West Africa – Instalment 3

Third instalment! if you wish to catch up on the first two please click on the West Africa Tab above.

The road to the rutile mine was quite good; obviously the firm had reinforced it so the lorries could negotiate the route better.

They had a meeting with the site manager who had, had numerous very public arguments with Anita.

They arrived at the mine as the afternoon was starting to cool and Gabriel Facunda met them at the entrance. They followed his jeep to the mines administrative offices parked the car and took a walk to the most active dredging pond. Gabriel was happy to extol the recent safety record of the mine. He was pleased with the progress made since a horrific incident where 50 workers had died; and how the company was doing all it could to replenish fishing stocks in the ponds left behind after the mining had finished.

A huge house-like structure sat atop a man made pond which dredged the soil to extract the mineral. That was apparently used in paints and even sun screens, due to its light refracting properties. He showed them round the site which was immense and housed a hospital for staff. However standing nearby was a uniformed militia man which unnerved Eli, many of these armed men could be seen stalking the site. Mr Facunda saw Elijah’s concern and brushed it aside; saying this was merely the security staff and not to be concerned.

When the interview began he explained that he had not been in Moyamba district but in Freetown on the night of the murder, he had been attending his daughters wedding and was happy to give a list of guests who could verify this.

He confirmed that he had had numerous debates (as he called it) with Miss Berwick, she accused the mine of polluting the river, but he couldn’t understand why. They were five miles from the river and were very careful, as pollutants such as ammonium chloride and sulphuric acid were used in the refining process. Although he did understand that people were getting sick in the area and a few people had apparently gone mad. It was believed it was something in the food chain, most likely the fish and meant that the EU fisheries funding was under threat.  He stated he actually took her accusations very seriously and the company had initiated an external safety audit of their pollutant controls and they had found nothing to suggest the mine was the cause. But Anita wouldn’t leave the mine alone, accusing the company of bribing the auditors, but he assured Elijah this was not true, we are a respectable firm who was honestly trying to do a good job in Sierra Leone.

So what do you think is polluting the river then Mr Facunda?

I don’t know, but there is something strange happening at night in the land adjacent to the river. I left the mine in the early hours of the night two weeks ago, I had paperwork to clear which I am sorry to say I had neglected. Well I was driving on the edge of the sacred land and swear I could see a glow of artificial lights and a roar which sounded like heavy machinery. However it was easily half a mile or so away so it was hard to say and as I am not a member of the secret society I couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t some bizarre ritual. I am an engineer and superstition is so backward do you not think gentlemen?

**

As they revved up the engine Desmond’s brow ruffled he turned to Elijah and said, ‘I know what you are thinking.’

‘What am I thinking Desmond?’

‘You are thinking I need to investigate the Sacred Land aren’t you?’

‘No, just thinking we go up to the edge of it in the early hours and see if we can hear and see the same thing, that’s all.’

‘Good – as treading on the Sacred Land is likely to end in bloodshed, I am not saying spirits will attack us, simply an angry mob. If we enter the land we need reinforcements Elijah.’

‘We won’t go on the land Desmond not tonight at least, aren’t you curious?’

Desmond stared long and hard at Elijah but did not respond.

**

That night they both parked at the side of the road where Mr Facunda had told them he had seen the lights and heard the machinery, they waited all night and all they heard was the raucous din of night time insects, the call of monkeys and at one point a bang that seemed to come from faraway and made them both jump. The only lights they saw were fireflies and then the early tendrils of dawn creeping over the hills.

As they drove back to Moyamba they passed the mine and were flagged down by a distraught worker, who hurried them to dredging pond. There lay the body of Mr Facunda, bloated and purple from drowning.

The security team had caught a man they believed did the deed. They said he had been fired earlier and he had given a full confession. It certainly looked no more than a coincidence – finding his death so soon after providing a lead was a concern. But then not much of a lead – they hadn’t witnessed anything to suggest he hadn’t imagined the noises and he said himself that he couldn’t be sure, I mean the guy confessed he was a little sleep deprived; perhaps the noises and light had been a mild hallucination, but still – Eli just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was connected.

**

Elijah shifted position in the sauna under his mosquito net, he had woken from a strange dream and was unable to get back to sleep his mind whirring with suspicions. Coincidences like that – can they really happen, he wondered to himself. It was the early hours, the sun was just rising and they were getting a few hours sleep before having a day off. Goat stew at Desmond’s village was on the cards and he was thankful for it.

The fan in his room clicked and then slowed down, he jumped up and went to the window, there she was again, not covered in mud this time. He could see her better due to the early light that was making the world appear pink. She was quite stunning, tall, curvaceous and smiling. She motioned for him to follow her but he stood rooted to the ground, thoughts of being trapped never to be seen again. Then the landlord could be heard rounding the house to the generator building, she smiled again and suddenley disappeared into the tree-line.

Elijah un-rooted himself and ran outside – peering into the space she had once inhabited, but she was gone.

**

Desmond’s mother lived about 10 miles from Moyamba Town in a small village which had mud brick buildings and a small central square,where chillies were laid out drying near the well. Kids were pumping water as they arrived and suicidal chickens squawked in protest as the jeeps wheels scattered them.

In the early evening full of food they were sat around the fire –  the talk turned to the sickness that was befalling many people in the district.

‘I think it’s the district councils fault, they spend donor money to build a big water treatment plant when what we need is clean wells, who can’t afford to pay for water. The generators cannot run as there is no money to fund it. Idiots.’ Desmond shook his head.

‘No,’ said his mother, ‘I think its in the food chain, this is not typhoid or cholera this is something else – a poison, Miss Berwick was right, although she was never able to prove it.’

‘As the local doctor Mother, your opinion on local sickness cannot be ignored. But something abnormal is happening, so much sickness.’

‘Ah this is Africa my love, sickness is normal.’

Desmond’s Auntie piped up, ‘What about that man who went berserk and executed his wife with a machete in the middle of the village for all to see, sliced right through her – it was terrible. The thing that made it so terrible is it came out of nowhere, they were such a happy couple, newly married and he was a young man with prospects, really did well from his cocoa crop and made some money on the side harvesting from the palm trees to make poyo. They were doing ok, it made no sense.’

‘They say psychopaths are difficult to predict though more than likely unconnected,’ said Desmond.

They all nodded in the firelight staring for a while.

**

The following morning the two men washing with warm water warmed by the fire,

‘Desmond there’s something in this poisoning, Anita was investigating it just before she died, surely this is a motive.’

‘I would certainly like to know and I think my mother can help us, she used to be a pathologist in the lab at the Government Hospital in Freetown before the war. Lets talk with her – Mother?’

Desmond’s mother Aminata came over to where they were washing.

‘Would you do us a favour?’ Eli asked

‘Yes if I can, what?’

‘Would you take samples from both the people getting sick and the river?’

‘I will, I would like to know myself what is causing this, there are many things that can make you sick here but it would be good to know for sure what this is. But how will you test these things, Anita could not get effective testing done in Freetown all the tests came back inconclusive or contaminated. Which is strange as all 5 of the separate tests took over a 1 month period had the same result. Anita was livid and felt almost paranoid that someone was deliberately sabotaging her attempts to get to the bottom of it. She used to say just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean their not out to get you.’ Aminata laughed at the irony.

‘How do you know this Aminata?’

‘This is why Desmond brought you here I think, not just for my Goat Stew. I knew Anita well, we had worked together on various health projects in Freetown, I even went with her to Kono and provided the medical report on the boys mining there, what a terrible place.’

‘I see, well I think we need to bypass Freetown then.’

‘Ah Rotifunk Hospital, yes indeed it has an excellent new lab, just completed, if they allow me use of the facilities I would be happy to do the tests myself.’

‘Mother, don’t tell anyone will you I don’t know if this is a true lead or a dead end, but if it is then people may wish to stop you. In fact I think I should stay here with you both to protect you.’

‘And you think that will not draw attention my son…I am an old women who often helps with the sick in the area, would it not be more suspicious to have my son, a policeman from the city, following me around? Don’t worry, my protection is normality and if that fails I am not without allies.’

Elijah felt overwhelmed with the feeling of a small win, finally he had gained another ally and this resulted in him picking Amanita up, squeezing her and spinning.

Desmond laughed, ‘Are you trying to woo my mother Elijah?’

‘Yes – yes I am’ he planted a huge kiss on her cheek and they all started laughing.

 

**

Several days later word reached Eli of another brutal murder that had taken place in a village near to the sacred land. The perpetrator was being held by the Chief and Elijah bullied the commandant into letting him go with him to extract the villain. He was interested as the village was close to where the suspicious lights had been seen by the dead rutile manager and his gut felt it was relevant to Anita’s case.

The village was quiet until they reached the Chief’s house, where a group of people were yelling outside – baying for retribution. When the formalities were over the Chief took them to the locked room where a quiet and scared looking man in his mid twenties sat, shaking uncontrollably.

Desmond went in and spoke with the man in Mende for quite some time whilst Elijah sat outside on the verandah with the chief, who told him the sad story of the events of the previous night.

The man had ran out scared witless into the village screaming about demons in his home. The chief and some of the other villagers went into the house and found his 3 children and wife brutally stabbed, blood congealing everywhere. The chief found it hard to believe what he saw, as he knew the man well. He was always hardworking – a good husband and provider for his children, it didn’t make any sense.

When Desmond returned he shook his head in dismay.

He is convinced Eli – it was not his family he killed it was demons with terrible clawing evilness, he doesn’t seem aware of the fact that his children and wife are dead and keeps asking to see his family. He looks sick too I think we need a doctor to look at him, I don’t think he is a well man and not just mentally.

Right well lets take him to Rotifunk Hospital to see your mother whose is also there doing the tests.

**

The next day they met Amanita. When they arrived she looked upset and quickly shooed them down passed the newly constructed theatres and into a quiet courtyard away from the main building.

‘I found something terrible,’ she shook her head.

‘What?’ They both said in unison.

‘Poison – Mercury, lead and cyanide…in the water, in the fish and most notably in those who are sick. It explains the symptoms, and when I spoke with the Greger about my results he has started testing all patients with symptoms and it is shockingly prevalent – over 200 people – mostly children have tested positive for one if not all of these poisons. However some men have large levels.

‘On this basis I tested your murderer and he has massively high levels of lead in his system, one symptom of lead poisoning is hallucinations…I asked him if he had been in contact with lead, had he been painting or doing anything that would have put him in contact with it and he went quiet and would say nothing more. I didn’t get a chance to speak with him further as the Moyamban Commander whisked him off to prison.’

‘What could cause these toxins to be so widespread?’ Asked Elijah.

‘I don’t know for sure but Greger says the last time he saw this was when he worked near the gold mines in Zimbabwe.’

Desmond looked at his Mother, ‘But there aren’t any gold mines in this area?’

‘None that are official.’

Desmond and Elijah looked at each other.

In the jeep back to Moyamba they both sat silent until Desmond broke it.

‘I hope you know Elijah that this investigation is uncovering things that could be more than damaging to our futures…’

Elijah nodded and the uneasy silence fell again.

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West Africa

Every week I am going to publish an instalment of a book I have been writing. I hope you enjoy and comments are appreciated.

It was one of those nights you get in West Africa where the air is thick with heat, just on the bearable side of suffocation. The frogs were invading the night, it sounded as if one almighty orchestra had all simultaneously lost their minds, but not the rhythm.

The generator coughs into stillness, a woman sighs and lifts her mosquito net, shuffling with her feet to find slippers and torch.  She hear’s a thud outside, then a shuffle; whilst reaching for her machete, her eyes flit around for somewhere to hide  – but it is too late…

*

Elijah waited underneath the cotton tree for his boss to arrive. The bats slept in its enormous stone like branches as the day was in full swing. He shuddered, he didn’t like bats yet Alice always wanted to meet him here. He suspected she knew of his loathing and liked invoking it to disarm him. She had only shown herself as a self centred woman, he still hoped for depths, but wouldn’t be entirely surprised if there weren’t any.

Well he hadn’t known her long, this was his first international assignment, he was a Detective Inspector from London that had jumped at the chance of a secondment in Sierra Leone, his birthplace. It was a shame that he didn’t really remember it, as he was only two when his parents had taken him to England, his father a doctor had secured work with the NHS, so they had left. Sometimes in dreams though he would be on a beach, under a giant tree his face dappled by sunlight and the warmth of the morning – somehow he knew it was a memory of West Africa.

And then to take him from his reverie Alice’s booming matriarchal voice yelled from the rear of a nearby 4×4. He walked over to where she sat with her leg up on the other seat.

“You okay Alice?”

“No I am not OK – do you not see how my leg is?” Her staccato speech grated.

Elijah peered in to gain better vantage and nodded sagely, not wishing to find out the saga of the recent injury.

“Stop staring and nodding, you will drive me back to the station and then you can take this,”(she swept her hands motioning the car), “To Moyamba. I am sending you to investigate a diplomatic nightmare, as you are English the English cannot blame us if you fail.”

“What diplomatic nightmare?”

“Murder, some white aid worker the corrupt like to fawn over. Big donor money could be made on her say so. Motive – possibly, who knows at this time, but you, you will go and find out, and if you fail, which I believe likely, diplomatic crisis averted as we are sending one of their own to solve. Cannot complain if it doesn’t get solved.

“Now go get in the car I will give you the papers when we reach the office, then you must leave. A warning black poomui this case it no fine, I smell corruption – the type that runs deep.”

**

Elijah stared out of the window, Desmond his partner was driving them out of Freetown and they were charging through Calaba Town, which was partially industrial, with a large candle factory and container port, and partially ramshackle houses.

“Desmond what’s Poomui mean?”

“Ah it means white man Eli.”

Elijah nodded, no surprise there just because he was black didn’t mean he was instantly accepted, even before he opened his mouth they all knew, and he wasn’t entirely sure how they knew. He was well dressed yes but so were many of the rich. He signed and began to read through the case papers; trying to ignore Desmond’s loud rendition of Hey Jude.

It seemed that the murdered aid worker had been here on and off since the conflict ended and long before it started. She had been working with the fisheries people aiming to re-open the old freezing plants on the coast. There was no reason in all the verbose paperwork that would suggest why she had been brutally stabbed to death. He hoped there would be more information when he got to the crime scene, if there was any evidence left.

He sighed and looked out at the ramshackle world that skirted the road. He focussed in on a young boy naked and screaming for attention, whilst his mother sold cigarettes and mangoes to passing traffic.

At least he was getting out of the filth of the city, the only great place was Lumley Beach where you could get a cold beer and watch the Atlantic ocean. But the rest of the city was sheer filth. Parts of East Kissy had primordial soups belching in their open sewers.  When he patrolled there checking on officers bribing unlicensed taxi drivers, he always half expected a new life form to jump from the bubbling mess. This really wasn’t the home coming he expected. He remembered his father telling him that things were not good at home and he should be thankful for the opportunities in the UK. He also remembered the petulant youth who failed to understand the truth of this; obsessed with the progress of the civil war. The many day dreams about re-discovering his homeland. That’s the trouble with youthful dreams; reality doesn’t have a hope of living up to the imagination. So here he was working in a broken country, ravaged by war, surrounded with a people worn out from the conflict, not quite belonging.

Then he checked himself, stifling the depressive thoughts. Dragging himself back into the here and now, where Desmond was just finishing Hey Jude for the 3rd time. He was surrounded by forest and fresh clear air, the hills that embraced Freetown were a refreshing juxtaposition to the city below. He looked down at the heat haze slowly enveloping the city. The higher they climbed the more relieved he felt. They rounded roads which had sheer drops draped in green, passed utilitarian structures their paint peeling, children chased the car through villages. They stopped to pick up provisions and were mobbed by women selling dried fish and sweet green oranges. Then on the road again kicking up red dust, passing inactive road builders; as the heat of the day made retreat from toil the only option, Elijah turned back to the files.

There was something interesting, well a starting point anyway, seems Anita’s caretaker/security guard called Albert had allegedly raped a 16 year old; no prosecution was ever brought though and the family had accepted a large payment to go away. He was reported to have been drunk in a bar on the night of the murder and telling anyone who would listen that the spirits were upset with his employer and that soon the vampires in the cotton tree would take her. Apparently there had been much amusement caused by this entertainment until her bloodied body had been discovered the next day by her lover (a local NGO worker.) Albert was currently being held in the town’s police station as prime suspect.

“Desmond you’re a Moyamba boy what’s your take on the chief suspect.”

“I don’t believe he raped that girl, quite a simple man who drinks too much and likes the sweetness of a young girl. Has regular work and nice rooms so many girls see him as a means to gaining some comforts. My mother believes she got pregnant by a boy in her school and then went with Albert to get money for the child. He has several of these children and always supports them. No I cannot see Berto as a violent and frenzied killer.”

“Who can say what we would do given the motivation…”

“Well there is that, but Berto finds it difficult to lift his head after one too many, let alone commit a crime, that requires such exertion.” Desmond chuckled.

A warped sense of humour – but then when you’d seen what these people had seen then what else are you left with. It made Elijah uncomfortable nonetheless and he stared out the window. They were coming up on a massive old viaduct that heralded the start of Moyamba district and the half way point of their journey. The slats of the bridge were filled with planks of wood to make the going easier for 4 wheels and Elijah held his breath. This bridge was not strong and its patched up look didn’t make him feel safe. From here on in, the road would deteriorate further and the going would slow down considerably. He just wanted to get there and get the investigation under way. He had never been a patient person and he could feel the frustration growing in him like a slow burning reaction.

They reached Moyamba as the sun was setting, which did nothing for Elijah’s frustration as there was little use in visiting the crime scene with so little light. However he insisted on doing so. A gentle breeze moved the air barely, the room was stained in blood but the body was not there, not surprising, as in this heat bodies would putrefy quickly. He was quite impressed though, there was an officer on watch and tape delineated the scene – clearly the room had been left untampered and boot marks were to a minimum.

They left, found their lodgings and dumped off their things and drove into the town to find a bar and something to eat.

**

Ma Kamara’s fish soup was lovely, although he was sure the amount of palm oil in it was likely to afford him a coronary before long. They settled in at a strange bar – come shop and a man approached them.

“You here for that white uman? Bad business.” Said the man sighing and shaking his head. “I am a local councillor.” They shook hands.

He sucked air sharply through his teeth and continued. “Shame this will delay the fisheries contract. Big EU money and the Area needs the trade, many people fish on the river round here and the sea fishing too, such a shame. I think it dem Ruitile miners meself. She was always arguing with them about their run off.”

“What run off?”

“Poisons getting in the river, killing the fish and den killing the people if don’t kill fish first. I noto aware of how bad it was but she had concerns about maintaining serious export trade, said numbers couldn’t stack up for freezing plant if not aimed at export market. Export market has strict rules about contaminates in food. Dem Government not happy with her, they want fishery industry but the rutile business, it bring in big money already and they no wan interference, you unnersand?”

Elijah nodded he understood, perhaps this was the deep corruption Alice was referring to, definitely needed further investigation.

“What do you think of the Berto situation.” Desmond asked the man.

“Ah Berto just a drunken fool, but the uneducated in the town swear that vampire attacks have been on the increase, children drained of all blood, a youth disappearing and strange goings on around the old cotton trees. I go be glad when they pull those old trees down to make way for dat road dem planning. Then maybe we can move away from the old ways and start making new ways.”

**

He didn’t know what time it was but it was silent and still dark. He had a strange sense that something had woken him, and then he heard the gentle distant sound of drums, throbbing rhythmically through the heat and the dark. He went to his bedroom window unhooked the mosquito netting and opened the window wider, in a vain attempt to get some more air into the room. The lodging house generator was still and his fan lay dormant in the corner of the room.

Then he noticed something move between the trees about 10 metres from his window. It was a women dressed in white and he could make out the shadow of her lithe dark skinned body through the loose material. Her hair was braided to shoulder length. Her face covered in a white chalky mud and she stood to the left of a mango tree on the edge of the tree-line smiling at him.

He stared for sometime at her, frozen and disarmed by that smile. He looked away, startled by the sound of his fan starting again and when he turned back she was no longer there.

 

Crisis Bested

Creative juices,

Have been spent.

For so long now,

Minds been bent.

*

Towards a duty,

For those that raised.

Roles have twisted,

A Patriarch dazed.

*

A wounded Mother,

Helpless, scared.

Vulnerability exposed,

Weakness bared.

*

Family solidity,

Has been tested.

But not found wanting,

Crisis bested.

 

Naivety?

Power driven violence,

It never stops.

Repetition, flawed approach.

Sharing tactics,

With those we fear, doesn’t seem

To nurture peace.

A problem for our race,

Intractable?

Could kindness provide an

Alternative?

Or is that just foolish

Naivety?

Kind

The Five Internal Hindrances

Know your enemy

All fine people,

And it is

What’s inside.

Desire that grows,

Into greed.

Aspirations

Running wild.

Aversion veers,

Our kindness.

To protective,

Aggression.

Worry rots our

Confidence.

Makes us hide from

Challenges.

Apathy dulls life,

Undermines.

Deprives us of

Potential.

Doubt in ourselves,

Our inherent

Decency;

Makes us blind.

Please contemplate

How these five,

Undermine

Your joy.

Then in the future,

When they cry.

They will have lost,

Their power.

This is my interpretation of Buddhism’s 5 Hindrances. I have simply skimmed the surface of this topic; but if you are struggling with your internals  you may find an understanding of these helpful – if you want to know more click this link to a set of talks and guided meditations on the subject. The talks are free and focus on the tools this ancient self help philosophy holds – it is not an attempt to convert you to a religion, I am an atheist.

Convalescing

co

Watching the world

Through french doors

Have been for days

And days.

Tits and sparrows

Squabble and feed

As forced to laze

And gaze.

Seeing the world

One step removed

Isolated craze

A daze.

Trees drop leaves

Dogs rampage

As my spirits raise

I praise

Finally can move

Breath cold air

Through sufferings maze

Life phase.