Monday, July 25, 2011

On the road again (to Bo) (July 23, part 1)

After a day on the campus of Fourah Bay College to see some of my former students and ones Betty helped coordinate into a human rights education project (more on that later), our third day in SL we head for Bo, the second largest city. Up at 4:30 to catch the 6:20 government bus, we meet Bockarie Kamara, General Manager of the Sierra Leone road transport Corporation. He is supervising the loading, making sure everyone has his or her numbered seat with baggage ticketed and stored on board. Until two years ago he was living in the U.K. like many others in the SL Diaspora. He even likes the damp, cold wealthier of the U.K. But he decided to move back for a very clear reason: “This is home.”

The 130 miles or so to Bo, when we lived here, was a dust-caking, jarring venture on the unpaved, pothole-filled sections. Today, it is paved the whole way. We even doze off in our school-bus type seats (sans headrests). We stop at a crowded area downtown but before we can haul our two small suitcases down to the ground, two fellow passengers graciously offer to help and, suitcases in hand, lead us to a taxi. The two men, Albert and Samuel, are military officers (in civilian clothes). We exchange cell phone numbers and agree to meet socially later in town.

Mohammed Jalloh takes us in his taxi to the Imperial Hotel, a small one at the edge of town where we have stayed before: quiet, small courtyard and restaurant for a reasonable price ($45 for a double). I recognize the gate guard, Edward, who recognized us from two previous stays. Betty likes being in Mende country (the predominant ethnic group here) because her name is a popular one among the Mende, as hotel staff members tell her.

The main transportation in Bo is motorcycle taxies (Okada) for the equivalent of 25 cents a ride. That evening, after a visit to some villages, we hail an Okada in the dark and ride smoothly and at a modest speed into the town. The driver explains he is earning money to continue his higher education in agricultural management. This is a farming country, one with many challenges, as we learn on our visit to a village 18 miles from Bo.

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