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On June 1, 2011 I embarked on a 27 month journey with the Peace Corps to Sierra Leone where I taught Math. Starting this fall of 2014 my wife and I are moving to Casablanca, Morocco to teach again!..this is the journal of one rambling man in Africa.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

To Soak A Thief

       We awoke on Sunday morning slowly. No big hurry . My wife, Ivy, and I were staying downtown Freetown in a decent little hotel in the heart of the city, and had nothing to do today. After a hard boiled egg sandwich, some instant coffee, and a little two person Rummy on the second story balcony, we decided to do a little "junks" shopping around the area. "Junks" is what the Sierra Leoneans call the second hand clothing they receive from abroad. Places like America, Europe,and Australia. Places where people buy something brand new, wear it once, and throw it away or donate it. It then gets packaged and shipped to the third world where people buy it in bulk, wash it, sew it, make it look new, sell it, and feed themselves. The receiver of the item takes it home and takes better care of it than any original owner could comprehend, wearing it to pieces and then sewing the pieces back together.
 Sunday is usually the slow day for sellers and most of the big shops are closed. We headed for the clothing area, turning down a small side street where there is about a four foot space between the stalls. Every stall full of used clothing, and the seller waiting patiently for people to pass by. Sellers usually have one area of clothing, either jeans, or tshirts, or women's dresses, or children's clothing. The stalls made of sticks and tarps mostly. Every shop, one after the other, barely distinguishable from the one before. Every shop owner desperate for a sale. Especially when they see white people. "Good friend, good friend! Come and look. I have fine clothes" This is usually mixed with "White man!" or "What do you want?" or "Come buy" or "You have fine woman, can you give me?" Most people are usually really friendly, though some seem annoyed by our want to browse and look at things,  often holding up things for us and asking "How about this? This is very fine for you." and the nearby stall owners all agreeing that it is indeed fine for us.
        When we find something we actually want we begin the bargaining process. Everything usually starts out at about two times as much as it would for a fellow Sierra Leonean. Make a face, act like its ridiculous, and laugh. Then they will usually ask "How much do you want to pay?" Offer half. This goes on for a while until you either get a price you like or you walk away. Many times, seeing the sale going away, they will say ok and take the money. One stall after another we went down, occasionally buying something, and sometimes having small talk with the locals about why were here, where were from, or answering a dozen random questions. They love it when we talk about things that prove we know anything about their country, and really love it when we talk to them in Krio or Temne or Mende. They laugh at us when we tell them our local names, Morlai and Zainab. Everyone interested and happy to talk to us. Most say they want to go to America and ask if we can take them back with us. Sorry guys.
        After about an hour of the heat, humidity, and bargaining we start to head out of the maze of identical stalls. We arrive at one area, and one after another the stall keepers warn us to watch our belongings and our pockets, warning that there are alot of bad boys up ahead. I think to myself "They wont get me, I'm too alert right now." I thank the shop keepers and continue on with my wife next to me. Sure enough we get to the area, and just like magic, two or three young guys walk our way, squeeze tight, and work together to distract us or bump us and reach into our pockets or bags. I felt a tug at my pocket but luckily i stuffed it with a plastic bag and a shirt.  My wife yelled at one and we got away theft free. About another fifty feet and another three guys walk our way. Resembling the first group with poor looking clothing, usually a handkerchief or black plastic bag in one hand. This time I just stop and stare at the one coming right at me, giving him a dirty look. I didn't feel anything but I hear Ivy yell behind me. I turn around quick and see her push one guy away, accidentally pouring water from her bag of drinking water all over him. The guy had successfully opened the zipper on her travel purse but failed to get anything out before getting attacked with water. The people around did little but watch, but who could blame them. They cannot do anything to them and they gave us fair warning. We walked away and took a breather, hearts pumping with adrenalin, discussing what had just taken place. No theft today. Just another day being pegged for having lots of money. All white people have money they say.


  1. Keep safe my son. Maybe let Ivy be the guide. Women are very intuitive about these kind of things. Always heed the warnings of the locals. They are trying to protect their merchandise and want your business back!!

  2. Remember also, they were no doubt once rebels. Literally sounds like the "law of the jungle." I'm afraid this would happen anywhere poverty is present. If Erin were walking with the two of you, there might have been blood... :) Ivy's a little gentler. Have Ivy tell you of the time someone tried to take Erin's purse in front of Hafedh's coffee shop near the TL. Not pretty.