Day 2: Freetown, a place of traditional, modern, secular  – Generation Justice

The rain is coming down so hard I can barely hear myself think.  It comes in sheets, close together, in an unending deluge that has been lasting for over three hours.  New Mexican girl that I am, I am grateful for this final evidence of the Sierra Leonean monsoon season.  This morning my mother and I woke to have breakfast again and this time we were lucky enough to get passion fruit with it, my mom’s favorite.  During our breakfast, the Sierra Leonean National Soccer Team was hanging out and kicking their soccer balls around for a while as they prepared to face off against South Africa later today (Oct. 10), and then packed up and waited for our friend MKK (Mohammed K. Kamara) who picked us up from the airport on Friday night (Oct. 9).  Sadly, while waiting for him, I got a significant amount of my English Hamlet project done…

Once MKK arrived, we piled into a taxi alongside the Soccer Team’s bus and left the hospitality of the Hill Valley hotel.  Because of the soccer game later that day, traffic in Freetown was crazy, but it gave us the opportunity to see the city, since it had been dark when we first arrived and we were too exhausted and out of it to register much anyway.   I finally got the chance to takes pictures as we haltingly sped a braked through the streets. Though, sadly many times pedestrians or our car managed to get in the way of my scene shot.

It took us about an hour and a half to reach Freetown (population: one million), but the drive was absolutely fascinating.  Street lanes are somewhat of an abstract concept, as are sidewalks. Freetown roads consist of mob of cars, buses, motorcycles, and pedestrians, none going in any discernable direction; but, all persons are equally indignant and confident of their own behavior.  I’m just glad that I wasn’t the one driving.

Freetown is an interesting mix of the traditional, modern, and secular.  One second, you will see women walking down the street in traditional African dress; as, the next second you will see groups of boys in Western sports jerseys or polo shirts with the collars popped.  There are also signs advertising cell phone companies (Africell and Zing seem to be the major players), banks; reality TV shows; and, other signs advocating for education and development, and promoting AIDS prevention and domestic violence prevention.

Moreover, people wander the streets, and sit on street corners, just being a part of the general chaos.  While I was trying to surreptitiously take photos, young children waved at me as they were selling food, and kisses were thrown to me by teenage boys who were on “pushing broken-down cars” duty.  There are also interesting adoptions of American culture everywhere, from the “Obama International Bakery” to the young girl I saw wearing an “I <3 Vampires” shirt.  The music is also an interesting mix.  I caught snippets of a highly sentimental and only slightly chauvinistic form of R&B/Hip Hop which I think is distinctly Sierra Leonean, as well as plenty of American music, both old (Celine Deion’s Titanic theme, Phil Collins, and a very interesting rendition of John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”) and current top 40, which included, rather amusingly, Shakira’s Waka Waka.

Before leaving Freetown, we bought two Sierra Leonean flags from a street vendor and fresh bread still warm from the oven off the side of the road, and then we were off to the Northern Province.  Our three-hour drive was filled with rolling green plains, palm trees, and the “lion” mountains the country is named for, that stood between us and Mayagba, Bombali District, Northern Province.

I didn’t have time to react when we pulled over road-side as we were greeted by the entire community. The community members instantly burst into song and dance.  All of the school children, in their uniforms, were lined up by age, smiling and singing “we welcome you.” The older women of the community were singing, dancing, and drumming; and, they immediately came over, embraced us, and started nudging us into the Central for Development and Peace Education site (CD Peace for short), encouraging us to clap and dance along with them.  I was experiencing one of the most surreal experiences of my life.  Little children kept coming up to me, smiling, reaching for my hands, walking and dancing with me, and the happy and generous spirit of the whole place was tangible.  I’ve taken African dance for years, but I have never felt so awkward dancing in my entire life!  But, on the other hand, I knew they didn’t necessarily expect me to know the entire dance; so, that made me feel less self conscious. Once the women completed their five-plus different call-and-response refrains and drum rhythms, we were ushered into the project headquarters and said goodbye to everyone.

My mother and I came to Mayagba to visit the CD Peace headquarters. The organization has been around for years. Though, since the war has taken on the role of educating and rebuilding communities and livelihoods that were destroyed — my mom decided to contact the organization to study their role in the peacekeeping process, which is unique in that it is rurally based, while most organizations of its type are city-based.

We got to be part in a meeting of the leaders of CD Peace, and they described the history, set up, and focus of their organization.  Put most broadly, the goal of CD Peace is to support women, children, and youth (as they are the future of the society, and those who were traditionally the most hurt by the war) through education, agriculture, and health projects and gender empowerment.  They work in two districts, both in Northern Province, providing : agricultural opportunities for women and youth; human rights awareness for women; teacher training; academic scholarships for children and youth; school construction and assistance in obtaining supplies; assistance for women to reach economic sustainability; and, health care options.

After the meeting, I was convinced by one of women I had danced with earlier, into eating too much good food! I had the most delicious fried bananas in my entire life, and had to try to remember how to flush a toilet that doesn’t have a flush.  Tomorrow, Oct. 11, we will be visiting schools, seeing more of the project, and meeting with a traditional Paramount Chief.  But for now, the mosquito net has come down, the rain is still pouring, and it is bedtime in Sierra Leone.  However, it is still homework crunch time in New Mexico, so good luck!

by: Kyra Ellis-Moore