I once exclaimed to a friend: “That place is the ish! Yet Sunrise Beach is one of the gorgeous resorts that you will never see on a Google map. My first and only visit to this place where people indulge their fancies happened when I was eleven years old. I had gone on a family beach outing with my aunt and siblings to Bureh Beach, one of the villages in the rural Western peninsular of Sierra Leone.
In the days leading up to the outing, I had become melancholy about my father. He had never been present in my life, and I did not know what to believe about him. My mother and maternal grandmother spoke very little about him. Still, when I did something wrong, they would mumble that they hoped I was not like my father, or when I did not follow through on a chore or failed three subjects on my report card, they would say I was just like my father. But then my father’s siblings said I was smart and kind and helpful, just like he was. Confused, unsure who or what to believe, I turned for some form of truth to my books. I wanted quietness so that I could enter the worlds they created, but that was near to impossible given the near twenty-four-seven noise on Fourah Bay Road, where my family and I lived. I became reclusive. Boredom mixed with a longing for the unknown filled my days. A child of eleven, I thought I had developed the early onset of a mid-life crisis. The outing, however, meant I could take a break from my melancholy and the noise pollution.
We arrived and settled in at Bureh Beach. But after two to three hours, nothing about it cheered me up. My siblings played sand games, but they did not interest me. My aunt mused at the water, helped along by pints of beer. Maybe I could join her? Instead, I laid on a pile of clothes and towels and drifted off… until, as a child possessed, I got up and strolled away from my family.
My wandering took me out of Bureh Beach to the tarred main road. I crossed it and walked on a bush path for about five minutes until I burst on to a stretch of beach. At first, I thought I had somehow circled back to another part of the same beach but from a different direction. But this place felt different. Colourful beach umbrellas dotted its golden sand. White men and women clad in beach clothing sunbathed on wooden beach beds, and Africanized bungalows and bars stood in the background. Easy-listening jazz permeated the air. The bar attendants served free drinks to everyone. I drank a few of the fruit cocktails and strolled through the beach, admiring the half-naked women, water polo players, and surfers. Peace and happiness smothered me.
After much swimming, sunbathing, game-playing, and surfing, we gathered in a circle, replacement cocktails in hand, and listened to a professional storyteller. He gave the account of how Raj Koothrapolie, aka Captain Raj, an Indian sailor, first discovered Sierra Leone. Of course, our history books say that honor belongs to Pedro da Cintra. However, the storyteller explained that Captain Raj had been sent by the Indian emperor to discover new spices from around the world to help develop Indian cuisine. In all the lands he had visited, he collected unfamiliar spices to take back to India. When he got to what is now modern-day Sierra Leone, he discovered Bangba, which he thought was a spice.
Pedro da Cintra and his crew saw Captain Raj and his men loading boxes of Bangba onto their ships. Thinking they were sailing off with gold and other treasures, da Cintra’s crew slaughtered Captain Raj and his men. Then da Cintra wrote this account of how he discovered Sierra da Lyoa, the roaring mountains. Since then, he has been credited with the discovery of Sierra Leone, and Captain Raj’s name has been lost in our history forever.
Bangba is not a spice but a bitter root used to cure malaria and related diseases, so I felt the pain, if not the bitterness, of Captain Raj’s error. I also felt the pain of his death, to die because da Cintra misjudged his actions. Maybe that’s what happened to my father. People misunderstood and or mischaracterized his actions, and now I am left to live with their errors. The realization pained my heart, but I felt it on my ear.
“Wake up, my friend. The sun is setting, and we are going home,” my aunt said, as Sunrise Beach faded, and the images and sounds of a raucous Freetown asserted themselves.
“Was that place the ish or not?“
Sylvanus Gooding worked as a part-time lecturer at the University of Sierra Leone. He considers himself a full-time writer. This piece was written as an imitative response, in a class exercise, to Orwell’s “The Moon Under Water,” an essay in which Orwell blurs the line between non-fiction and fiction.