Poda Poda and the people of Sierra Leone

Poda Podapoda poda

Poda poda is a private mini bus which serves as one of the main form of transportation in Sierra Leone. Allover Sub Saharan Africa, mini buses have different names such as Matatu in Kenya, Danfor in Nigeria, Tro-tro in Ghana and poda poda in Sierra Leone. We can see that poda poda is a very popular and common form of transportation for people in Sierra Leone as the writer mentions poda poda several times throughout the story. For example, Kai and Abass have a conversation about how poda poda got crashed on the road and Abduli says he got money from Mr. Salia for poda poda(275). Poda poda is also a place where Naasu told her story about living in camps after the civil war (311). Physically, people are mingled together in poda poda but mentally, poda poda is a comfortable and familiar environrment for Sierra Leonese to meet people and to share stories with one another.

Poda poda is significant in two ways. First, poda poda provides a form of transportation. Some people might dismiss its importance however, poda poda is very significant in the life of Sierra Leone when government cannot provide public transportation system, and people rely on poda poda to continue with their daily lives. Poda poda is not a public transportation but yet it acts like one because many countries either do not have a public transportation or it only runs for limited amount of time in limited areas. Especially when the country is having a civil war or is broke so she cannot afford to manage public services, poda poda, as a privatebusiness, fill in that space for the absence of transportation system, and enable people to move around.

One of the popular stop for poda poda is Campbell Street in the centre of Freetown where vehicles passes by one another with different messages on them. And this is why poda poda is significant in Sierra Leone. Poda poda serves as an icon of cultural in Sierra Leone. Outside of poda poda, drivers put religious statements like “God is great”, “Allah is great”. One poda poda driver, Alieu Sesay said “I believe in Allah and he will protect me and my poda poda. I will make good business.” When Susan Cole was asked a question if a message on poda poda influence her decision to go inside the vehicle she said “I notice the message but I would not choose to go inside the car, if I didn’t agree with the message. I am Christian and I just got out of that taxi that says ‘Allah is great’. It doesn’t make a difference to me. There is only one God and we are all Sierra Leoneans.” The atmosphere where people freely express their religious belief in a country with two distinctively different main religions, Muslim and Christianity, suggests that Sierra Leone have religious tolerance. Not all commentaries on Poda podas are religious. There are social saying like “Fear judgment day” and “Respect the Police” in front of the bus which reflects driver’s personal believing. Poda poda also mirrors the popular culture in Sierra Leone. Some drivers play their traditional music and others play American or British song in their car. This suggests that Sierra Leone is also affected by globalization and have brought in western culture. Poda poda creates a space where people can exchange their lives, information on pop cultures and opinions. It is a source of very much down to earth information of Sierra Leone’s culture.

In the book, The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna, the speaker uses poda poda to describe the scene of Sierra Leonese’s everyday life. Even though she did not explicitly describe the importance to poda poda, by bring in poda poda into the picture shows how poda podas are deeply embedded in the life of Sierra Leones.


Posted on October 22, 2014, in Memory of Love. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I like this post for two reasons. First, there are pictures with the words, which helps a lot to visualize how the people in Sierra Leone are closely tied to Poda Poda. Second, after reading this post, I started to rethink the relationship between people and public transportation. In my hometown Taiwan, public transportation is easily accessible, and I cannot even imagine the day when the government is not able to provide public transportation, just like the government in Sierra Leone.

    Both the picture and the post showed that in Sierra Leone there are religious messages on Poda Poda. This is also quite different from my life experience. In my life experience, these religious messages do not exist in public transportation. What is in my mind is ads! I think by examining the details around our lives can really see how different people from different cultures do things and think! Poda Poda is a very good example.

  2. I think that the travel form of poda poda is also fascinating. In the Philippines, there is a similar form of transportation called jeepneys which are basically makeshift buses. In countries like Sierra Leone and the Philippines, traffic is terrible and the incentive (nevermind the financial ability) for one to own a car is definitely lower than that in the United States. These very cheap, public forms of transportation are just a way of life in these settings. I feel that the presence of these poda podas in the story may loosely connect to the feelings of restlessness in the souls of the Sierra Leoneans after the civil war. Just as people like Agnes enter fugue states and travel far distances, these poda podas restlessly traverse the chaotic traffic throughout Sierra Leone.

    I also like that you pointed out that the owners of the poda podas proudly displayed their religious beliefs on their vehicles (this happens in the Philippines as well), but despite that there seems to be no objection by Christians to enter a Muslim’s poda poda or vice versa. This religious tolerance just underlines the haunting fact that Sierra Leone’s civil war did not occur under mainly religious pretenses. Like the country’s post war victims, the poda podas carry the signs of what most might think to provoke a civil war. But they traverse cities full of diverse people who have mostly gotten along in the past, and the wanderers are left to wonder how the conflict even happened in the first place.

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