Tag Archives: politics

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.


Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it infamy

That’s a fat wean you’ve got there


I’m with Sam and JJ in a restaurant. A man comes in with his daughter, she’s around seven, I would say, and a little chunky. Sam says ‘that’s a beautiful daughter you have there’, the man smiles.

“Hello sweetheart! You want to keep fit, eh? Not eat so much or you will end up veeeeeery fat.”

The man doesn’t smile.


Foreigner top trumps

When I run in Bo, all the kids shout puh mei, which is white man in Mende, I’m told that it literally translates as stranger. In Makeni, the people are Temne so they should opoto which apparently derives from early Portuguese traders in that area. From Porto.

When you run near south east Asians, they all shout Chinese, as they seem to win the battle for rarity points.


I’m here all week, try the cruin cruin

Ernest Bai Koroma is temne limba so I guess he gets annoyed really quickly and then spends hours apologising…


Well, it is a massive imposition

I hate when people in work make a massive deal about asking for something really small. I feel like saying, come on guys I’ve been here for six months surely you’ve worked out by now that I’m not a total dick.

Mister Sow comes into the office, I love Mister Sow he’s a really funny guy. Mister Sow at a police roadblock is just amazing, slowing down then shooting off shouting ‘fuck off’. It’s amazing. Absolutely amazing. He’s asking if he can put a water in the fridge and asking it like it’s a really big deal. Why don’t you take a cold one out of the fridge instead. ‘Oh, thank you Mister Gareth, thank you so much.’

Come on guys.


Chinese whispers

An activist of the environmental action

I went to Makeni with Sam and our Provincial Salesman, I, Jospeh Jenewai. They came to cheer me on but slept in. Sam said that he saw someone that might have been me, but in my wildest dreams I wasn’t going that fast that you wouldn’t recognise me.

Anyway, I do like Joseph he’s very typical of salespeople that I’ve met pretty much everywhere. But, even so, I do like him. Gift of the gab. Standard in his line of work.

He started telling a story that he had heard on the BBC News the day before, I was only half listening but I heard something about a monkey protesting in the UK, which isn’t impossible I guess, in a zoo, throwing stones, surprised it made the news all the same.

Then I heard him say that it had set fire to itself.  It had got itself some fuel and…

I’m sure that this was all completely unconnected to the previous day’s news that a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka had self-immolated in protest at the killing of cows.


Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it infamy

Hi, I’m John

Hi, I’m Gareth

Oh, you’re the guy that got his head burst open at the Gaelic football!

Really? Still?


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.


Is that a bacon tree? No it’s a ham bush

Still time to sponsor/donate at: http://www.justgiving.com/Gareth-Briggs There’s gold in tham ther’ hills You live in Makeni, you think that all white people have money, in a comparative ex-pats in Sierra Leone sense you’re not wrong. You have 700 ex-pats coming to Makeni for the marathon, you know this, it happened last year and there’s loads of posters all round town. So this is an opportunity to make money, right? Surely, there’s one enterprising individual that will try to sell drinks, or sweets or something near the finish line. Surely there’s one person in this town of a few hundred thousand who will realise that this is an annual opportunity to make some money. Surely?! Nought from two from the free throw line Marathon - ernest-koroma_008 President Koroma opened the race, he made a speech and ran the 5k. It was good to see how little security that a President felt that he needed, Makeni is his home town, these are his people but, even so, there was no obvious protection required. In his speech he had to remember two things, the name of the founder of the charity: Thank you Mr, erm, founder and director. And the amount that was raised last year. Last year they raised….a lot of money.   Offence is the best form of defence The Minister Of Defence ran the 5k, he made a speech after the race he said that it was ‘fucking hard’.   Out of my world The story goes that when Captain Cook landed in Australia the indigenous Aboriginal people didn’t even look up, the entire event of a massive ship full of white people landing was just completely ignored. If I close my eyes you can’t see me either. We were trying to find a place called The Club House. It’s a bar restaurant operated by the Street Child charity. It’s quite a good idea, they have a lot of people in the mining industry passing through and a lot of ex-pats. They have money to spend and want some western food, a few beers, the football, maybe a game of pool. So you set up a non-profit making venture to capture some of this money, put it back into the community and help the pikins. It’s quite expensive, say 60,000 Leones for a plate of food, that’s a lot for Salone and way out of reach for most locals but less than a tenner converted. There’s not lots of places in Makeni, it’s not that big a place, the Club House isn’t that small and it’s not that new. There’s even a massive billboard advert for it beside the main street. We were asking around where it was, we were only a few streets away. Everyone, was really nice, chatty, friendly but as to where the Club House was; they didn’t have a clue.   Lazy English Marathon I was quite prepared for the run, had completed the distance a few times on my own and had a wee time in my head that I wanted to hit. That said, I hadn’t done anything like this before and I found it slightly daunting both at the time that everyone turned up to register and at the start line. Everyone looked like a runner, to me anyway. It’s all a bit congested at the start so I kind of let most people go in front and then, as it spaced out, I passed most of them so it was quite clear and I wasn’t being bothered. Just behind me some American Peace Corps guy started chatting Catriona up which was pretty funny as I could tell by her tone of voice she thought that he was a bit of a dick. Or that it was neither the time nor the place. Anyway, I was keen to run away from such nonsense, so I picked up the pace a little I was running along happily; after a time, I fell in running with this Irish chap, he was running at a similar pace to me and that helped a lot. At about 11k on my (Gill’s) watch we see a few people running back towards us. That’s a bit odd, I think, they don’t look injured. The idiots (English idiots btw) had forgot to put the sign up saying where the half and full marathon split. So we had to run quite a distance back the way we came to rejoin the half marathon course more importantly I had no idea, quite how much extra we had covered. Predictably, I was furious especially passing loads of people that I was, previously, miles in front of, the righteous indignation helped a little and I specifically sped up when I was told that Catriona was now in front of me! She said she was happy to have provided the extra incentive and when I passed her she said it was time for me to kick on so I left her with the Irish fella to see what was still in the tank. It did make it hard and I am still annoyed, OK I’m no athlete but I had done a fair bit of training from an incredibly low base.  I had a wee plan to do the first 15km comfortably and then see what I had left, but I now had no idea how long I was actually running for and it meant I couldn’t see if I could further speed up for the last 1 or 2k as I didn’t even know when that was. Marathon (1) Anyway, scores on the doors, I did exactly 1km too much (in my head it was going to be more) and was just under 2 hours but I did find motivating myself hard towards the end as I didn’t know what I had left and in my mind I was already finished. So, not as well as I had hoped but better than anyone that I know, which I guess is something of a win. Basking in reflected glory Time wise my mate John would have won the full marathon quite comfortably so I’ve been getting quite a lot of mileage out of a fairly idiotic world weary that was such a slow marathon my mate would have won easily patter. As runners collapsed over the line having done a sub three hours marathon in the heat of Africa. Is that a bacon tree? No it’s a ham bush The marathon was incredibly badly organised, dangerously so. I’m not quite sure why, they had many people working on it full time- paid for and voluntary- for months and it’s not the first time that it’s been run. I think that they had prioritised the extras and completely forgot about the basics. So they made a big deal about having free WiFi at the finish line (I was going to run with my Kindle to download The Week) but they didn’t have any water. They also made us sit through a painfully long do’s and don’t safety chat the night before but they didn’t have any water. That’s water, there was no water. Or rather no water points. I’m no expert but a half marathon is 21km so 7 water points every 3km, that seems reasonable. And not fucking difficult to arrange. It’s also a great way to get the community involved everyone lined the streets why not give them water to give out, as I say there were loads of volunteers, I even know people that asked if they could help out to be told there was nothing for them to do. What they actually did (I think) was to move water points from the full course to the half so I passed a water point that was being set up, but had no water yet. Basically, the front half-marathon group just weren’t catered for. I didn’t pass a water point from, maybe, 10km to 19km. This is an ‘organised’ distance race. In Africa. I thought burdz could multi-task The day before the race they were casting around for medics because, as I understand it, the race medics that had came over from the UK wanted to distance themselves from it immediately as they were not being given the equipment that they would expect. I know several doctors that were asked to help the day before, despite having already signed up to run. They asked a doctor called Holly if she could do it and she said no on the basis that she was running the full marathon. They said, well if someone collapses beside you, would you please help them out… Timing‘s everything. People train hard for a marathon so their time is important, especially for the serious runners, 70 had flown in just for the race. So, it’s a good idea to put a girl on time keeping duty for six hours who had only offered to volunteer that morning.   I’ve already cracked the ‘we’re not allowed to have colonies joke’, right? I stayed in a leper colony the night before, run by some Nigerian nuns, it was very nice. I’ve not stayed in a leper colony before but, from my one experience, I’d heartily recommend it. Sister Perpetua was particularly nice but she did insist on us buying her CD on the way out, I passed the buck on that one making Catriona buy one and saying we could happily share it. I’m going to let her keep it. I’m nice like that. Never off the clock Sister Perpetua’s not a very modest name, is it?

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?”