My home-away-from-home in SL is the Fawundu family compound, a collection of 3 small buildings on a plot of land just outside Bo town. Senesi bought the land, covered in trees at the time, during the civil war which spanned 1991-2001. He built the 3 residences, a well and a small shelter which has become the focus of the compound, where every night the family gathers to talk love, life, religion and politics (in that order). The land is still scattered with trees and the neighbours pass through regularly to lift water from the well. There are about 20 people living in the compound, (“we are plenty”) but the numbers swell and contract as friends, family and connections ebb and flow.
Bo itself is a strange place, although it holds the title of Sierra Leone’s ‘Second City’ it feels more like a gold-rush trading outpost. Everything has a temporary feeling, as if the entire town was put up in great haste with no real plan, and that it could all disappear just as easily. Reinforcing bars still stick out of poured concrete buildings as if to hint at the possibility of a second storey, whenever the time is right. I guess it takes great faith to put down roots so soon after 10 years of brutal civil war.
Lebanese builder’s merchants and diamond traders fill most of the simple, unpainted concrete buildings which stand behind the chaotic lines of street traders. The Lebanese came to West Africa as economic refugees in 1893 after a silk-worm and subsequent agricultural crises hit Lebanon. Their knack for business shows in the almost complete control they hold over trade and enterprise in Bo, it is always to the Lebanese that I go when I need to buy tools and materials for my work.
During the day the air is filled with the sound of small generators, supplying power to the myriad of street kiosks, offering to charge mobile phones or perhaps offering the rare possibility of a cold drink. The only places, however, that can offer reliable respite from the heat are the air-conditioned banks and the mini-market, both supplied with grid power from a distant hydro-electric power station.
Sightings of white people are up to 5 now, after briefly catching eye-contact with a pretty young woman, a passenger in an MSF Landcrusier passing me on the back of a motorbike taxi. I’m not sure whether the surprise in her face was because of seeing me on local transport, or whether she was still shocked by the general chaos of it all.