A week may be a long time in politics, but sometimes a day of Banana Island politics can feel like more than a lifetime’s worth. At times it is as if Dublin village, just five minutes from the guesthouse I am volunteering in, is enacting a modern day version of Romeo and Juliet, with the village Montagues and Capulets baying for the blood of the other.
A whole lot of shouting is often the immediate result, with a general rule of thumb being that the louder a participant shouts the more they know they are the ones in the wrong. I’m something of an oddity here, not only because I am white and foreign, but also because Ian is not recognised as a name (many call me Michael or Mike – my middle name), and because I don’t tend to shout. Even when I do, it comes nowhere near the sorts of palaver (in Krio meaning anything from talking to fighting with pistols*) that can occur when islanders are involved.
Like in The Archers or any small and isolated community, everybody knows everybody else’s business. The only way to keep a secret is to keep it truly secret, and that only works half the time in any case. People talk, if for no other reason than there’s nothing else to do or it’s too hot to bother doing it. There is no such thing as a private life.
Palaver is much less of an art-form in the expat community of Freetown (the expat community of Banana Islands has recently almost doubled from three to five). Half are studiously working to end world hunger, while the other half have the munchies, being off their faces on weed.
The only advice I can muster is to seize the status as an oddity and keep well out of whatever it is. Go for a swim, head to the next village (the five hour round trip should be long enough), remember you have a pot on the boil, or find a sudden interest in the nearest leaf, but don’t get involved. It can only end badly. Just look at Romeo and Juliet.
* Since the Civil – or Rebel – War, firearms have been banned in Sierra Leone (unless you’re a policeman/soldier). Before it became irreparable, the only gun on the island was used to target monkeys for secret society activities. I guess they have a stock, or do without the monkey now.