This past Sunday I was enjoying a lovely afternoon at the beach with some friends, when all of a sudden the Sandman emerged. August is the height of the rainy season, so sunny days have been few and far between since my arrival in Freetown. But on Sunday I woke up in my new house to a beautiful sunny day. As much as I had enjoyed my time living with Emmanuel and Abraham up the hills of Babadurie, I had quickly accepted an offer from a Canadian journalist to move in with him and his roommate the previous Friday.
My new flat is in a much more convenient location, and even has electricty (whenever the city has power, which seems to be about fifty percent of the time). Since moving in, I have quickly been introduced to the ways of the expatriate community living and working in Freetown. Falafel sandwiches at Basha bakery just around the corner, candlit dinner parties (because the power is out in town) eating chili and drinking wine at a neighbor's house while singing along as some of the guys play songs late into the night on the guitar...and of course, weekends spent hanging out at the beach!
This particular Sunday the Special Court for Sierra Leone, set up try the leaders of the country's brutal war, had organized a mini Olympics at a sports facility in town, complete with volleyball, soccer, table tennis, and pool. They even had nice, hand painted wooden plaques made for the winners of each sport. After enjoying a leisurely lunch at Basha bakery, my new roommate, Kevin, and I decided to head over and check out the games. We got there just in time to catch a ride to the beach with Andre, a tough looking Russian guy, and some other friends. In Andre's big UN vehicle, we made our way through town to the beach road, along which sit many bar/restaurants along the sand. On this beautiful Sunday, it seemed like half of Freetown had decided to soak up the sun's rays and go for a swim in the pleasantly warm ocean water. My crew and I climbed out of the vehicle and staked out a prime table in the shade, where we settled in to pass the afternoon sipping beers and eating roasted groundnuts.
But soon our peaceful daze was broken by a crowd gathering right by our table. Everybody was staring at a large, round basket covered with a blanket resting on the sand to our right. Soon the blanket was yanked off to reveal a man curled up in the basket, sticking his hand out through the side. We all looked around at each other confusedly until we began to realize that this was the act of the Sandman. A youngish Lebanese guy even had his friend snap a photo of him shaking the hand poking out of the basket. Now that the Sandman had everyone's attention, he put on a little show for the crowd, moving around in the basket. After a few minutes he slowly emerged out the side, and then fell down on his knees in the sand. As the grand finale, he lifted up a large pile of sand in his cupped hand, and then brought it to his mouth and proceeded to chew and swallow all of it. I kid you not. He probably ate at least three large handfulls of sand before it was all over. At the end of the show, the Sandman went around to all of the tables asking for some money. I guess he has discovered that he is able to make more money by folding himself into a basket and eating sand on sunny days at the beach than by begging on the streets.