After a 2 year stint in a Burkina Faso village with the Peace Corps, I traveled around with four good fellow volunteer friends. We adopted the moniker ‘Shark Force 5’ and ran roughshod over 8 West African countries in a 10 week span. Enough entertaining stories occurred to fill up a book (and indeed that is the goal), but today I am focusing on our return to Freetown, Sierra Leone after spending some time at a pristine but shady Lebanese beach house (a story for another time), and the surprising emergence of Black Shark (it’s not racist because it’s a proper noun!).
During the crowded Where’s Waldo type scenes that make up the East End Market in Freetown, one girl surprisingly stood out amongst the mob. She seemed young, but what was most striking was her attire. Unlike the average female Sierra Leonean in this daily market who tended to be wearing local clothing or old t-shirts covering the majority of their tops (unless of course they were breast-feeding, then it was all hanging out), she was wearing a small pink tank top with only a thin, string line tying together the two sides across her back. Basically her entire back was being flaunted about. I say this not in any sort of perverted manner (mostly) but because it made her distinctly noticeable, in this mass crowd of people. This was a first, in Burkina you would get many tank top wearing girls, often with much cleavage or more protruding, but to see an entire bare back down to the waist, well that was something I simply hadn’t come across (unless of course it was just your typical shirtless 42 year old mother of 19 doing laundry by the river, a picturesque scene if there ever was one). Regardless of the distinct first impression this young girl made, our frame of mind was more focused on finishing this Waldo page before running into Odlaw (if you get that reference you are my hero). She was nothing more than an afterthought once we exited the somewhat organized mayhem that was the East End Market maze for hopefully the last time.
We continued on a random walking tour of Freetown, ambling our way across the entire city, stopping off to check out various interesting things here or there. The brunt of our day consisted of such activities. It was maybe an hour or so after departing the market when I noticed another bare back. Maybe Sierra Leoneans had a totally different sense of dress (we had come across more shirtless women in the villages here than any place before – someone had a detailed tracker going . . . ). Considering this country, though still dominant, wasn’t nearly as strongly Muslim as our previous jaunts (Guinea, Mali), that was distinctly possible. But this tank top was also pink and in the same style. Maybe that was just the ‘in’ attire all these crazy post-war Leonean kids were rocking these days. Yet it soon became clear that this was the same young lady. How curious I remarked silently. To myself. What were the odds of running into a person who had been in the market with us, when we were all the way on the other side of town now? Thinking no more than that, we continued on our self-designed tour. She however, seemed to be on the exact same tour. Even more curious since she didn’t look like much of a tourist, and our route was indeed quite impromptu; it was highly unlikely that her rash touring decisions coincided with ours at every turn. I was thinking that something was strange here, not least of which was my obsession with Where’s Waldo. No one had mentioned anything, but I believe we were all starting to sense the same thing around the same time; it was a gradual but inevitable realization. Our paths were coinciding way too much for this to be purely coincidental – this girl was unmistakably following us.
to be continued . . .