I don't know how many Peace Corps Volunteers had problems with night thieves while in Sierra Leone, but they were all too common in Bo. I happened to live in the old Milton Margai house during the first school year in country, along with Al McIvor and Rex Jarrell from Sierra Leone I and Dave Williams from our group. The house was quite large and we all had separate bedrooms. I had a corner bedroom off the kitchen, and the rest of the bedrooms were off the large living room.
The first sign of thieves was their attempt to steal our shortwave radio, which we used to listen to the BBC and Voice of America news. We had a tall bamboo pole on the front of the house that served as an antenna mount, with the antenna wire coming in through a window to the radio, which was sitting on a short round table.
We started to notice that the radio would be by the window in the morning, and realized that thieves were pulling the radio off the table by the antenna wire and dragging it across the floor. They had to be frustrated by the fact that the radio was an inch too big to fit between the window bars. We never knew how long they would try to fit the radio between the bars. However, they returned night after night, moving our radio to the window. We didn’t know whether we were having different night visitors, or one persistent thief who thought the radio would magically shrink.
At the end of that first school year, Al and Rex left for home, and Dave and I were left at the house for the summer break. One night, during the rain, I heard noise at my window. The window was not completely open because of the possibility of rain blowing into the house. There, outlined by the security light on the outside of the house, was a thief working at opening the window wider. Slipping out of bed, I picked up a flashlight from the end table and tip-toed to the window.
The thief seemed not to notice me as I got just inside the window on which he was working. I placed the flashlight under my chin and turned it on with a rebel yell. The thief disappeared in a flash. This woke Dave Williams up, and he was less than happy I had interrupted his beauty rest.
About a week later came the tops in night thieves visits. Sleeping soundly in my bed but still concerned about the thieves, I was awakened by someone standing in the doorway to the kitchen from my bedroom. Suddenly all rational thought stopped and a raging adrenalin hulk possessed my body as I hurled myself toward the intruder. The hulk grabbed the intruder by the throat and started to choke the life out of him.
As our two bodies stumbled into the kitchen, the light from the outside security light shone on the noisy struggle. Immediately rational thought returned, and the temporary insanity fled the inside of my head. The “intruder” was Dave Williams, my house mate.
Dave said, " I came to tell you that the thief is working on the front door. Damn, didn't you feel me hit you twice as you choked me?" I mumbled my apologies to Dave and said, "I swear that you didn’t touch me." Two hours later, as my neck stiffened, I realized that Dave had indeed landed those punches.
Two lasting behaviors came from this for me. One was that it made me a very light sleeper for the rest of my life. The other was such a fear of losing rational control that I never dared to get drunk or try drugs. I guess I was scared straight by my own adrenalin rush.
The commotion raised by our scuffle must have scared the thieves, as that was the last we were visited by thieves that summer. I have thoughts that in some den of Bo thieves word must have gone around about two crazy devils living in the old Margai house, and one would be wise to avoid that part of town.
The new school year had me moving to a house past the Catholic Teacher's Training College and more remote than the Margai house. I had no visits from thieves for the remainder of my time in Sierra Leone.
Dave Williams moved in with an Irish missionary, Sean McFarren, who taught at our school. I think Dave may have no longer trusted his former house mate and found safety in this new residence. The house Dave and Sean lived in was located not far from the Bo Clock Tower, which placed it near the center of town. Dave did not shake the thieves as I had. One night someone fished a few of his belongings out through the window bars with a pole. Dave seemed not to be concerned about the loss and fatalistically accepted it.
However, the gang of thieves paid Dave another call. This time they stripped the house of everything they could carry. And this was done while Dave slept soundly. Awakening in the morning, he found the only thing he had was the bed sheet that was under his body. The bed covers went along with everything else. Dave looked like a Roman in a toga.
My houseboy explained that the thieves drug you with a dust they blow through a hollow tube. However the feat was done, it prompted Dave and Sean to hire a night watchman. For protection this gentleman carried a large beak from a sawfish that had sharp teeth sticking out along the edges.
To avoid thieves, you either lived at the edge of town as a crazy devil or hired a night watchman.