On our first night in Pujehun, my colleague and travel-mate Solomon Rogers and I met an American named Dan Howell, who was coincidentally staying at the same guest house in which I would be staying.
Mr. Dan, as the locals called him, was a member of the Peace Corps in 1970 and was back in Pujehun, a place he calls his “second home” for a short visit.
It was a pleasant surprise for me to meet an American, just by chance. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a couple Americans already – Danna Van Brandt, the public affairs officer of the U.S. embassy, and Peter Anderson, currently working at the Special Courts in Freetown – but I hadn’t yet run into an American who was simply travelling.
Mr. Dan was very friendly and was more than willing to converse with Solomon and me. He even introduced me to a term which, surprisingly, I haven’t heard in Salone: Pumuin.
“It means ‘white man’ or ‘light-skinned,’” Mr. Dan said. “If you haven’t heard it already, you will.”
Most of the people in Freetown call me “China,” or just “you.” But true to Mr. Dan’s words, the following morning everybody – the children, especially – were smiling and pointing at me saying, “Pumuin! Pumuin!”
I’ve already gotten used to people stopping and staring at me during my first month in Freetown, so I was happy, being in a new place, to engage the people of Pujehun.
One night Solomon and I were getting food at K&S Bar and Restaurant, a place on which we relied heavily for nourishment during our entire stay. There was a large crowd there that night celebrating the graduation of some children at a local primary school.
We were simply there to get some dinner but by the time I was finished with my meal, I found myself surrounded by a pack of children who were seemingly astonished to see a Pumuin. At first I thought they might ask me for money, but they weren’t at all interested in that. In fact, I was rather entertained by the most popular questions they asked me: “Do you know Jackie Chan? Do you know Jet Li?”
Jackie Chan and Jet Li are, of course, two of the most famous martial arts actors to make it big in the United States. I’m sure they asked me that because I am of Asian descent, but I didn’t really care what the reason. They were a delightful group of kids and I even took a quick photo of them.
All of the children in Pujehun, for that matter, were very open and friendly – much like the kids in Freetown. There was a particular innocence about the children of Pujehun, though, to which I was very drawn. They loved to smile and they loved to engage me and I was glad to answer to their curiosity – even as a Pumuin.
By Yu Nakayama