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A Tale of Threads in Salone.


Some version of this piece has been in my draft for almost a year. Time they say fashions us with opportunities, but I think I’ll just settle on the notion that this write-up decided to walk out of the shop a la mode during the end of the Ramadan fasting season.

The skill with fabrics and the magic of weaving seamless art to adorn our bodies have been well documented in the lore and legends of humanity. If you look closely enough, you can make out a pattern, and then trace the strands running through the tales in our different cultures- from the emperor’s naked march to Arachne’s humiliation that threads down to Anansi’s antics at the fancy dress party; the allure of clothing has always been an integral part of society.

As a youngling, I remember my mama spinning on her Singer Sewing machine which always made an odd but soothing ‘’chooka chooka chooka” sound. My curiosity was always piqued by this fascinating object that I saw as a toy that was forbidden to me which only heightened my need to play with it. I eventually learned the prick of the needle wasn’t as exciting as my toy soldiers.

Singer Sewing Machine

One could not miss the trappings of a tailor in ‘90s Sierra Leone, they always had a measuring tape draped around the neck, a pencil between teeth, and paper in hand for recording measurements. Almost every big neighbourhood had a tailor shop with dedicated or disgruntled clientele, the cosmopolitan nature of Freetown lends it a unique perspective. You could see clients flipping through couture magazines, viewing wall posters of beautiful outfits, or in deep conversation with the resident clothier on their choice for the big day.

A tailor at work by Maseray Conteh

Tailor shops were always brimming with potential customers, and indeed there was a time the reputation of the whole profession took a big hit. The stories are many but eerily similar, but they usually went down like this. A client visits a tailor shop with clothing material in hand and design in mind, confers with the tailor, pays half or all of the money upfront, and happily leaves after they have been assured their clothes will be ready at a particular date. As the delivery time draws near, the client checks in with the tailor but is told that they are away on an emergency or some other excuse. The variations of the excuses become more ridiculous over time, and finally, the penny drops- “Me Tailor Disappoint Me” (My Tailor did not deliver). This phrase became synonymous with the profession, and the truth was a good number of the men and women of the couture craft had developed a knack for taking more work than they could deliver to clients. It all came down to a lack of manpower, tools, and greed.

Trader selling fabrics by Maseray Conteh

Everyone did not react to “disappointment” with forgiveness, it was not uncommon to see scuffles at tailor locations as irate clients resorted to physical punishment or a strange sight to see a bodybuilding ‘’strenk man” type approaching a tailor shop with a client or a tailor retaining one for their protection. The infamous wedding stories with the bridal party storming shops are countless or the tailor jumping out of windows for dear life are near comical but have a basis in truth. These tensions peaked high, especially in eventful or festive seasons.

Salone Festive Season

I am sure every family has a few tales of their tailor encounter(s) in Sierra Leone, there’s a very interesting one in mine. My brothers had their school celebrations’ coming up and naturally, they had made the stop with mama to have their measurements taken and payment completed at a tailor joint months in advance. Yes, by now, you know how this is going to play out, it was a whole slew of excuses from the outfitter. The first day of the celebrations arrived and my siblings had written off the idea that they would make it to any, as that very morning they had visited the shop and their materials remain untouched. Luckily for them, our dad who left work early that day had seen other students from their school in ceremonial attire and as soon as he arrived home without sitting he asked mama why my siblings were still home. As soon as he was told why, he told the chauffeur not to park, hailed his security detail, and out they went again. Papa always with the flair for the theatrical for good measure stopped at a police station and added extra personnel. Boy, did that tailor get it heated at the shop. His work was put on hold and would have been carted away if not for the pleas of the other senior garment makers. Finally, dad let down and it was agreed that one police should be left stationed next to the tailor and he was to do no other work until he completed my brothers’ suits. Yup, as you may have deduced, he did deliver and all was well, he even became a good friend to the fam.

Tailor Time by Maseray Conteh

Eid Ul Fitri or Pray Day in Sierra Leone is a religious but very dazzling affair. It’s pure joy to behold all the spectrum of colours and artfully designed attires as Muslims wear their best to crown the end of the holy month of Ramadan. I still recall after prayers at the stadium every pray day, greeting friends and family, it was quite common to overhear the “Oh, e nor able kam pray, e tailor disappoint am for e klos ” (They were not able to make it for prayers, their tailor failed to finish their outfit on time) or the many last-minute botched outfits you notice with some of them coming apart in the seams, sadly some do fall apart with loose threads trailing in the wake of the adorners as they make their hasty return away from the stadium vicinity.

Striking a pose for the cam after Eid Prayers

The couture profession has transformed over the years for the better and that transition has given birth to new age stylists who are reshaping the perception of their sector. Bespoke designs with personal touches, Afrocentric clothing, and a taste for creative innovation, these locals’ brands like Madam Wokie, Nyapuii Threads, Klos, Rhophys Couture, and Mumini Fashion Empire to name a few are ambitious, hungry for growth, and ready to carve their destinies and share of the market. They currently enjoy generally positive reviews about their professional conduct and timely delivery from clients for the most part. The recent uptick of online shopping places like SHEIN has however made them be in direct competition to win the minds of the youthful demographic that has set their sights on eye-pleasing but reasonably priced apparel.

Local Brands or Shein?

The fascination and evolution of clothing will always shape the interaction of the nation and the insiders in the industry, in the words of Sierra Leone internet sensation King Tommy– “This game ya so, udat nor able make e nack ten Rakat and turn tablick, na for pull hand…the game get yagba!”

#Conundrum

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The Ride.


Hey. Kaboh. Bonsoir.

This right here is my safe space.

Journey with me, as I share my articles, short stories, and poems; all peppered with a bit of the Krio creole patois language from Sierra Leone.

Also, there will be photography done by talented individuals in the Sierra Leone creative scene.

Houston, we are ready for takeoff😉.

Where Have I Been?


I don’t know when I decided I would bite the opening line of Wale’s letter to Complex in 2014 as the title of my return blog piece, but frankly, it’s only fitting to give a nod to the artist who reflects my thought more than any other. I always assumed writer’s block is the ultimate nemesis in the life of a creative until I hit the snag where I could still write but had zero inclination to share with anyone.

The strange part was it did not affect my professional side, I could still develop and deliver work-related content and marketing concepts on time.

I knew I needed a breather, a hiatus with myself to figure out what had changed within me. Sometimes we go searching for answers but we ask the wrong questions or more appropriately, we ask questions expecting to find answers we want to hear.

Truth is, there is never just one answer when it comes to analyzing what makes us tick, and coming to terms with that made me realize I had stopped appreciating many important things.

So where have I been?

I have been adulting, learning the sacrifices made by my parents, and realizing there is no manual to this thing called life.

I have been appreciating the little things as they are mostly not lesser than grand gestures.

I have been enjoying music playlists curated by friends, drinking tea, and accepting the fact that loving sunsets will never be corny.

I have been making new friends with the wisdom that you can never have a limit on the good people around you.

I have been taking steps to the fore with the knowledge that the spotlight is not always a bad thing and works as well as aid from the background.

I have been awed again and again by the amazing short stories of Victor Forna (VF), re-learning why I fell in love with reading, how I took up writing, and rekindled by the knowledge of this musing.

To my readers or anyone who has ever perused my blog writings, I have a lot in the draft to share with you all.

In the words of Michael Jordan; I AM BACK!

#Conundrum

Reflections by Kontri Titi ( Maseray)

WordSmiths


I’m a thief just a peg lower than Robin, donning a hood Issa Kabbah never unveiled. Poaching feelings across minds and giving them wings. Letting them fly to the welcoming hands of estranged lovers to use as weapons, in status’ shade wars. Subliminal yet direct. Quotes coated in Quixote bravery Memes Galore. But then what […]

WordSmiths

UP!- A Creative’s Guide in Sierra Leone


Dire situations tend to bring out the best or worst, and for many of us, these moments are the molds that will cast us out in the movie of our lives moving forward. The novel Coronavirus outbreak in many ways than one is already changing the landscape of our existence, future interactions and our perceptions of what it means to be human. Eventually, when it does blow over it will be cataloged extensively in the annals of our history by all, but mostly in artistic form. Our medical practitioners will be the heroes but the stay home/lockdown measures will heighten the contribution of creatives that made this period bearable.

“Nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful people with talent”.


These words attributed to legendary-anonymous graffiti artist, Banksy fell through my twitter timeline recently. The words rang poignantly like an alarm outing snooze.


Anyone who immerses in Sierra Leone’s creative scene in one way or the other will be awakened to the reality of its ebb and flow, and the dreams of many who were once on the journey of leaving a mark. Indeed, some do leave paths but like the trails of a dusty road, they’re wiped or written over by the sands of time. The host of issues, limitations in pursuing and marketing any art discipline has left many creatives scratching their heads with the recurring question of how to navigate through the industry.

The age-old narrative of the stereotypes faced by many creatives with regards to art as a sole profession in Africa has extensively been delved into by many writers who have done justice to it. This realization has created an opening in the mindset of people that art is more than just a hobby but a sector that can be explored. This has seen a surge in the number of creatives who have left the shadows of doubt and try to make a way into the world with their talents. In this climate of opportunity, one must navigate wisely so as not to fall into a quagmire of missteps.


Vision must be an integral feature in the mindset of every creative and complacency a bane that must be kept at bay. Working towards a goal goes hand in glove with the mental discipline to see it through thick and thin whilst putting in the hard work. As with every other profession, growth comes with the realization that having the potential is good but the work ethic is what divides the greats from the ordinary. Resting on existing laurels and allowing the flame of creativity to play second fiddle is suicidal to one’s craft more so when the bigger picture becomes distorted before the goal is achieved.

Learn how to process reviews, honest feedbacks, and constructive criticism. They’re the signposts to growth. Always remember the art brought you the recognition, allowing the spotlight to blind you and take you off course from creating easily makes you anonymous pretty soon.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but knowing your niche and audience is something every creative must aspire to learn.


• Does your art form require you to always be in the spotlight?
• Is absence your friend?
• Should you separate your art from yourself or should it be intertwined?


Creatives have been known to tackle social issues, racial injustices, political parlays and climate change awareness with their works or their voices separate from it. Knowing which to use to make a statement is a skill that must be harnessed and trained over time. Coming to terms with the fact that you will be placed on a higher pedestal and your every action/words will be scrubbed with scrutiny is something that must be borne in mind.

Legendary Sierra Leone musician, Emmerson Bockarie wields this with a masterful stroke.

In this age of digital media, it’s vital for all platforms to be utilized in exhibiting and marketing your craft, the sphere of influence must not be limited to only your immediate circle i.e. family, friends, a friend of friends, etc. One must explore the boundless possibilities that exist outside of your comfort zone and what you know. Your talent will not always speak for itself, sometimes you have to use the appropriate outlet to amplify things.

You are your best cheerleader.

Get corporate and set up that LinkedIn account, with directing links to your work on other platforms. Upload that song to a streaming platform, submit your writings for that book grant or publishing deal. Watermark your images and send them in for the photography contest. The list goes on but leaves no stone unturned, cover all bases.

What have you got to lose anyway?


It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person from their online profiles and portfolios, and what better way than LinkedIn. The beauty of the internet and social media is the plug it gives you into the various hashtags, niche communities online that your art falls under, use it to relentlessly market your craft. This boosts and increases your visibility online thereby directing traffic to your site and SM handles. Keeping this in mind, knowing when and how to roll out your work and the timing it comes with is a discipline that must be etched in one’s character.

Visible hype does not always translate into correct timing, some days you have to ride the surf and pinpoint the tidal wave that will have a long-lasting impact. Go for the Tsunami, the effects last longer and with that, you need strategy and planning and not merely relying on the hype. Separate the signal from the noise.

Rapper and business mogul, Shawn Carter aka Jay Z is a marked example of an artist who always sees the bigger picture when making decisions.

Your work is your brand, and the packaging you ascribe to it should not only shift when you hit the big time. It’s far easier when the discipline starts from the onset. The Krio adage, “Aw yu mek yu bed na so dƐm de lidom de” comes to mind in the way you showcase your art as it has an impact on the value it commands. As a creative, if you cannot manage the trajectory of your affairs, get a manager, preferably someone trustworthy that can adequately handle the business and marketing end. Choosing a manager for many has been a tricky subject that has led to many falling out due to the fact some select friends or family member to run their affairs. There is definitely nothing wrong with selecting a familiar face but always bear in mind that the individual must have what it takes to pull it off and be conversant or in tune with the knowledge of how the business moves. Keep business running and detach it from the personal relationship when it calls for it.


The bubbling growth of the arts industry has also made it ripe for the picking. Countless stories abound of artists who have been the victims of exploitation of their works by so-called “angel investors” who lure them in with fine-tuned words and promises of getting them deals or bigger exposure only to come up short. The economic condition of the nation plays well to the advantage of these con men & women who walk around in certain “elite “social circles which accords them with an aura of integrity.

Many creatives have been victims of raw deals, thus eroding their trust to seek the much-needed investment they need to expand their careers. The need for written legal agreements between the creative and the other party/parties with a solid understanding of every term of the contract is vital and will serve to curtail the breach. Make sure to always demand the documentation and keep receipt of payments. Thinking smart and being aware of one’s worth goes a long way.

Networking amongst creatives is on the rise in Sierra Leone, thanks largely to the explosion of social media which has led to few collaborations with artists in the same genre however a massive crossover between fields has yet to occur. The nature of disrupting the norms dictates that creatives should continuously push past the “stay in your lane” mentality and create webs of connection to each other.

Last December, a convergence of sorts was put together by Mario Mackay as the stepping stone that can be explored upon when he hosted a Creative Linkup, in many ways than one, it was an eye-opener. The aftermath of this was that it led to joint projects springing up and being recommended to gigs suited to your skillset by another creative. Collaborating also dictates that being on the same page with an end game in sight with everyone pulling their own weight. Nothing defeats a joint project than someone failing to do their own bit and acting as an anchor holding back things from sailing. If all reasoning with the said party/parties has proved futile, sever ties with them from the project off or risk losing everything. Work ethic and discipline must be paramount when pulling off major projects.


No matter how blasé or un-motivated any creative is by commercial success, deep within them they are aware that creating is both a personal and sharing experience. The objective is giving flight to ideas, concepts, and feeling in any form whether painting, music, writing, and other art forms. In a speedy world of clicks, connections, and bytes it’s vital to capitalize on the now rather than have regrets.

Always push, sow the seeds to smell the roses when they blossom, a nod now is worth more than a thousand posthumous homages.

#Conundrum

P.C- Dominique Fofanahhttps://www.instagram.com/p/ByAq0uSAEF7/?igshid=1wo0kbufhu0j2

Shukubly: Manifesto of a SaLone Artist by Marco Koroma


Marco Koroma takes the wheel for this journey with a guest feature article on the zeitgeist of the Sierra Leone music scene.

The influence of art in the Sierra Leonean society is undeniable. From the hit songs that outline the “maps” in December to the kontri klos that offers the pride of nativity, the arts have always shaped and reflected, the Sierra Leonean society. But, ironically, in Sierra Leone, and in most African countries, this crucial piece of society’s fabric is reserved for those who could not “make it” in life.

In 2018, Sierra Leonean Afro-Rap artiste, Drizilik, released his much-anticipated project, Shukubly. In the opening track, also titled Shukubly, is a prologue to a project that reflects the beauty and struggles of the Sierra Leonean society (let’s keep this for another blog post), and on its own is a beautifully crafted manifesto by a true SaLone artist.

The fine and performing arts have always served as an outlet for many, and our society appreciates it as long it is “on the side” or a hobby, being a full-time artist anywhere is tough, but the devaluing of Art in Sierra Leone has eroded the pride that comes with being an artist.

Drizilik confronts this notion by opening Shukubly, both song and project, with a declaration. A declaration by an artist who has dedicated time to harnessing his skills and mastering his craft, and he is aware that he treads the road not taken; an artiste with a vision and a purpose.

“A tek dis tin sirios ivin if na fun to all
A suppose for de hammer a nor bon for fall
ivin if success nor return mi call
If A ever turn back a go turn to salt”

These bars are repeated on “Aw Ar Lef Os”, making it clear that they are thought out and repeated to let his audience and fellow artists know that even though some may consider this “thing” a joke, he is dedicated to and passionate about his craft. Drizilik goes a step further to make known his intention to succeed, and he compares quitting to the catastrophe that befell Lot’s wife.

“Noto pan boku tok
Yu fil se na fulish fo le man dem rich dis far”

In a time where mediocrity abounds, few have gone against the grain to put in the required effort to achieve their goals, but when your goals don’t align with the norm you’re ostracized and considered foolish, by both the mediocre and exceptional, for putting so much effort into a lowly craft.

Two sold-out shows, an international tour, and endorsements by corporations, will we still consider Benjamin George foolish for pursuing his dreams? Some may only see the current shine and ignore the zeal and zest it takes to gain acclaim in any field, the art being no different.

“Hustle for the paper so we earn inna the shukubly

Remuneration is an integral part of the equation. The need for money cannot be overemphasised. Sierra Leoneans may enjoy and love art, but the culture of paying for art is not encouraged. Most artists have been stifled by the need for a sustainable income, yet some have found the balance; maintaining a 9-5 whilst being a full-time artist (shout out to Prodigy, Freetown’s Finest). Creating sublime content is expensive, and passion and zeal can only take an entrepreneur so far. Drizilik in this manifesto makes it crystal clear that his art is his hustle, and he should earn from it, so should every artist producing standard content.

“Sky-rising lekke sun inna the shukubly
Watch you neba noto fun inna the shukubly
Kukujumuku wi de ban inna the shukubly
Help you brother if you can inna the shukubly”

In Sierra Leone, the phenomenon of giving back to society is neither propagated nor appreciated. Drizilik recognises his success and that of some of his peers, so he implores artists and audiences in the shukubly to give a helping hand as they make their ascent to success.

Collaborations are also a medium of giving back or lending a helping hand, yet they are so underrated in our contemporary; we need more artists from diverse fields collaborating to give us a blend we cannot fathom. I hope this means we will see more collaborations from Ben 10 over 10.

“Ben 10 over 10 na di shukubly
If yu look inside me heart na di shukubly”

I believe the shukubly is a metaphor for many things, but my favourite is SaLone. Over the years many Sierra Leoneans have left for greener pastures, but only a handful have returned to make good the diabolic system that forced them out. But, if home is where the heart is then Sierra Leone is where Drizilik’s heart is. Like every human, his instincts may lead him to search for fertile ground, but he assures us that his heart will lead him home:

“Wi go go bɔt wi always kam bak/Leke se wi fɔget sɔmtin na di shukubly”

Sierra Leoneans are no strangers to manifestos, but we are yet to witness a manifesto upheld and its promises fulfilled (shout out to the red lorry and the green lorry). As a fan, I appreciate Drizilik’s sincerity on Shukubly, but being a luminary to a generation with no genuine hero his word is dear, and the expectation might be overwhelming. As an artist, I consider this manifesto a challenge to improve and elevates the standards of the arts.

So in whichever corner of the shukubly, you find yourself –

“One time for your mind na di shukubly”

Written by Marco Koroma

-Marco Koroma is a content developer and an art curator.

Check out PoyoPapi (@Marco_Krm): https://twitter.com/Marco_Krm?s=08

-Check out the album of Benjamin aka Drizilik on http://smarturl.it/Listenshukubly and follow his Twitter on https://twitter.com/drizilik?s=08

The Disco Bash (Short Story)


It was the late 90’s to the early side of the 2000s, the era of faded jeans, the Walkman paving way for the disc man, and the trend of jazzy youth “luxing” in Freetown. One of the features in hailing from a family filled with older brothers and cousins is their knack of grilling, teasing, and being initiated into a rite of never-ending stories.

In the rare times I was granted permission to be in -“The Stronghold” as my brothers called their bedroom, I sat on the floor with folded feet and stared at them in awe and drank in every detail as they conversed. I was a very curious kid, let me don’t euphemize, I was a very “congosa pikin”, and so when I was barred entry I found ways to eavesdrop.

Boy, the stories I heard! Let me tell you about the Disco Bash.

My brother, let’s call him Max had been in party prepping mode for a month. Trips to the barbershop with him returning doo-rag donned to protect his waves, brand new Reebok Pump sneakers straight from the box and my dad’s Hugo Boss cologne suddenly going missing.

Dash card, cash box, and neighborhood Sunday cleaning, Max left no stone unturned to raise funds.

Finally, the D-Day dawned, from what I could piece together from the narrative, the party kicked off with a bang. DJ Sonny was on location at Rumors Night Club swinging and the ladies came through in droves.

Then, the generator made a rumbling noise and went out. It was no trouble, a mechanic was handy, he sorted the electrical issue in no time to rousing cheers from the crowd and went home, assured his work was done.

Freetown had many rival social club sects back then who vied for premier relevance. Apparently, one of these groups had been plotting and planning to topple my brother’s sect.

The generator which had been marked as the weak link was first smoothly disconnected, then a big boom box tape recorder had recorded its sound and put on a repeat loop, whilst the generator was carted away. So when the lights went out again, all assumed it was just another electrical issue, it was a sheer shock as my brother and his friends arrived at the backyard to see an old beaten-down boom box at top volume bleating out generator noise.

Bad luck, they say come in series never single.

The ECOMOG located around the vicinity had been notified by a tip-off (probably from the rival group) or rather just by the aggrieved crowd loudly venting at their party being cut short. It was after curfew hours after all, so when the ECOMOG breezed in with their vehicles, it was fleeing time as the palpable fear and possibility of the notorious soldier dubbed Evil Spirit amongst the Nigeria officers sent many flying as if their feet were those of Hermes.

My brother was never known for his athleticism; he was amongst the few caught.

His best friend -Sugarmouth Joe was selected to be the speaker when the soldiers enquired why they were out. Joe was a celebrated smooth talker and a lady’s man. By now, it was almost dawn and as Joe went ahead to make sign language and writing on the dusty earth, my brother and his cohorts knew they were royally in the deep end because if Joe took the deaf and dumb route, it sure was trouble.

They took the belting that came in stride, and they were all dropped off at their various points later on in the day.

Max of course told a different story about why he stayed away so long from home.

I later knew the real story because of my eavesdropping exploits.

Of course, I could not just let this go, I noticed Max was very slow in sitting down, and a slight spasm of pain flickered on his face whenever his bum touched a chair.

I chose those specific moments to go “Vroom, Vroom, Ecomog day kam, I am a Disco Dancer” and he would chase me across the room, but I always fled from his grasp.

Max was never a good sprinter.

THE END

NB

* Luxing was a slang in Krio in the ’90s that translates to define a well-dressed individual.

*Congosa Pikin is a phrase in Krio that translates to an extremely inquisitive and stubborn kid.

#Conundrum

Freetown Night Life by Dominique Fofanah
Freetown Night Life by Dominique Fofanah

Commercial Transportation in Sierra Leone: The Keke Takeover.


The Culture

If you are looking for an Uber in Sierra Leone, you won’t find any.

What you will find however, is a colourful history of a commercial vehicle industry that is prone to twists, turns and countless anecdotes.

Buses and Taxis share dominion in most countries around the world in the commercial transportation industry. In Sierra Leone the ‘Poda Poda’ challenged that hegemony. The motorbikes dubbed ‘Okada’ came next which was then followed by the quaint motor tricycle called the ‘Keke’.

Poda Poda’s generally come in the form of mini buses or vans with certain level of local customization work done on them to increase space for passengers inside. The vehicle’s seats are removed to be replaced by metal frames fitted with a thin layered cushioned seat. The driver is usually assisted by a conductor referred to as an apprentice. The experience of riding a poda poda is nothing short of priceless.

I was around 6 when I had my first Poda Poda experience. A family friend, one of the type that had become so close that you gave them the ‘Uncle’ title was tasked with ensuring me and my cousins board a taxi safely to visit our grandpa who lived in the East End of Freetown.

Uncle (let’s call him, Victor) had other plans. Poda Poda fare is relatively cheaper than taxi and uncle Victor had to foot the bills of a date he had planned with a dame the next day. Yes, yes of course don’t ask, we took the Poda Poda and boy was it an exhilarating experience. I was quite confused on what to make of the conductor known as the ‘Apprentice’, who was a pimpled face teen who switched emotions like the colours of a kaleidoscope.

One minute he would be smiling and regaling passengers with funny jokes and the next he would go livid with rage at someone who failed to pay and wanted to sneak out. He was quite skilled in creating very descriptive curse words, I was young then but reminiscing on that moment, I now saw in him one who with the right coaching would have made a great poet. I soon learned that an apprentice had to be vigilant as the driver would deduct the unpaid fares from their wages at the end of the day.

Poda Poda is the premier means for commuters in Freetown and those who live in the outskirts of the city. You’re bound to hear the latest gossip, stories and political bickering whilst in a poda poda as its passengers reflect the vast majority of ordinary Freetonians. The loud booming speakers with the latest hit songs has made poda podas quite popular with secondary school going children who carefully select which poda poda to board based on its stereo quality. In fact, in my secondary school years I looked on in envy as my colleagues arrived and left school with poda poda, the close proximity of my home to the Sierra Leone Grammar School meant I arrived to school by private vehicle, then boarded a taxi or sometimes walked back home.

I naturally had to find a way to break this deadlock, and as things tend to fall into place when we least expected it, some teachers started organizing after school lessons in the far end of town, I was amongst the first to sign up. Poda Poda took us to and fro, and of course my friends and I chose the one with the groovy bass and funky tunes.

The signature yellow of taxis in Sierra Leone feel almost as if they sprung up along with the iconic Cotton Tree at the center of Freetown. Taxi drivers are by far the most garrulous characters and they all share an unspoken code that makes it seem like they all belong to the same family. I used to think that all taxi drivers were related, until I witnessed a falling out over brought about by traffic jam and dangerous driving.

Growing up in the city of Freetown, reading the graffiti-like inscriptions on these vehicles was one of the high points of my day. Ranging from religious quotes, music lyrics and everyday proverbs on life, they had an allure of their own and sometimes, with it a penchant for throwing away the rules of spellings out of the window. As a staple of the city, they form an integral part of Freetown’s identity.

Taxis tend to be free roaming and sometimes territorial, in certain points around the city only taxis registered under a union are allowed to ply their trade along such routes.
The taxis of Wilberforce and Murraytown used to always be subject of jokes due to the derelict conditions they tend to be in, mostly the drivers had no keys to start the engines with and passengers stared on as the car is hot-wired manually with two cables. This experience is particularly unnerving for first timers as this process comes well under way after the vehicle had started moving. Thankfully, the conditions of taxis in those areas are far better than what they used to be.
Taxis are very popular with primary school children. The go to method for most kids to bypass paying the transport fare of two was termed “tote”. Basically what we did as kids that children still do was to have an older kid seated whilst another sat on their lap. Interestingly, this pyramid method can go up to a third kid at the apex just brushing the headliner upholstery of the taxi. Of course drivers had to put their foot down from time to time. Taxis enjoyed a long run on this demographic of clientele until the….wait I’ll touch on this later.

The Okada’s advent in Sierra Leone was not met with fanfare , it suffered from extremely negative P.R which in some cases wasn’t unfounded. Privately owned motorbikes had always existed but the idea of it being used as a method of commercial transportation was very alien to many Sierra Leoneans.

The city of Bo was the first to accept it, it wasn’t long before Okadas roamed the streets of Freetown.

Fast, efficient and able to weave between the spaces during extremely tight traffic jam, available late nights and able to meander through roads that taxis and poda podas couldn’t, okadas won the hearts of many people in quick succession.

It’s not a strange sight these days to see individuals park their private vehicles, disembark and wave down an okada bike to transport them to wherever they are going.

Zooming and zig zagging along the highways of the city has not made them pals with the traffic police who periodically declare okada no go areas. These rules are mostly flaunted and sometimes lead to Hollywood movie type chases and encounters between the cops and okada riders. Cops resort to methods like whips in hand which they lash riders with, barricades are sometimes used, or plain clothes tax force units who remove the keys from unsuspecting bike riders waiting to pick up passengers at stop points.

Okada riders are distinct in their appearance. Garbed in large top coats with several layers of clothes under and a distinct aura of menthol to safeguard against the breezey and cold winds when at top speed. The helmets or ‘He-lements’ as most call it comes in varying degrees of types, shapes and form that meet or do not meet the Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC) standards.

Skateboarding, Construction worker, Formula One, Pilot, Skii, Firefighter and Cricket helmets can be seen on the heads of passengers who take okadas.

There was one time I was so fascinated with a NFL helmet I encountered that came with the logo of the Vikings and had the autograph of Brett Favre. How the rider came to have it is still a mystery, I offered to buy it but the rider refused, he needed the helmet for safety from the popos, and so a possible collectors item slipped by me.

Kekes came with a bang to Sierra Leone, with the novelty and allure from seeing it in the maiden movie, “Ong Bak’’ of now popular Thai actor Tony Jarr, the dainty and cuteness of the tricycle looking vehicle stole the hearts of most Sierra Leoneans.

They arrived in many colours with slight variations but all airy with window blinds and a touristic feel. My first Keke ride was fun, and a friend who saw me remarked to me later in Krio, ‘You bin sidom and relax some kind way insai the keke lek na you private jet’ – (You sat relaxed in the Keke as if you were in a private jet you owned’). A Keke ride for many first timers is documented by selfies, it is undoubtedly a transportationsystem that doubles as a euphoric experience.

The Industry

The commercial transportation industry is a sector that has always flowed with the tides of inflation in our nation’s economy and global fluctuation of crude oil which influences the price of fuel that has a direct ripple effect on fare costs.
Most commercial vehicles are not owned by their drivers, the arrangement is a fixed amount that the driver must return to the vehicle owner at the end of the day known as the “Head Money”.

The amount is subject to the cost of fare and the type of commercial vehicle.

  • Poda Poda is based on the seat capacity; Four Row Seaters Le 200,000, Five Row Seaters Le 250,000 and Six Row Seaters Le 300,000 and the Coaster Le 400,000
  • Taxi- Le 70,000
  • Okada-Le 90,000 or Le 100,000
  • Keke-Le 100,000 and the larger 3 row seater Le 150,000

Presently, the standard fare rate for a fixed point to the next stands at;

• Poda Poda -Le 1500
• Taxi- Le 1500
• Keke-Le 2000

• Okada- Le 2000

*Note: 1USD is Le 9000

A commercial driver is responsible for minor vehicular maintenances and care, an owner may only step in for serious issues. A major drawback for many drivers is the corrupt portion of the police force who harass them for money. During conversations with drivers they will bemoan on their run ins with cops, passengers who refuse to pay and owners who are never understanding of their plight on the streets.

Owners also tend to narrate their own negative experiences with drivers who treat the vehicles with abject disregard of its value because it was not purchased by their own money.
Depending to whom you want to believe, it is safe to say the dynamics of any business has its positive and shortcomings.

Rivalry

There is an intense rivalry amongst these commercial vehicles to win over passengers and popular opinion.

A friend’s sister once related to me a story on how one time she was hailed by a Keke driver but when she responded that she was heading to Dovecot market and thus her cheaper option was a poda poda.

The Keke rider hit her with a classic line, “Well you go dance reggae tay you reach’’ (You will dance the reggae moves until you arrive at your destination) indicating the swaying motion she would encounter on her trip due to potholes and the rickety poda poda she boarded.

Taxi drivers have no love lost for Keke and Okada rider who they perceive as usurpers and uncouth thugs with no respect for traffic rules. The importation of the three seater Keke has made many a taxi driver to curse and swear loudly of the of unsafety conditions of these keke hybrids.

The Keke and Okada riders on the other hand will tell you that the taxi riders are just bitter since keke/okada riders make double their wages.

Many companies in the nation have lately been making bonanzas and promotions which feature the Keke as a top prize.

Africell Sierra Leone( https://www.africell.sl/ https://www.facebook.com/AfricellSierraLeone/ ) , the premier telecoms network in Sierra Leone gave up to 30 Kekes in their Christmas promotion. The Keke has featured heavily in music videos and has even been used as motorcade entourage for weddings.

Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora who came last December for the holidays were big patrons of the Keke. The Keke it seems is here to stay, but in an ever evolving world of ideas, innovations and new trends it will not be a surprise to see a new commercial class type vehicle dock on the quays of Freetown that will once more overhaul the status quo.

As was inscribed on my favourite taxi, “Only Time Will Tell’’.

#Conundrum

Keke

Taxi.

https://www.facebook.com/AfricellSierraLeone/
AfricellSL Keke Promotion https://www.africell.sl/ https://www.facebook.com/AfricellSierraLeone/

Biker Riders with their Okadas.

Poda Poda

Nostalgia


These days,

I am increasingly fueled by a raging desire to overprice depressed thoughts.

Or get lost in the flow of books in the jungle of Amazon.

Nothing seems real,

E-books? They leave me thirsty

I miss the smell of pages,

with their wrinkled edges,

and the torn covers that tells me it’s earlier readers validate its dopeness.

I miss it all.

 

#Conundrum

WordSmiths


York, Sierra Leone. Photography by Nadia Assad

I’m a thief just a peg lower than Robin,
donning a hood Issa Kabbah never unveiled.

Poaching feelings across minds and giving them wings.

Letting them fly to the welcoming hands of estranged lovers
to use as weapons,
in status’ shade wars.

Subliminal yet direct.

Quotes coated in Quixote bravery

Memes Galore.

But then what are we if not mercenaries?

A La God, Allah Messengers to the masses.

What of those in homes whose only solace reside in our words,
and in these moments feel connected to a larger hive that understands the deep pits of depression that internet clout chasers skim over.

We give you passion.

We dish you joy.

And mash your wins to look back on the L’s you took that left you shook.

Of beautiful sunsets and wild romance.

Discreet flings and getting turned down in love at your first advance

In denial of the face of pain and shedding Nile long tears,
and losing loved ones in this mortal world.
We stand by you with all the memories.

For we are dealers.

We peddle and walk the corners of your lives.

We deal in feelings.

The real trap lords, WordBangers.

So when next you see me and remark.

‘You don’t look like a poet’

I’ll smile and reply,

‘What do human feelings look like’?

#Conundrum