Friday, 21 March 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Conakry'

First light: 0657 hrs
Time start: 0642 hrs
Time finish: 0724 hrs
Weather: 24C
Circumstances: Friday, slowest business day of working week

Post number 7 in the 'An Early Morning Run In...' blog series. Yesterday travelled Freetown to Conakry. 314 kms by road. A journey of 6.5 hours.

A few other numbers;

- checkpoints to negotiate crossing border: 7

- dash (bribes) requested: 7

- cars driving wrong side of main carriageway into Conakry: 48

- car accidents involved in first hour Conakry: 2

- traffic lights working Conakry: 1

A country where I'm older than the average male life expectancy. But, below female. Just.

Many enquired about the recent fire engine wahala. It was repaired. Arrived Freetown on schedule. Sierra Leone apparently deployed its equivalent of the Green Goddess (UK 1950's auxiliary fire engine painted green). Could well have been 2 fellows with a ladder and 2 metal buckets. Painted red, British Army style with 'FIRE' stenciled on the side.

First deployment as a young private soldier 1977 was Edinburgh during the fireman's strike. I was in the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment. We were sent north to rescue cats from trees and run over them in the Green Goddess on the way back to barracks.

My recent excursion to London (post 5) was working with lawyers. A funny story came to mind from 2005. After spending a busy month in Nairobi, with a group of mostly North American lawyers, there was downtime at the end. We ventured upcountry. Aberdare National Park. We stayed at 'The Ark'.

At The Ark two people a room. The lead lawyer (Lawyer X), my  Canadian roomy, asked what I was doing. My leatherman was out disconnecting the buzzer. Each room had a sign. The buzzer rang once if water buffalo came to the watering hole, twice for elephant, and so on. Big one was 5 rings. A lion. I told Lawyer X we needed a good nights sleep. I'd seen plenty of wildlife in its natural environment. He was disappointed. Understandable really. One time opportunity. Following 10 seconds consideration I finished disconnecting the buzzer.

Lawyers worry about everything. They love to have stuff to worry about. It's their DNA. Earlier Lawyer X expressed concerns about malaria profolaxis. I told Lawyer X not to worry. Nairobbery is 5,500 ft above sea level. Had he seen mosquitos wearing oxygen masks? No, of course not. Another (Lawyer Y) had worries about worms. Should he wear a shower cap in Kenya? Lawyer Y was bald as a Greek monk.

I informed Lawyer X he should sit outside on the decking observing the watering hole. Salted to attract wildlife. The Ark provided chairs, blankets and served soup. Artificial I know. Surely not bad as sleeping and a buzzer sounds, you charge out to see Larry Lion or Eddie Elephant. Lawyer X reluctantly trooped upstairs with his blanket. I reminded him not to wake me on return.

Two weeks later skiing together in the Rockies. Lawyer X began to tire struggling through the afternoon. Going downhill fast, excuse the pun. Lawyer X is fit. He arrived home feeling worse. He was hospitalised. He had malaria. Big time. Lawyer X was convinced my fault. Typical lawyers. Always quick to apportion blame. Firmly believed he was bitten the night on the decking because someone disconnected the buzzer. He went further. Again jumping to conclusions, he blamed me for stating Nairobi was so high above sea level, that precautions for Africa's biggest killer were not necessary. Oxygen masks. It all came out. Lawyers eh? Always something to worry about... Oh, if you're worried about Lawyer Y, don't be. He wore a purple polka dot shower cap. No worms. His polished dome remained intact.

Time to run. Feeling good this morning. This is Guinea. Not to be confused with Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, or Papua New Guinea. Formerly known as French Guinea. That's a lot of Guinea's. Independence from France 1958. Guinea is approx the land size of UK. Population 10 million. Conakry 1.5 million.

My schoolboy French is getting an airing. Put a French joke in? Bien Sur. Difference between a smart fragrant Frenchman and a unicorn? We all know the answer to this one. Nothing, both fictional characters.

Today I have a special guest runner. A friend (not when he's read this). A Canadian. Codename Escargot. 0620 hrs. We meet outside Residence Schaka. Excellent guest house. Highly recommended. Thanks to Kai & Hawa for taking great care of us. Start stretching. Warming up. Mosquito's everywhere. YB (local Guinean driver) picks up as arranged. Short drive to the start point. 15 mins. Traffic heavy.

Not every run starts next to a life size statue of a grey elephant. Especially with a foot raised on a football. It's still dark. It's hazy. Smog. Busy streets. Headlights still on. Opposite is a Presidential Lodge. Belle-Vue Roundabout.

On left the Sierra Leone Embassy. Nice to see it, warm memories of 'home'. Outside a bus marked Freetown. Goes twice a week for about $20. Takes a day. All you backpackers wanting to explore real Africa on a budget? It can be done. Brace yourself for the border experience. Learn negotiating skills for life.

Conakry is stretched out. People get to work early. Might be due to the fact this is 'Protest City'. In Guinea people protest about anything and everything. They protest in Conakry most days. Many protests morph into riots. Way of life. Book a fortnights holiday here, you won't be disappointed if riots are your thing. Could be about power cuts. In fact, mostly power cuts. Could be water shortages. Could be price increases to staples (rice etc). Could be students. Could be political. Could be anything. People here have plenty of spirit and don't accept status quo. However, a serious point. Around 60 people killed in these protests since the country's first ever democratic elections in 2011. Alpha Conde became the first elected President.

Arrive at a meeting in Freetown late, you smile and say traffic. Here, smile and say protests. If none that day, smile and say traffic.

Escargot and I set off a brisk pace. We head north on Prince Highway. On left Rio Tinto office. A huge mining company. Largest sector in the country. Another country rich in natural resources, but overwhelmingly poor. Rio Tinto has been in-country 16 years spending a fortune. They await return on investment.

Mosques aplenty in this predominantly Islamic country (85%). Some good looking churches too. Secular. No issues.

10 minutes in. Going to be great run. Can feel it. Escargot must have wind. Or something. I catch the guy ahead. His name is Ali. Speak some schoolboy French. We jog side by side for 10 minutes uttering the odd bonjour & ca va. He points to the floodlights ahead at the National Stadium. Beckons to follow him. Escargot must have a stitch. Shout back to follow.

Circle the National stadium where the Elephants play. Plenty of pitches (one astroturf with floodlights), about 100 young players playing, being coached. Just notice Escargot has come out this morning dressed as a footballer. Ali peels off. Say our au reviors. Circle the playing fields. These kids are talented.

Smog. It's bad. Takes a while to notice the main cause is amount of fires in the streets. People are burning rubbish. Conakry is the dirtiest city I've visited. Rubbish and filth everywhere. Must be an issue with garbage collection. Maybe Escargot is suffering with the smog. Whatever, he's going backwards faster than a French tank commander.

After a detour time to head back south. Back to YB. Push all the way back. YB has water. 42 mins. Where's Escargot? He'll be fine...

Guinea is a tough place. It's difficult. Have a feeling Guinea will grow on me. Guinea has character. Guinea has spirit. Like it. People are friendly and open. Great bread. Decent coffee. Good restaurants. French wine. All in all, as with most places - some good things, some bad.

Bon journee. No new posts for a while. Maybe photos added to existing posts. Thinking of outtakes / extras - things left out over various posts.

In closing, I'd like to dedicate this to my Auntie Violet. She was a roofer. Raise your glasses. Auntie V, .... if you're up there...

P.S. To my one French friend in the world - of course, only joking...

P.P.S. I need to find Escargot