“Sweet Salone’ Carves New Paradise in ‘The Place’

By Oswald Hanciles 

The corporate group, ‘Sweet Salone’, launched last week a ‘new paradise’ it has carved at Tokeh Beach on the Freetown Peninsular   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 and epitomize that rare physical beauty of Sierra Leone which President Ernest Bai Koroma trumpeted about – when he recently made an official visit to the United States of America 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, Jeniva Sisay-Sorbeh – yes, “Jeniva”:  another enchanting name – said The Place ‘s decor and people are  designed to let  “Europe meet Africa”….. What about “America”?

The Place’s “Jeniva”!!!:  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.  Jeniva 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.   Jeniva’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”.  Jeniva 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.   Jeniva 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”,  Jeniva 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 foot 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 Jeniva 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.  Jeniva 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.

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