Sunday, May 01, 2011

Independence Lantern Parade in Sierra Leone...

I was not expecting to see the lantern parade on Saturday night because my plan was to stay overnight at Tokeh beach, however, a 24-hour bug kept me at home on Saturday. Since I hadn’t eaten all day my stomach settled a bit by the evening and so around 10 pm when a friend said she really wanted to go and see the lanterns, I joined, seeing as it was the last of the Independence celebrations! (Plus I was going a little stir crazy having been in the flat for over 24 hours!)

Off we went at 10 pm trying to find transport, forgetting that there would be hundreds of people trying to get transport at that time and of course the petrol crisis made it all the more difficult. We finally found a taxi and it took us right into town for Le 2,000 each (USD 0.50). Surprisingly, the taxi was able to drive us right to the end of Pademba road, very close to the Cotton Tree, where the event was happening. Bearing in mind that the event was scheduled to start at 7pm we were surprised to see at 11 pm that, although busy, not that much was happening as far as a parade. We met up with some other expats and stood chatting and waiting for the lanterns to come by. So far, my friends who had already been there for 2 hours had not spotted a lantern. This was true Salone time.

Finally, at midnight the first lantern approached the Cotton Tree. This was both exciting and fun but honestly, I am not sure why they are called ‘lanterns’. I think a cultural float is a better description. Most of them were basically massive puppet shows on flat bed trucks; some with puppet soldiers, one with a puppet lion who’s head was bobbing up and down, one with puppet street cleaners, some with live music to add to the effect, some designed as ships. They were definitely entertaining, to say the least. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to show you; I didn’t want to take a chance with my camera!

In the next thirty minutes we didn’t see another float so we thought we would move around and try to find them! Seeing as none of us felt like staying out till 4 or 5 am, which is when the lanterns were likely to reach the Cotton Tree for judging, we thought we would make a move.

We attempted to walk down Siaka Stevens street but the masses quickly made us change course. We went back down Pademba and then took a right down the second side street ending up by the Electricity House. We walked along Siaka Stevens street and after some minutes a large group of young men ran past us. This surprised us and we quickly jumped to the side of the road. Within seconds a lantern appeared behind the group of men. A second lantern spotted. After walking a bit further we felt like the crowd was too rowdy and turned up to Pademba road again only to later return further down on Siaka Stevens where we saw the third float. Seeing as it was really busy, and time was ticking along, we thought we would call it a night. We decided to head home, but of course, with the busyness, transport would be hard to get.

We started walking down Pademba road and sure enough, just as we were wondering where the lanterns were hiding, a lantern turned onto Pademba road. The crowd behind it was massive and so we waited on the side of the road. It was definitely intriguing and entertaining to watch the crowd pass by. I assume most of them had been following the lantern from Tengbeh Town, which is the community that built this particular float. It was by far the best float: a ship with helicopter and all. The crowd seemed very proud of it and we were all impressed. After a good twenty minutes we could finally move towards Campbell Street. There we saw a couple more lanterns. So, all in all, we couldn’t complain.

We ended up walking to the stadium due to lack of transport and in the end got into someone’s personal vehicle to Congo Cross. Three of us then got out and took a taxi the rest of the way home. It was a late night but it was worth it and fortunately my stomach coped! I would definitely watch the lanterns again but maybe I would go to bed early and then wake up at 5 am and go to the Cotton Tree to see the final parade of all the lanterns at once! Actually, I hear they park the lanterns at the Youyi building, so another option is to go and see them there. However, I’m not sure the experience would be quite the same without the masses of people, the search for the lanterns and the sounds on the street.

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~ Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. micah 6:8 ~