Memories of Sweet Salone
Written and Photographed by Alexia Liakounakou
When I first set foot in Sierra Leone it was the start of the rainy season. What I remember most vividly about that first day is the smell of wet earth mixed with a characteristic, overpowering scent of hot peppers; a sign at Lungi airport that read…
Welcome to Sierra Leone. If you can’t help us, please don’t corrupt us;
…and the distant image of Freetown from the coast, only a short boat ride away.
It was the year 2007, and my arrival coincided with election day – the first peaceful election since the civil war. My stay wasn’t planned to last very long, but I ended up spending 10 months in Sierra Leone, a country which was equally confusing and rough as it was beautiful, exciting, and unlike any other country I have ever visited. I didn’t move much, but instead located myself in a village six miles outside Freetown, ‘Six Mile’, and began working at a local school.
Having only recently emerged from the war (1991-2002), the country was in a devastated condition, but had miraculously managed to make peace with its painful past. The pots and pans used in my compound where created out of metal wires formerly found on electric posts (thus there was no electricity in the village), and wood to build fires in order to make food was scarce.
The days went by slowly, quietly, and calmly, beginning with sunrise and ending a little after sunset. And for the first few months, the torrential rains made it hard to do anything but read books, listen to the radio, talk with the neighbours, and ponder on the meaning of life.
It is then that I took up photography, using my first digital camera — a cheap Olympus that I had brought with me in case I traveled around the continent. I started photographing the people in the village, who were – in their majority – extremely willing to pose.
“Snap me!” they would scream from inside their homes, and they rushed out to bring me inside for a shoot.
Many years later, I uncovered these files and skimmed through them.
While editing, I remembered something that I never had the chance to communicate to others about my long stay in ‘Sweet Salone’ — as many locals call it (with a pinch of irony).
Its most rewarding, exciting, and prized attribute is its people. Few travellers make it to Salone, still, as it is a feared and largely misunderstood.
But this land is vibrant and very alive.