In its own right, Freetown is one of the most fascinating national capitals I have seen so far. It is set amidst forested but rapidly degrading mountains, rising almost abruptly from the North Atlantic Ocean. The city boasts of a sweeping beach, the Lumly Beach, barely 20 minutes from downtown. Congested in most places and still recovering from the ravages of a decade long brutal civil war that left its infrastructure, civic facilities and basic services in tatters, the city nevertheless has an unusual and unexplained charm. From most places, it offers beautiful views of the mountains on one side and the ocean and the estuary on other sides.
Our house is located at Fudia Terrace in the diplomatic/expatriate area called Spur Loop on the upper reaches of the hills, very near the Chinese and the Irish embassy. A fairly steep mud and gravel road (if one can call it one in the first place) leads to our large whitewashed house and from there it is a further 40 feet long inclined paved way to our door step.
The house is sprawling (at least by our standards), with high ceiling and a beautiful layout. The rooms, on two levels along the incline of the slope on which the house is built, are spacious, bright, airy and cheerful. Fringed by large balconies and windows, there is a constant gentle breeze blowing in the house throughout the day.
On the other hand, by all standards the interiors of the house, including the furniture (provided by my landlady) are very basic, bordering on the modest. Everything has a rough finish and has a simple, no-frills functional air to it. This lends the interiors a bare, minimalistic and in many ways an old world charm, with a simple, rustic, unadorned beauty. I have therefore decided to leave it that way and not buy any new furniture. The only additions I have made are 16 African wooden masks, a few lamp shades and a wood and wicker rocking chair.
Water supply in the house is fairly regular. One unfortunately cannot say the same for power supply. Often there are power cuts from 7 hours a day to continuous power cuts for 4-6 days at stretch. This I am told is a dramatic improvement from the situation 7-8 years back when there was no civic power supply at all. Two generators ensure that we have power to run the refrigerators 24 hours and lights, fans and kitchen appliances when needed. While the bedrooms have air conditioners that I am told were installed by the previous German tenants, we haven’t had to turn them on so far because the weather up in the hill is very pleasant and seldom goes beyond 28 degrees Celsius.
Apart from the excellent layout, the house has various other charms to it.
As one goes up from the gate to the door of the house, there is a beautiful mango tree to the right and a spread-out avocado tree to the left, the latter fruiting twice a year. Below the mango tree is a small patch of grass and below the avocado tree is a rectangular sand pit with a couple of swings for kids. The trees in our garden along with those in our immediate neighbourhood are hosts to colonies of birds that includes swallows, humming birds, wagtails, lapwings, cuckoos, swifts and innumerable other birds unknown to me, who fill the entire day from dawn to dusk with their chirps, calls and songs. The big balcony attached to the living room is a great place to sit, relax and gaze out and on a clear day, it provides a stunning view of the sun setting over the North Atlantic Ocean.
One of the highlights of Minnie and Nina’s visit to Sierra Leone was a memorable breakfast we had under the mango tree and a candlelight dinner we had on our balcony celebrating Minnie’s 10th birthday. We also spent many hours during weekends just sitting in the balcony, having Darjeeling tea, homemade Banana Bread and reading books.
On week days and on most weekends, there is very little to do in Freetown outside work and our house – basic, simple, spacious and charming as it is, is a haven for spending time in solitude, reading, listening to music, contemplating or simply letting the mind drift and go blank, watching the world go by.