One manic hour in crazy-arsed Kent
My visit to Kent was the most surreal experience I had during my time in Sierra Leone. I absolutely loved it.
Kent is a coastal village in the Sierra Leone’s Western District, famous for its long sandy beach and dark relics from the time of slavery.
It is roughly 57 kilometres south of Freetown and the jumping off point to the Banana Islands. It was there that I would be catching a beat-up wooden boat to take me across.
Things started going a little screwy on the outskirts of town. Two young guys had put up a makeshift roadblock and refused to lower the rope to let us through.
“I’m from the Ministry of Tourism,” pleaded my guide, Osman.
Big mistake. They just added a couple of thousand Leones to the price of the toll.
In Kent, we parked near the primary school that had once been a holding pen for the poor souls captured during the time of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
We were immediately surrounded by every young man under the age of twenty who began regaling us with facts about the town before we’d even got out of the minibus.
“Kent was founded by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles McCarthy,” shouted one through a half-opened window.
“Anglican missionaries converted many of the slave pens into churches,” said another, as I clambered out of the minibus.
“From such an idyllic setting, such a horrific trade!” shouted the youngest.
Actually, that bit isn’t quite true.
It was the former UK Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who said that when he visited Kent in 2007 to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the abolishment of the slave trade.
The young guys were extremely polite but very, very insistent.
They’d been trained as guides and told that tourists would bring money to the village and now they were trying to get their share.
After dispensing a historical fact or two they would peel off and let the next guy have a go.
The only problem was that every single one of them told me the exact same thing.
The trouble at the roadblock meant that we had missed our boat to the Banana Islands.
It would be an hour or so until the next one left so Osman negotiated for just one of the young guys to take us on a tour of the rest of the village.
The tour started normally enough. We walked past the town square, such as it was, where people sat under a tree repairing nets and preparing food while portable solar panels charged power banks out in the sun.
The Town Well was also a hive of activity and beside it, in front of an old, abandoned building, the young boys of the village were playing an impromptu game of football.
I asked our guide what the building had been. A school? A church? Something to do with the slave trade?
He silently ushered us inside and indicated for us to look with a sweep of his arm.
There was a battered sofa and a broken wooden cabinet holding mysterious files and books that had swelled from water damage and mildew.
The walls were covered in graffiti, including ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’ painted artfully underneath a broken wall clock.
I remained none-the-wiser as to what the building had been used for.
Our attention was caught by a commotion out the back of the building.
Some boys had clambered up a huge mango tree and were picking mangos and dropping them to their friends below.
An old lady sat just to the right, on the stone steps of a closed shop, yelling angrily at the boys in krio, the local creole language.
“She is telling them that it is her tree,” my guide explained. “Many years ago villagers planted trees to mark the boundary of their land. She says it is on her property and they are stealing her daughter’s mangoes.”
The boys ignored her. She got even angrier.
At one point she stood up and shook her fist at them, yelling something that sounded an awful lot like “Arseholes!”
A young boy ran up to tell us that the boat to the Banana Islands was ready to go.
We made our way to the harbour where our boat was waiting, pulled up on the beach. In the distance, the old lady seemed to be getting really agitated, yelling “Arseholes! Arseholes! Arseholes!” at the top of her voice – or some word in krio that sounds very much like it.
“Kent was founded by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles McCarthy,” said the young boat captain, as he helped me on board.
And, boy, what a crazy-arsed place it had become.
Main image: Religious graffiti in an abandoned building in Kent, Sierra Leone (Peter Moore)