USA & CanadaIt's Good To Talk
Tale of Love
DI BODI FINE
a little tale of love
by Kevin McPhillips
It was pretty late that, now so long ago, June night in '76.
Tired, wet and a long way from home, I'd arrived as the sole passenger
on an old propellor cargo airplane in the dead of a rainy night at a deserted
The aircraft and it's crew had already left for another place down the
coast and, at one in the morning, apart from a tabby cat staring down
from the roof, there was simply no one else around. I was dumped and now
The airport was apparently called Lungi - it was closed; and the country?
...it was Sierra Leone.
Flying from Cape Verde, I was supposed to be in Dakar to take a flight
onto London. Local storms had prevented a landing there, so here I was,
unceremoniously dumped, at what they called, the nearest alternate point.
No lights, no customs nor immigration, nobody; not a single soul apart
from myself and that old tabby up there on the tin roof.
Walking round the side of the building, just a small bag in hand, stumbling
through unseen puddles, tripping over boxes and bins in the darkness and
still unable to find anyone, I finally started down the road away from
the little airport. For a while the cat stepped along as if to keep some
company in the rain. Eventually, soaked and bedraggled, the animal gave
up on me after about half mile, leaving me alone with an African moon
momentarily throwing a little light my way through stormy clouds, sheet
rain, thunder and lightning.
Now, this was nearly thirty years ago, and knowing nothing of the country,
let alone even the continent in which I'd just arrived in such unwelcoming
fashion, I was frustrated, a little frightened, utterly alone and friendless.
God, what was I doing walking down this flooded road, in a strange place,
soaking, miserable, lost and not feeling awfully brave.
"Ow di bodi"; suddenly came the sound through the whipping rain. Spinning
around with the fear of God going right through me in that moment, I was
uncoherently thinking Howdy what? and what kind of language was this?
and do I run away maybe?
"Ow di bodi" was heard again. Trying to calm down, turning to my left
I could make out a dim lamp in the darkness and, nervously walking towards
it, the silhouette of a figure.
Getting closer, I could make out what seemed to be a small building, maybe
someone's home even.
Indeed it was, for on it's porch stood a large man leaning forward in
the rain soaked mayhem. In a mixed moment of fear and relief, I called
out in nervous acknowledgement "Hello over there".
"Hello to yourself" came the booming reply.
And suddenly how sweet it was to know that at last I wasn't alone in this
"What you doing out there like some crazy man this kind of night"
laughed the man's voice through the rain, to which I could only shout
"God only knows".
"God only knows indeed... get yourself dry up here" he demanded, adding
"Who are you my friend - what are you doing here?"
Friend... he called me friend; a man who showed such instant trust and
welcome to a stranger on such a wicked night; wherever I was, this certainly
Following the beckoning silhouette with lamp, we were suddenly inside
a warmer place where a family of all ages had already long been in their
"McPhillips... my name is Kevin McPhillips and I'm from England."
He told me his name was Abu and introduced me to his wife and so many
family members, all of whom he had awoken to welcome the unexpected traveller
he'd plucked from the clutches of the wicked night.
Finding me a place to rest the night and covering me in a blanket, he
offered me his God's blessings and, having come unplanned to both his
land and his small home, blessed was indeed the way I felt as this nervous,
weary traveller swiftly fell into instant slumber.
The morning saw me awake early and the family about their business, the
younger ones fascinated by the pale stranger in their midst, staring down
at me with unforgettable smiles. Fruit was offered, accepted and eaten
- to the sudden sound of what was heard to be a motorcycle somewhere outside.
A motorcycle indeed it turned out to be - Abu had already volunteered
a nephew to take me the rest of the way to the ferry point where I could
continue my journey to the city. It all seemed so rushed since the poor
guy still had to get himself to his work.
Pathetically producing some damp sterling money for his kindness, Abu
refused the offer saying "My friend, in my home we simply shake the
These few, simple words now made it clear I was definitely not in London.
Hugging me he added with a grin,
"Now go crazy man, don't let me catch you in the rain again".
It all seemed to be happening too fast, there was so much more to say
and hear but, in a moment, bag in hand, waving madly from the back seat
of the bike, I was gone, disappearing in a noisy plume of smoke.
On arrival at a small harbour called Tagrin, I was told to wait for the
ferry that would take me across to some place called Kissy. Without further
ado my driver, the nephew instantly disappeared, again surrounded in smoke;
and that was that. And there I was, still totally confused, staring across
this large expanse of water at a city in the distance ... it was Freetown.
Pretty soon an old vessel arrived and, joining what seemed to be hundreds
of others, I embarked on the first of what was to be so many ferry trips
across to that city down the ensuing years. But, with all the romance
of the sounds, colour, trucks laden with fruit and all manner of goods
being piled onto the old boat to almost sinking level, the whole scene,
warmed by early morning sun and smiles... so many smiles... this would
always be the most memorable.
I thought the quick, unscheduled visit to this sloping city looming up
before me would simply bring further rest at some cheap hotel, a shave,
a shower, a meal and hopefully an airline ticket for the earliest departure
from a country which I thought would never be of any further interest
... how wrong could this man be.
Not realising it then, this infact was to be the beginning of a simple
love affair with a country and it's people which, through thick and thin,
continues to this day, making me so proud to eventually be considered
part of the worldwide Sierra Leone family.
And what of Abu?
During so many trips back to Freetown, the following years found me sitting
on that same porch with my first friend, always greeting me with
"Look at that crazy man".
He's gone now... taken off to heaven some six years ago, and I can't help
but believe that, just like that first time, now in his God's home, he'll
be "simply shaking the hand".
Abu... it was you who first showed me how important Sierra Leone would
always be, and you always knew it. I arrived into your country and your
home by accident all those years ago and, as you still know, I never really
You are not forgotten my friend, and by the way... "di
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