I get most of my news second- or third-hand from guests where I’m volunteering in Sierra Leone. I’ve seen a television set once in my four months here (the headline on the screen was ‘Trump Victory’), and heard the comforting sounds of the BBC World Service just twice, from other people’s radios. I access the internet for twenty minutes a couple of times a week, on average.
For my first two weeks on Banana Island, I found this separation from the outside world a rather unsettling experience. Anyone used to being constantly connected – reading emails as they arrive, hearing news while it is still new – probably would.
Then something changed psychologically for me. You could say I adapted. Along with spraying liberal amounts of 50% DEET insect repellent over myself each time day turned to dusk, and remembering to wash my teeth with bottled rather than tap water, I realised that the world beyond the confines of my 8 x 0.4 km island really didn’t matter that much.
What does matter, aside from the health of friends and loved ones, comes down to this: is there anything to eat tonight? Being a small island, fish is a vital part of the diet (and local economy). Most meals consist of some sort of aquatic lifeform. Getting hold of meat involves leaving the island for Waterloo or Freetown, a three hour ride away.
This has become a problem lately, because no one has been able to catch very much. The fishermen of both villages on the islands – Dublin and Ricketts – are returning from long stints at hand-line trawling without having had a single bite, let alone a catch. I had a worrying feeling we’d eaten it all until I went out myself.
Beginners luck means I have a bit of a false-reputation as an excellent fisherman. I’ve been out three times, and caught decent-sized fish two of those times, and almost straight away. When I went out this time I had my fingers over the edge of the boat clutching the finger-loop in the line for more than two hours before I felt the slightest of tugs. I’d probably managed to hook some plastic, everyone reasoned. I’d actually caught a small barracuda, and I seemed to be more surprised than anyone else.
‘Of course’ says a friend from the next beach. ‘Ian can catch in water well. He put in lure and pull out fish.’
My reputation remains intact.