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Independence Day in Freetown

We leave tomorrow for the Outamba Kilimi National Park to begin the first phase of research for the Pan Verus Project, but until then we have been in Freetown. Between applying for permits, visas, and meeting with various people around the city we have had time to spend time with our new Sierra Leonean friend Eric, who has just return to Sierra Leone for the first time in 18 years. 

We spent Sierra Leone’s 57th anniversary of their independence from British colonial rule with Eric’s family. We made our way up to their house on Lumley Road where he met us half way down his street. He introduced us to his grandmother and his auntie, who didn’t say much, but his grandmother was incredibly welcoming and happy to see us. She showed us around her garden and told us about the different plants that she was growing and their uses. She grew cassava, the leaves of which were used for sauces and the root was used for cakes, sauces, fufu, and other foods. She also grew green leaf to be used in sauces. Lastly, she grew “agerie”. The leaves of which are boiled and then drank as a preventative to malaria. She said that it shouldn’t be taken continuously, just in short bouts on and off. On the property they also had a coconut palm and “sweet apple” tree which they would harvest from when the fruits were ripe enough. They lived opposite a huge mango tree which Eric said was utilised massively the day before during the storm. We sat outside and relaxed whilst Eric’s grandmother prepared for us rice with a cassava leaf sauce. It wasn’t quite to my taste, but the girls loved it.

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Surrounding the house were tens of houses of a similar layout and build. Next to Eric’s grandmothers place were a small litter of stray puppies and a group of children. Initially we went over to pay attention to the puppies but soon drew the attention of the children, at least those that were willing. The younger of the children were terrified of white people and would hide behind their older siblings if we got too close. Some of the boys asked if I liked football and would play with them, to which I of course said yes. They introduced themselves as Ronaldo, Messi (two people), Coutinho, Lampard, Neymar, amongst a few other professional footballers. They ranged from 10 to 15 and were all incredible footballers. They were incredibly brave, willing to jump off small bankings or hurdle rocks to save the ball from going between two rocks (the goal) or for going out for a throw-in. The pitch as you’d imagine was incredibly uneven and was an obstacle course of rocks, fallen trees, children, dogs, and the odd motorbike and kehkeh. They were unbelievably talented considering the conditions they were playing in and that they were all wearing flip-flops. I even got nutmegged two or three times whilst slipping all over the pitch. I was particularly shocked at how willing they were to actually play football and not just score goals. They were happy to go back to the last man and start again from the back if things weren’t on going forward. Me and Eric have agreed to chip in for a real ball for them which will cost approximately Le15,000, just under $2.

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Knackered from football we said goodbye to Eric’s grandmother before heading to Lumley beach. We said goodbye to her in the garden where she was making some traditional medicine which she called “mooroo”. From what I could understand it was found on rocks or near rocks and would be crushed and dissolved in water, again to prevent malaria. Grandma works as a medicinal trader in the “Big Market” near Lumley and brews many different traditional medicines. She seemed very grateful for our company and for our small gesture of a box of British shortbread biscuits and again encouraged us to return before departing. It was amazing to see first-hand what they could make with so little and was truly humbling. As Eric put it, they didn’t have much, but it was home.


Written by Joe Taylor

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