Tribewanted Sierra Leone, John Obey beach. Two weeks in. Ten days before the first tribemembers arrive.
It is one thing to talk about it and plan from abroad, quite another is to live every day on a virgin beach, with no amenities and a lot of rain. The rainy season is dragging on longer this year, and we have rain most of the night and at various parts of the day.
It has been an adventure so far. Full of successes and headaches...
Shortly after Ben and I camped our tents at John Obey beach, the international crew arrived: We have Alejandro Arango, perma-culturalist from Costa Rica Hooman Fazly, American-Iranian earth-bag builder from Cal-Earth Mark Ax, from Sea Bright Solar in New Jersey, donating his time and solar panels.
Our days on the beach are full; we wake up shortly after sunrise, breakfast consists of porridge, bananas, coffee or tea boiled over a wood and charcoal fire on the sand.
After breakfast, for about $1 per person, we buy fresh fish straight from the fisherman who have just returned at dawn. We buy fresh bananas and coconuts from the village and many other fruits and vegetables from nearby market for daily use.
The most impressive thing has been the effort and work ethic of the John Obey community and the local leadership of Hasan Marah, chief of John Obey, age 35. Every day, about 30 of them arrive at 8:30 a.m., work under the sun or rain-showers, making sure that the compost toilets, kitchen and beach cleanup is completed before the first tribemembers arrive. There is a kitchen team, a cleanup team, a building team, a perma-culture team and a security team. Our next door neighbor, Mary, married to a fisherman, has a three month old baby and asked for employment, she has been doing all our laundry in the river upstream.
We all lunch together at 2 p.m., a big plate of country rice and spicy groundnut stew or kassava leaves sauce, and then back to work until sundown.
At 4 p.m., I head up to John Obey village, where most of the local crew lives. While we wait for our solar panels, the only mean of charging cell phones and laptop is through the only village generator. Five thousand leones ($1.25) will buy you a liter of juice, enough to charge for an hour or so. My extra slow internet key is the only way to stay "connected" to the outside world, usually as I work in my makeshift office under the mango tree, a dozen or so kids stare amazed at my endeavors...it takes a couple of hour to go through 20 daily emails,
forget attachments or skype...
The best time of the day is around 6:30 p.m., after work. Where the river meets the ocean, the waters form a natural sand bank island along the beach; here, I swim and work out and let the waves and current take me around until sunset. Fresh water on one side, the ocean on the others, nothing but green lush rainforest hills all around and miles of virgin beach all to myself. I sing at the top of my lungs just because I can.
In the evenings, after a bucket shower, Elija and his kitchen team cook us amazing fresh fish and salads purchased in the morning, with fried plantain and his "special sauce."
We fall asleep early in our tents after "bush TV", aka sipping local pojo on hammocks around the bonfire. The pouring rain and thumping waves are our only nightly rhythms until sunrise.
Logistically, it's hard. Most of my time is spent on survival mode: how do I get drinking water? How do I get basic supplies? How do I charge my cell phone and laptop? How do I go online? How do I get transportation? How do I stay dry?
Compost toilets and the fresh water well are behind schedule. We have changed three pistons so far to no avail, and it is more and more likely that the "professional" drillers dug a dry hole...so for now, we have to resort to bottle water to drink and fresh river or rainwater to cook and wash. The bush is our toilet. You have not tried anything in life until you go to the toilet in the bush under a rainstorm holding an umbrella with one hand, trying not to get the toilet paper completely soaked...
Communication is hard. Cell phone will send the same message 20 times, internet and electricity are luxuries. The rain, the seawater, the humidity and the sand take a toll on all electronics, and I already "lost" a cell phone to the sea.
Most of the headaches come from Freetown. Our container with our solar panels and all our kitchen/toilet/bedroom supplies sits at the port, as does our vehicle. We have been told by various ministries for months that we will receive duty free concessions, as we should, according to their incentives to promote tourism and sustainable development in the country. But unfortunately bureaucracy at its worst is at play here, and in a couple of days we need to clear customs, duty free or no duty free, which can cost up to 40% of the imported value. Its really discouraging when you have to pay $1,000 in taxes on donated solar panels that have been brought for local community development, but alas...T.I.A. (this is Africa), or as they
say in Krio, D.N.S. (Dis Na Salone).
I look forward to spending weeks on end on John Obey beach, rather than having to schlep back and forth to noisy and sweaty Freetown, always stuck in traffic. I look forward to a dry night.