a Kangol hat and shades. He’s sporting a baggy black chalk stripe double-breasted suit with the trousers casually rolled up to the middle of his shin. Under it he has a white shirt with one button open a dark tie and a v-neck jumper, ribbed like a cricket jumper but with higher neck. He has white football socks and cream help Salone boots with the backs folded down.

He looks amazing.

(The pics in this post aren’t from Sierra Leone unfortunately – but from a book called The Gentlemen of Bacongo which is well worth a buy as a coffee table book/gift)


I like a nice neat answer

You see a lot of really old vans and lorries here with Dutch writing on the side, builders from Rotterdam, loft conversions in Arnhem, that sort of thing.

Seemed odd to me; why a disproportionate amount of Dutch vehicles in Sierra Leone?

With old trucks an’ vans an’ that the second hand value is really low so the cost of logistics becomes, proportionally, more important than with new trucks an’ vans an’ that. Rotterdam’s a massive port so the cost of a crate is really low.

That’s why you think Willem Van Groot from Enschede can do you a wee bit of landscape gardening in Moyamba.


Exporting problems

It’s good that Europe is taking air pollution seriously by exporting vehicles that don’t come up to environmental standards in their own country.


Won’t be bringing this back as a gift. Sorry-o.

Cocoa is grown over here not in abundance but enough that there’s some nice artisan Salone chocolate.

No-one over here would know that though, it’s only sold in Waitrose.


Sign Of The Times

If you have a shop in a street please spell the name of the street correctly in your sign.

That is all.


Some wisdom from the Motherland

Fish no get natin fo du wit renkot

Wan fingaa no go ebul opin baksai.

If you don’t believe me just try it.

Finally, one for Geoerge Dubya to mess up

Fos ful noto ful, bot sekon ful, nai in na ful.


Wait a cotton pickin’ minute

The accountant that I’m training has just referred to me as ‘master’ in a text.

Feel a little bit queasy.


Can you just pick up a sample from Carpet World?

Bob Martins

Sierra Leone, West Africa

Niall’s also worried about my blasé approach to street food he’s prescribing me some worming tablets as a going away present.

Which I’m taking as a green light to continue buying the delicious ‘meat’ on a stick.


Can you just pick up a sample from Carpet World?

Saw a Moslem brother with an honest to goodness, just went into Gaucho Grill with a Stanley knife, cow hide prayer mat. Is this allowed? Are there no particular rules?


Any interest?

There’s a Miracle & Deliverance Explosion at the Flaming Bible Church.

Don’t think that we had those at the Johnstone High Parish.


Religion makes you fat

I wouldn’t say that Bob was fat but he could definitely stand to lose a little weight.

He fasts in the morning to feel closer to God and then has lunch, then an absolutely massive dinner. I’ve been trying to persuade him to have some breakfast but he’s not up for it at all.


Fingers in pies


I sometimes go to Obama’s to watch the football, I also sometimes buy fruit at one of his stalls, he has a surprisingly heavily diversified portfolio of businesses in this part of the world.


There’s a tremendous sense of pride in Sierra Leona and I’m sure in all of Africa that a black man is President of the United States Of America. You see his books widely sold- there’s three books sold in St Mary’s Supermarket and two are his- and you see his face on magazines, t-shirts, bags, umbrellas, medallions. Everything really.

You make your money in merch.

You make your money in merch.

Hopefully having such a positive role model in the world’s most high profile job will inspire the next generation of Africans to believe in themselves

Hopefully having such a positive role model in the world’s most high profile job will inspire the next generation of Africans leaders to believe in working for others.


The politics of tribes

One of the problems with politics in Sierra Leone is that it’s often more tribal than political. For example Bo is SLPP country, if you’re Mende you probably vote SLPP.  Not because you believe in their policies as much as the fact that you believe that they represent you.

These are your guys.

So you win or you lose, either the people in power represent you or they don’t. At the very least you don’t completely believe that they do.

I don’t know if this is the same in every African country but I know that when Kenyatta said that he was going to do the best that he could for ‘his people’ it’s stretching credulity to believe that he meant all Kenyans.


So how many ‘people’ get to vote?

You get tremendously varying estimates on the population of Sierra Leone. According to the CIA Factbook the population is 6,440,052 with 1,070,200 living in Freetown. I live in the second biggest city which I’ve been told has 300,000 people living there but I find that difficult to believe. People live cheek to jowl but 300,000 of them? In Bo? Nah, just don’t believe it.

But even if you accept it that’s a long way down 1.4million of 6.4million live in the biggest two cities. Where are the rest?

And when you count up the most recent census data for each of the 14 districts that make up the country you only get to 4.6million in total.

There’s a little bit of Salone ‘reckoning’ going into these numbers.


He’s the Chet Baker of restaurateurs

What’s wrong with Salone

In the UK we occasionally get a lot of snow, roads close, schools close, factories close and everybody moans. Why haven’t we planned for this? In Denmark/ Canada/Russia they get much worse weather and the world doesn’t stop.

They miss the point.

It’s worth the investment in infrastructure in these countries to compensate for the climate and, so, the investment is made. In the UK it’s, simply, not, or they would do it. It’s just not worth it for the sporadic bouts of exceptionally bad weather that we get in our temperate little climate. To illustrate this how many people in the UK do you know that buy snow tyres or chains for their tyres? How many people do you think have them in Norway? I would guess, maybe, all of them.

We should just moan less and get the sledge out the cupboard. The one we don’t get to use every year.

In Salone there will always be problems with the lack of infrastructure, or at least there will be for the foreseeable future, but sometimes I feel like everyone is planning as if everything is perfect.

Or not planning at all.

The UN were in town for some team bonding, they hired out an entire hotel. The Dohas hotel. The best in town. It’s 400,000 per room per night, that’s a months salary for a lot of people in Bo.

My friend James asked me to come down and watch the Spurs Chelsea game with him, they have a lovely TV poolside, it’s really nice. Really, really nice. The game kicked off and then the TV went off. The staff knew that we were watching it but no-one came to explain or apologise. We had to go and ask. No apology was given but the explanation offered was that the generator needed maintenance so there would be no power for an indeterminate length of time. Generators ALWAYS need maintenance. You’re charging a king’s ransom for a room buy two. Sod it, buy three.

Sometimes you just think, ‘come on guys, is this shit really, really this difficult’?!


He’s the Chet Baker of restaurateurs

Maurie runs Mars internet café, he also owns a restaurant called Kama. He’s spent a lot of time in San Francisco and he exudes West Coast cool. Does he? Or am I just making shit up. You’ll never know… Anyway, I was told in January that it was the best restaurant in Bo but it’s never actually been open. It’s closed for maintenance. It’s been closed for maintenance for five months.

Don’t get me wrong it’s getting there- “Small small Gareth, small small”- but the Easter grand opening became “Lemme say April, Gareth. Lemme say April” and we’re now quite far into May.

I don’t know if I’ll even be here long enough to get to eat there.


Menu for reference only

Most restaurants will only have light during the day so you buy most of the stock for the restaurant on a daily basis. If you go for food later on you might have to take what they have not what you originally wanted. Sometimes the giving out of menus with long lists of available dining options feels like a formality, a nod to what a restaurant is rather than any guide to what you might actually be having to eat that evening.

Often menus will be laid out orders taken, drinks brought and then after what can sometimes be a lengthy wait the waitress comes back to say that they don’t have what you ordered, this can also be followed up by a further lengthy wait to find that they don’t have choice number two either. If there’s a large table of you then this can take some time.

If you’re dining late at night in Bo my advice is to wander in cut out the niceties and say:

“OK guys, what have you actually got?”

I love a nice pear

Pageant season

I got invited to Miss Djalla University Beauty Pageant at the Rio Cinema on Friday night. I didn’t think I could make it but as my friend pointed out ‘when is the next time that you’ll get asked to a beauty pageant’.

Saturday came and I managed to gate crash the UNDP team bonding weekend, a nice Lithuanian chap gave me some beer tokens so I was upscaled from Star to Carlsberg immediately.

Then I heard that someone had slaughtered a goat and was having a shindig, there’s not a man alive (sorry Mozza) that’s knocking back an offer like that. So off I went.

Rolled home at four in the morning having had my fill of beer and goat, forgot all about the pageant.

Saturday got invited to the Miss Dohas Hotel Beauty Pageant.


Awright bawbags.

I met this really amazing doctor, Irish paediatrician called Niall he used to work in the RAH so he knew where I’m from really well. He said:

“I can’t believe someone from Paisley is running the Bennimix factory. Rock and Roll. Turning up in the morning saying awright bawbags, let’s get to work.”

A phrase that I rarely, if ever, employ. Well, certainly not nearly enough.

He’s been here three weeks and I’m meeting him tonight to watch the Arsenal Wigan game. Well, hopefully.

The thing is with Niall he’s so dedicated that he’s been working seven days and he doesn’t like to be too far away from the ward as he’s worried that if he is a child will die.

My concern is that if he tries to keep that up for a year he’ll kill himself.


Malaria optional

I know of a girl, a Scottish girl, who is waiting to be flown home. They think that she has meningitis. If she does a doctor I know (who, thankfully, no longer has braids) will have saved her life. She wasn’t taking her anti-malarials (the Jock not the Doc) and malaria massively affects your immune system.

Did I mention that she was Scottish?

A lot of ex-pats will tell you that anti-malarials are dangerous, they do your organs long term damage.

All the doctors I’ve spoken to tell you to take them.

I’ll leave that particular decision up to you.


I love a nice pear

It’s funny living in a community. It’s so different from London. I lived in a flat in London for six years and didn’t know the person next door. Our front doors were half a metre apart.

When I go to the well in the morning I say hello to Alpha Rogers, through his bedroom window, lying on his bed, in his pants.

This morning a woman shouted me over because she had nice (avocado) pears and she knows I often buy pears.

You don’t get that service in Tesco.

They call me the vulture

Always the mark

Hamid and Robert won’t let me go and buy anything for the factory, in fact I can’t even go with them as immediately the puh mei is spotted prices automatically double and there follows a tedious negotiation to get the price back to the normal level. A tedious negotiation solely caused by my presence. It’s a shame because going to the market to buy stuff is fun.

I mind less on a personal level because, generally, even double isn’t that much and I know what staples like bread and things cost so I never pay more for them and, generally, don’t get asked to. Five hundred bread is five hundred bread, the clue’s in the title.

But it can get annoying, especially when people really take the piss, like a bike trying to double the price of a ride that you make all the time or a taxi driver trying to charge you for cha cha even though you’ve asked where he’s going and you’ve said about a dozen times that you don’t mind if he picks up.

Often it’s not even really the money but the principle that you don’t really like looking like a tourist (because Bo gets a lot of those) but you do catch yourself sometimes when find that you’re arguing over pennies with some raggy arsed kid selling mangos. You can’t really put that down to principles.

That’s just being a dick.


My friend Ian (hullo) has questioned whether I’m fully telling you about the harsh realities of my life in my blog.

This weekend I’m going to the beach where they filmed the Bounty advert in the eighties. Sometimes I feel my life here is just too tough to bear…

But this isn’t Rio, this isn’t a country where the beach provides an egalitarian escape.

For one, most of the beaches are quite far from town, certainly quite far from Kroo Town so getting a poda poda out there has a cost implication- even if you do manage to find one that can make it down the beach road. More importantly there’s also a time implication. Who has time to go to the beach when you’re trying to scrape together enough money to feed, clothe and wash your family?

The beaches seem like they’re  a place to go for special occasions and there are loads of ‘outings’ on weekends and Bank Holidays where busloads of locals head there with food, drinks, footballs and absolutely massive sound systems but in the context of the overall population of Freetown it feels like the beach is a treat for some but nothing more than an irrelevance to most.

Back in Freetown today

Being white in Bo is like being a pop star, there’s a lot of excitement generated when you walk down the street, people shouting, laughing, smiling but I guess in Freetown it’s been a long time since a white man was of interest.

So, yesterday I was big news and today I’m nothing.

I feel like Steve Brookstein.


They call me the vulture

I’ve never lived in student flat (Glasgow University has the highest percentage of ‘stay at home’ students in the world apparently) but I have heard all the tales about people marking cartons of milk etc.

I really thought that would never be me.

The house I’m in now is a bit like a student flat, on the rare occasions that Gill stays it’s all very ‘how do you do’ but usually it’s a mess of Coke cans, men sleeping on the settee in their underpants and me being introduced to another different gahl in the morning.

One of the things that annoys me, and I tried not to be annoyed and held out for ages, is the food free for all. It’s not that I mind buying stuff communally per se it’s just that a) I’m the only idiot that does and b) anything bought by anyone else is kept in the bedroom even things like ketchup and (dairy free) mayo that surely, surely we can share.

It’s the inconvenience, not the money, coming home to get something to find it’s gone means a bike trip to the shop to replace it, or more likely, just not having it.

So, now I’m embarrassed to say that in a little cupboard in my bedroom you’ll find couscous, pasta, two tins of sardines in chilli oil, a tin of tomatoes, a tin of tomato puree,  a tin of houmous, a tin of tuna, two packets of ramen noodles and a jar of olives.