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Reading ‘Chasing the Scream’ in Freetown

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The book: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, Johann Hari

The place: Freetown

I had the idea that I disliked Johann Hari for some decade-old reason I cannot even come close to recalling, but this book has completely reversed my opinion. Being a big old pinko leftie, I have always had a vague and fuzzy idea that the War on Drugs was misguided and counterproductive, and now I have actual facts and science to back up my ill-thought-out ideas! Hurrah. This book is ace: broad and well-written and well-researched, and Hari is very clear about his own biases, and the various points at which he is concerned that the evidence may not support what he wants to believe.

(For the record, my own view – which is not necessarily Hari’s – is to support full and complete legalisation of all drugs, as decriminalisation seems just to push the risk back to the countries that produce and traffic drugs, primarily for western consumers. A few years back I was in Guinea-Bissau (on holiday: it happens), which is a beautiful and fascinating country and also, unfortunately, Africa’s first narco-state (arguably). I spent a week on Bubaque, one of the islands in the Bijagos Archipelago, where I befriended a Gambian chap with the improbable name of Mighty. Mighty and I spent much of the week drinking palm wine and roaring up and down the island on a rented motorbike; he also told me about the ships that were often sighted just off the islands, presumably unloading cocaine from Latin America. When I took the ferry back to Bissau, a ride of about five hours, we were in the middle of the ocean, a couple of hours from land each way, when a speedboat pulled up beside the ferry, keeping pace with it: as all the 50-60 passengers peered over the side, watching, someone from the ferry tossed a bundle to the speedboat, and someone from the speedboat tossed a bundle back. I wonder what that could have been?) (I don’t really.)

On the road between Bubaque Town and Praia Bruce

One of my favourite photos, and possibly the one I’d choose to be splashed over the media if I die tragically. Bubaque, February 2012

*

As I write I am sat on the balcony of my Freetown hotel with the rain coming down, lightning flickering over the sea as the hotel lights flicker in echo. Freetown! I have been wanting to visit Sierra Leone since at least 2010, when I had many colleagues who were based here, and indeed the trip to Guinea-Bissau in 2012 was initially intended to be an overland trip from Morocco to Sierra Leone, to do some work that never eventuated. Given what’s gone on here over the past year it seems odd and possibly callous to be as enthusiastic about Freetown as I currently feel, but it strikes me as a great town – though of course I don’t have a pre-Ebola experience to contrast it with. I may get the chance to travel out of Freetown over the next week, and it’ll be interesting to see how different things feel elsewhere.

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Written by Jess

May 24, 2015 at 9:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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