‘Sweet Sierra leone’ Carves New Paradise in ‘The Place’
July 26, 2019
The corporate group, ‘Sweet Salone’, launched last week a ‘new paradise’ it has carved at Tokeh Beach on the Freetown peninsular – it is called ‘The Place’: 50 spacious modern solar-powered chalets with floor-to-ceiling glass frontal doors that reflect the swelling tantalizing waves of the warm water oceans on the beach a breath away…. that would make its occupant think he/she would be on a small luxury liner at sea. Other chalets face the undulating awesome tropical rainforest mountains just about a mile away: the white sand beaches and the ‘Forest Reserve’ mountains that almost merge epitomize that rare physical beauty of Sierra Leone which President Ernest Bai Koroma said he trumpeted about – when he recently made an official visit to the United States to meet with President Barrack Obama in the White House – as Sierra Leone’s “unsurpassed natural beauty”.
The Place’s Captivating ladies with Musical Names
Well, President Koroma merely made a statement of fact; and once you come to Sierra Leone, and imbibe particularly the enhanced physical beauty that The Place is, you would think that our white-haired president was really being modest in his language. The reception area of The Place is capacious, with fawn and light brown sofas unobtrusively placed…. and ….almost without walls – so, you can see the inviting ocean waves a few paces away, unblocked by even glass walls. That is, if you don’t first get definitely distracted by Sweet Salone’s sweet-faced smiling receptionists in their hip-hugging dazzling yellow mini dresses….Well, they are called ”Guest Service Ambassadors”. As I gaped, entranced, into the eager-to-please youthful face of a tall lady called Marylyn Umatta, her perfect English pitch made me to ask her where she hails from: “London”, of course; but, of ”Edo State” Nigerian parentage. I tried to act my over 50 years age; but, as I pressed for her personal telephone number, I realized she must have caught my erotic glance on her seductively exposed model-like legs – she diplomatically gave me only The Place’s telephone number. “Umatta” – sounds exotic; enticing – embodies the cosmopolitan composition of The Place: with management staff being a healthy mix of Sierra Leonean, Senegalese, Gambian, Nigerian, British; and furniture and art work emerging from Africa and Europe (The light wooden floors inside the chalets are from Nordic Norway!). The heavily American-accented erudite General Manager of The Place, Yeniva Sisay-Sorbeh – yes, “Yeniva”: another enchanting name (“Yeniva” means in the Mende language of Sierra Leone: “This for our mothers”) – said The Place ‘s decor and people are designed to let “Europe meet Africa”….. What about “America”?
The Place’s “Yeniva”!!!: Erudite; Resonant; Charming
I wondered whether it was because it is obvious that her accent and mannerisms so much ooze “America” that was why she left the U.S. out. Yeniva was born some 32 years ago on 88th Street, Dailey City, in San Francisco, in the United States. Her father, Sulaiman Sisay, had migrated to the U.S. from Sierra Leone in 1975. Yeniva’s poise, resonance, and ease of manners could be because she was almost for two decades a teacher in the United States, specializing in teaching English as a spoken language. In 1999, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in African studies from San Jose State University in the U.S. (“B Sc in African studies? Shouldn’t it be a “Bachelor of Arts”. Yeniva informed me that her course encompassed “Sociology” and “Psychology” – hence, a ‘science’). In 2005, she bagged a Masters of Education degree from the University of Phoenix in the U.S., specializing in “Reading” for secondary school students. She taught for 17 years in the Inglewood High School, and became a consultant in Reading in several high schools and tertiary level institutions in the U.S. Yeniva first returned home in 2007. She got immersed in an educational programme initiated by her own NGO, ‘UJIMA’; and when he returned about a year ago, she was determined to stay on in her own country which she said has naturally beauty that tops the best of world-renowned beach-tourism countries like Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago. “I have travelled to nearly all the world’s leading beach resorts, and few come near Sierra Leone’s in natural beauty”, Yeniva said with pride.
“Life is a song worth singing…Sing it…!!”
As I walked last week on the wood walk on the beach that connects chalets with restaurants, the evocative lyrics of late 1970s African-American musical star, Teddy Pendergrass, boomed from loud speakers, kindling nostalgia and bounce in my steps, forcing a wiggle in my body: ”Life is a song worth singing….Why don’t you sing it?….You hold the key in the palm of your hand, use it….Don’t blame your life on the master plan, change it….Only you generate the power…..To decide what to do with your life…..”
As President Koroma sat at the high table last week for the launching of The Place, flanked by environment/lands minister, Musa Tarawaly, and tourism minister, Peter B. Conteh, the dark-suited white-shirt Project Manager of The Place, Tony Camacho, extolled the specifics of the ‘new paradise’ which he said started “eighteen months five days ago”: 50 chalets build on 15 and half acres of land. Three world class restaurants – one of them, “Sierra Leone’s first gourmet restaurant”. The Place has 2 dams that pump out 160,000 litres of treatable water daily from the hotel’s purification system. The Place has 100 full time hotel staff, regularly being trained, to dish out to all guests ethical and responsible service of the highest quality. As he closed his speech, the soft-spoken Caucasian man got Obama-esque: “If anyone asks whether we can build a world class luxury hotel in Sierra Leone, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes, we can!!’”
‘Na Pala’ Restaurant has Branches and Leaves as Roof
Of the three restaurants in The Place (Na Pala, High Tide, and Aquarelle), the most alluring one for me is ‘Na Pala’ ( Jeniva explained the meaning of ‘Na Pala’ to me – it is a Krio word for ‘In the parlour’). It is unlike any parlour I have ever seen or imagined among the Creoles of Freetown. Like with the reception area, it has no walls. With its wooden floors just a feet above the sand almost with the ocean waves lapping by, the restaurant is fused into a huge tree. Fused!! The branches and leaves of the tree are the roof of the restaurant. Every furniture in Na Pala is an exquisite design of art – dark Senegalese cane chairs; carvings from Decore on Wilkinson Road and Woodpeckers at the Lumley junction in Freetown; raffia bags hanging on tree branches as lamp shades. The bar, laden with drinks from all over the world, was graced with white-shirt black-trousers-clad solicitous bar men. Food is fresh fish roasted; or fresh meat grilled on open coal grills; roasted chicken – and, though Yeniva had said during the launching that “luxury does come with a price”, I learned the cost of the food was surprisingly low: “between Le20,000 ($4) to Le60,000” ($13). That is the average price of food in top class restaurants/hotels in Freetown –but, the other restaurants/hotels are a far cry from the Eden-line ambience of The Place.
Ordinary middle class Sierra Leoneans can easily afford to treat themselves with the luxury of even the chalets of The Place. One of their spacious three-level rooms (bedroom, dressing area, and bathroom with hot and cold water) is priced at $99 per night during the “Tropical Season”. (Which is what Sweet Salone has renamed our ‘Rainy Season’). During the peak season of November to February, the beachfront chalets price would soar to $535 a night. Yeniva told me that The Place aims to entice Scandinavian, German, French tourists who presently make the Gambia their main tourism destination in West Africa; and to attract tourists from the U.S.; and even well-heeled tourists from Nigeria and Ghana, some of whom now travel as tourists to as far as Jamaica and Barbados.
‘New Tourist Attitude’ to stimulate a boom tourism industry in Sweet Salone
President Koroma, while lavishing praise on the financier of The Place, Chris Brown (one of the main financiers a couple of years ago of iron ore company in Sierra Leone, London Mining), appealed to Sierra Leoneans generally to show tourists that are expected to flood into our country that unique Sierra Leonean culture of ‘friendliness…tolerance’ – “even taxi drivers and market women have to show that we are a civilized people all the time”. The ever ambitious President Koroma said that the pre-war tourism figures of 100,000 tourists yearly coming to Sierra Leone will go into “over a million tourists” within a short period of time. That would involve a construction frenzy to cater for the tourists, and a delicate balance between man-made structures and conserving and preserving the natural beauty of Sierra Leone – Tony Camacho had said that they are “passionate about the environment” in The Place – which is the magnet that would draw a million tourists here. When all Sierra Leoneans handle the tourism potential wisely, there is a chance that a lot of jobs would be created for our teeming unemployed youth; and, we could earn more money from tourism than we are getting for our diamonds, gold, iron ore, bauxite, etc. Sierra Leone would then become ‘the place’ to come to among all tourism destinations of the world.
(Published in AWARENESS TIMES, on Apr 11, 2013; and in six other local newspapers, including US, Canada, and UK-based online newspapers; web address)http://news.sl/drwebsite/exec/view.cgi?archive=9&num=22479&printer=1). There is no mineral resource boom in Sierra Leone today. The mining of diamonds, titanium (rutile), bauxite, iron ore in Sierra Leone is not generating enough foreign exchange to rev our economy forward in proportion to the demands and expectation of the people, especially the restless urban youth; the petty traders dependent on imports. The President, Retired Brigadier Maada Bio, has made development of human resources one of his mantras. Deep-thinking and imaginative minds are necessary to make the tourism potential of Sierra Leone into significant foreign exchange earners. This 2013 piece republished in July, 2019, is therefore highly relevant. What has happened to ‘The Place’ tourism resort since it was opened in 2013? Oswald Hanciles