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To Posh

By Arthur Velker

At a stuffy gas station, a skeletal figure stands hand-in-hand with a ragged child, murmuring an obscure message inside the passenger window of a car.

The driver of the car leans over, bellowing out a torrent of snappy locutions. The duo turn away, the kid leading the man through a thick miasma of exhaust fumes.

The driver turns to the passenger.

“It’s the hardest thing to prove,” he says. “How can you really tell if somebody’s blind?”

This profound piece of street logic came to me from Posh, a local taxi driver in Freetown.

He was my companion on my eight-day visit to Sierra Leone, providing me with the most treasured service a young journalist in West Africa could require: a pair of wheels.

“I used to drive for an NGO many years ago” he said. “Then they finish up and I drive taxi.”

Posh embodied the peculiar charm of Sierra Leone. He was reticent on the job but had a way about him that managed to break through all your inner emotional defences.

When street salesmen approached his car window he would secure the best deal with his sharp wit and quick tongue. At police checkpoints his charming “yes-“ and “alright-sirs” – often accompanied by a warm smile – would always force a generous response.

On one scorching morning he pulled into the car park of my hotel at our arranged time but, having seen me waiting there for him, he expressed what struck him as a deep confliction.  

“Tomorrow,” he said, “you tell me what time you need to leave and I’ll be here half an hour before.”

“You can’t wait for me – I need to be here before you. You are my boss.”

Though I insisted, he was adamant. And sure enough, when the sun came up the next day there he was waiting in the gravel driveway as I walked out of the lobby, greeting me with his routine ‘Where to, boss?’

Later that evening we sat in his hand-stencilled Nissan on the roadside as I waited to meet a contact. He beckoned over a raggedly-clad boy wheeling an ice cooler.

“You want an ice cream?” he asks.

I waved in the affirmative and reached into my body wallet to pull out a wad of Leones. But instead he took out a note and handed it to me, saying “Here sir, I want to buy it for you.”

After a week venturing together, our partnership came to a somewhat bittersweet end.

We drove to the town dock where I would get a local boat across the bay to the airport. When we got out, Posh dissolved a monstrous cascade of boatmen that descended upon me, selling their transport services.

He used his sharp street sense to quell the chaotic assembly and nab me the best boat deal for my journey.

As we waited for the boat with my suitcases he summoned a lingering salesman bearing a basket of cheap souvenirs. After some back and forth, the salesman took out two beaded bracelets with the word “Friend” embroidered across the middle and handed them to Posh.

“This is for you, boss” he says, handing me the bracelet. “When you come back to Sierra Leone, you call me.”

I took it and put it on – a fitting emblem of my affinity with who I later came to recall as Sierra Leone’s most memorable personality. If the ebb and flow of journalism brings me to these parts again, I will want to visit my friend again.

Until then, I’m sure he will be in Freetown providing his flawless work ethic and bestowing charm on many a western traveller. 

Arthur Velker is a recipient of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund Student Scheme 2018. Arther travelled to Sierra Leone to report on the work being done by many NGOs in transitioning from traditional birth registration methods, the challenges posed by this, and the range of new initiatives now on offer. Arthur will discuss his project on Newstalk in the coming weeks. Read his report for the Newstalk website here.