Baobab Trust launches accommodation at Tasso Island
As we headed up the beach I could hear the loud sound of a trending local song with pulsating drum rhythms and deep bass vocals. A short incline from the beach opened into a forest edge clearing. My jaw dropped. Hundreds of villagers were dancing to the music as the dust rose to knee height from under their feet. We weren’t pioneers exploring unknown territory. Tasso was already part of the global village with its children mouthing the words to the same song I might be dancing to Friday at The Warehouse. Tasso Island was clearly open for business.
We had come on the “Gladi Gladi” (which is Krio for Joyful), a locally made boat with a surly looking Captain and flying British, English, Scottish and Sierra Leonean flags. It had a high bow which we climbed into using a short ladder. Standing next to the ladder was a stout man with feet that seemed borrowed from a person at least twice his size. His job was to hoist passengers who didn’t want to get their feet wet or didn’t think they could climb the ladder into the boat. I marveled at his strength as he lifted a very overweight lady. His feet were the only part of his body which seemed big enough to be able to accomplish that feat. As I walked up to boat I was about to say the equivalent of “I’ll get on myself” when I felt both of his hands grip me in preparation to gather me into his arms. “No, no, no!” I exclaimed. He released me and gratefully I clambered up the ladder.
We sped on to Tasso passing many green islands, a few of which showed signs of human habitation. As other canoes sailed past us we would all wave to each other, kinfolk crossing paths on the blue unknown of the Atlantic Ocean. Tasso Island was huge with many different beaches. We docked on one of the muddy ones. Large shell-encrusted rocks lined the beach overhung by green ferns and a thick forest of trees. Tasso had been invested in by a group of Brits called the Baobab Trust who had all rowed together at Cambridge. They wore their old rowing uniforms as the head of the group showed us the five chalets and restaurant they had built on the beach front. All the buildings were made by local carpenters, featuring ornate carvings on the doors. The walkway leading up to the restaurant was made up entirely of seashells gathered on the Tasso beach. Everything had the sweet woody smell of bamboo. The Resort founded by the Baobab Trust was being opened to the public with much of the profit put into a Trust for the benefit of the entire village. Visitors could enjoy walks on the Island, bird watching, canoe trips or just quiet nights away from the noise and bustle of modern life in a wooden chalet stocked with Chinua Achebe’s books. We however could not disappear into the forest in search of adventure; we were guests of Tasso.
The ceremony started in earnest and we stood semi-reverently as the Chief’s wife knelt on the gravel and spoke to the ancestors, pouring them small amounts of water and a fruity soda. She stood up and the Chief, an old man with a walking stick cut a ribbon with a knife. A loud cheer swelled from the villagers. There were broad smiles on their faces as they officially welcomed both the white investors and us, their friends from the Capital. We continued the celebrations with feasting as I spoke with one of the Brits. The conversation turned to politics and he explained passionately why he had voted in favour of Britain exiting the EU. I smiled to myself quietly. In a world of growing isolation and protectionism, the people of Tasso were ready to welcome the world.