Air, Land and Sea
A Story by Ronke Luke
My husband would have forbidden it!
Freetown, October 2010
“This your country! Hhmm! If I’d known it was this kind of journey, I don’t think I’d have come. If my husband knew, he’d have forbidden me,” Mrs. Dr. Adeyemi said to me.
We’d just sat at a table on the terrace of a beach hotel in Freetown. I was looking for a waiter.
I snapped towards her. “Forbidden? Really?”
Too many servants. Not enough trolleys
“Listen! It was important for me to be in Sierra Leone at this West African College of Physicians conference. But the airport! Aiy!" Mrs. Dr. Adeyemi exclaimed. "I came out of baggage claim and all these people rushed me. Whoosh! You know what they were saying?”
She didn’t wait for me to ask.
“‘Mummy, can you leave the dollar for your servant? What about the dollar? Any small thing for your servant?’ Think about it. He hasn’t done anything for me, but he’s my servant. It was so surprising. It threw me off. I was so relieved to see Moses.”
“Moses?” I asked.
“The gentleman who met me at the airport. He was so good. Without him, it would have been rather sticky for me. He shooed away the swarming lot. Go. Go.”
I laughed. I could see the scene. “Hey the hustle is always on. You’re lucky. Those guys used to be
inside baggage claim. At least they’ve cleared them out of there.”
Mrs. Dr.’s eyes widened. “What! Inside? Baggage claim would have been terrible with that lot.”
“Actually, it was,” I agreed.
“There were no trolleys. Which airport doesn’t have trolleys?”
I shrugged. “There are never enough.”
Me and Mammy Wata don't mix!
“I was struggling with my suitcases and bags when Moses rescued me from these fellows. I expected the car was nearby. Then he told me about water taxi!”
“Yes. You have to cross.”
“Exactly! Water taxi? I asked Moses again thinking I hadn’t heard right the first time. My heart went vhoop.” Mrs. Dr. Adeyemi demonstrated the “vhoop.” A sharp downward gesture from the chest. I smiled.
“You’re smiling? There’s no sea where I’m from in Nigeria. Me and Mammy Wata don’t mix!”
I laughed. “Yes, oh! Mammy Wata.”
Mammy Wata. The temptress who seduces and tricks her way all along West Africa. Folklore suggests she’s often after men and children, but who’s to say she hasn’t gotten a woman or two. Often, she claims her victims permanently to her watery abode. Those who get away are changed forever. I didn’t suggest to Mrs. Dr. that Mammy Wata appears less interested in women.
“You’re laughing?” She raised an eyebrow at me. “Water doesn’t play.”
Ferry? What Ferry?
“But Moses took you to the ferry, right?”
“Well he took me, yes you could say. We took the public bus. Really! They need a better bus.”
“Tight?” I asked.
“We were like sardines. That’s a small bus. Look at me.” She swooped her hands over her body from head to knees. Mrs. Dr. Adeyemi was a well-proportioned, sufficiently endowed African woman. Many African men would be pleased with her.
“All this, eh!” she said circling her torso with her right hand. “They made me squeeze next to this man. A child couldn’t fit there! I had to lean forward so my shoulders would be free. Moses sat in front. But he’s slim so wasn’t too bad for him. Twenty minutes ride. Phew! Hot! Moses passed me a newspaper so I could fan myself. So thoughtful of him.”
“Yes, the bus ride to the ferry can be a mess,” I agreed.
“You say ferry! When we arrived at the terminal there was indeed a ferry. A big vessel that gave me a bit of comfort. You know like Boeing 737 is better than propeller plane? Then I hear ‘water taxi to the left’ and people going in another direction. Ah! I look but don’t see much. Just this small boat.” Mrs. Dr. shows me the boat’s tininess with her hands. “So, I’m still looking for another ferry to match the big sea that’s all around me. Then Moses takes my arm and tells me this small boat is the water taxi. Can you believe? My heart goes vhoop-vhoop. Double vhoop.”
I was looking at Mrs. Dr. Adeyemi intently.
“Moses saw my face. The shock. He starts assuring me it’s only 30 minutes to cross. Thirty minutes in this big sea! I can’t even see land on the other side.”
“It’s not the open ocean, like out there,” I say pointing at the sea beyond the terrace. The Atlantic Ocean shimmered in the late afternoon sun. Gentle waves lapped the coastline. “It’s a bay or something that you cross from the airport.”
Mrs. Dr. dismissed my clarification as a distinction with no difference. “It was all big open water to me.”
A Leap and a prayer
“I gripped Moses’ arm as we walked to the boat steps. It’s wet. I’m afraid I’m going to fall. My heart was pounding, my head was all confused. We’re waiting in line, I see the boat going lower as people board. Like it’s sinking.”
“No,” I interject. “The boat’s not sinking. How can you see that it’s going lower?”
“I tell you. I’m looking at a mark on the boat. People entering, it’s going lower,” Mrs. Dr. Adeyemi insists. “The boat attendant reached out to guide me on board. I grabbed his hand with my right. I’m still gripping Moses with my left,” she says and stands. “You should see me.” Mrs. Dr. Adeyemi stretches her hands to show her strained stance between the two men. “Like this.” We both laugh.
“When I stepped on the boat it wobbled. Oh! Oh!” she says doing a stutter step. “I grabbed the attendant! I think I jumped! He caught and carried me onto the boat. I hear, Moses saying ‘Madam, everything is alright.’”
“You jumped!” I exclaimed. “No? Really!”
“Once I steady myself, I looked for Moses. Then he tells me he is going back to the airport. Says he has to meet passengers on Air France. ‘Madam, I’m waiting until your boat leaves. You’ll be fine’, he says. Can you believe?”
“Huh!” I replied. “I thought greeters cross with passengers to Freetown.”
“You would think that with the name Moses, he would deliver me over the water. No?”
The allegory wasn’t lost on me. I bobbed my head. She may have deemed it agreement.
“But the boat attendant was so good,” Mrs. Dr. continued. “He helped me inside the cabin. It’s so small. Should I sit in front? In the back? You know? I can feel the boat moving. Up and down in the sea. Oh boy! I just sat down. When they give us the life jacket my first thought is why? But you know, it’s right. Safety first. But look at me. The life jacket is so small. It’s like a bib. Really.”
“A bib!” I exclaimed. We both laughed.
“Well they should have different sizes. The man next to me by the window was nice. I jumped when the engine started. He calmed me. The boat went backwards first. I didn’t know boats could reverse. Then we turned. Everything was quiet. Then suddenly,” she claps. CLACK! I jump. “The boat kicked forward. It leaped! I lurched forward,” she continued.
I jerked backwards as Mrs. Dr. suddenly leaned over the table at me to demonstrate.
“ ‘It’s okay. It’s okay’ the man sitting by me is trying to calm me,” she continued. “The engines were roaring. You need earplugs in that thing.”
“The smaller boats are noisier,” I agreed.
“Conversation was impossible. Although, I was praying so I wouldn’t have been talking, anyway. The gentleman next to me, even though he looked calm, I noticed he was counting rosary beads. So, I know he was also praying!”
“Yes. I pray too with the boats,” I confessed. “Didn’t as a child on the ferry. But today on the boats, we cross with God.”
“My goodness. I couldn’t see anything out the window. Just sea. The boat is going fast. But you can feel the waves. Up. Down. Up. Down. Then we hit one. A big wave. It pushes us up. Seriously, we’re airborne. I’m sure. Then the boat slammed down.” BAMM! I jumped as she hit the table.
“My heart is pounding,” Mrs. Dr. continued. “Vhoop, vhoop, vhoop, vhoop! I grabbed the rosary from the man’s hand.”
I stared at her wide-eyed. “You did? No! The waves aren't bad now. It's October. Better than the rains.”
And then we arrived!
“It can be worse?” Mrs. Dr. Adeyemi gasped. “Oh! I won’t come here in rainy season. When the engine cut and the boat slowed, I thought ‘oh, oh! We’re stranded!’ All I can see is water. Nothing. Just water. But we’d arrived! Amazing. I’ll admit, 30 minutes went quicker than I expected.”
“Yes, it goes fast.”
“When we landed here in Aberdeen, I was so relieved. ‘Alleluia Jesus!’ I said.” Mrs. Dr. stood and raised her hands above her head. “The boat attendant laughed. He said ‘Madam, I told you it would be okay.’ He was very nice. But the boat is still bobbing. I was happy to get off.”
“Everyone’s happy to get off,” I chuckled.
“Thank You Jesus!" I proclaimed as soon as I stepped on land. "People are looking at me. I don't care. It's the first time for me in this country. First time with water taxi. Alleluia!”
“Well you’re here now. Finally in Freetown. You’ll have a good time,” I beamed.
“Freetown.” Mrs. Dr. Adeyemi shook her head. “The only place I have visited where to get there you go by air, land and sea!”
“Had never thought of it that way,” I mused. “Hhmm. True. Let’s order drinks.”
- The End -
Ever had an unexpected travel experience? Ever been a first time traveler to Freetown?
© 2017 – 2019, Ronke Luke
We’re Africans. Grew up in West Africa. We like telling stories. It's just part of life. Anywhere West Africans gather they spin yarns that keep the audience riveted.