Day 13 |
Oct 17, 2012

Freetown, Sierra Leone

By Olga Stavrakis, Anthropologist

Co-ordinates: S 8º 30'14" N, 13º 17' 38" W
Weather: Pouring rain in the morning at sea but bright clouds on land

The rain poured in sheets down the slanted window of the Observation Lounge this morning as we made our way toward Freetown, Sierra Leone. Robin West, our Expedition Leader, announced that there would be a plan B in case the rain did not let up.

Going ahead with our original plan, Robin held a snorkel briefing at 10 AM in preparation for Banana Island, which is our destination for tomorrow. Claire Allum, Archaeologist, then gave a very informative presentation on the types of archaeological materials found here in West Africa that tend to be highly valued as works of art in Europe and the US. There are a number of exceptional terra cotta figurines, some almost two feet in height that circulate in the illicit trade market and which come out of interesting early sites. Once out of context, they gain incredible monetary value but their scientific and cultural value is totally lost because nothing is known of the context within which they were once used.

By the time we went to an early lunch, the rain had stopped and bright patches of sky opened in between the clouds. In a choppy sea, Zodiacs took us to a little landing jetty where six small buses stood ready and waiting.

I was in the next to the last bus which went first to the Tacugama Chimp sanctuary but because of the rain, we took a slightly longer and more culturally scenic route to permit the first group to finish their visit.

The drive to the sanctuary was spectacular in itself. We went through a busy part of the city made up of a mixture of small vendor stalls connected to huge fences shielding sometimes ornate brightly painted cement houses. Most of the houses, we were told by Olivetta, our guide, are being constructed by the Sierra Leone “diaspora.”

From there we proceeded up narrower and narrower muddier lanes, along a rushing engorged river, slowly trundling over ruts and into puddles of brilliant red clay. It is the end of the rainy season, and clearly the roads outside of town are in poor condition. In the city itself, there seems to be construction and roadwork everywhere, which also slowed down that portion of the ride.

The chip sanctuary is a fascinating marvel. Started by a Sri Lankan and his wife in 1989, it sits atop a wooded ride overlooking a spectacular river valley where the Chinese are building a hydroelectric dam to serve the burgeoning urban center. The ridge is covered with thick lush tropical vegetation and the sanctuary itself is totally surrounded by forest, which rises above it and extends into the clouds of an even higher ridge.

Here, they rescue chimps that have been used as pets, or abandoned in the forest, and they prepare them for communal living in a fully supportive setting. Most arrived damaged or psychologically traumatized so they have to be eased into the bands.

From there we went to the Greater Goal Ministries Clinic, a grassroots hospital started by an energetic nurse and her physician husband that has now grown to serve the most vulnerable victims of war – the amputees and the heavily injured and traumatized.

The day ended on Lumley Beach where we watched perhaps the most energetic soccer I have ever witnessed, conducted by amputee victims of the war and by men handicapped by polio. One the sandy beach they showed a mastery of the sport that got us all rooting for them, no matter which team they were on.

As we made our way back to the ship by Zodiac, I was sorry to leave these gentle hospitable people, who have risen above the atrocities of a war in which there were no winners, only victims.