Boy will I miss this place.
I felt this would be an appropriate way for me to close up this blog (for now). This is the new WAYout anthem that the music studio lot were working on in their spare time, during my month there.
One of the people you will hear on the track is Drama, who sings:
“I got my way out. So tell me if you got yours? I used to be a gangster, live life on the street as an hustler. Hustle in the tunnel of life for me to see the light, that’s my dream so I can find a better way. Now the gate is open, got my way out… nno more pain, no more strain.”
One of my most treasured memories will be an evening spent in the studio: playing back this song at top volume, me sitting on the floor, Brian on the keyboards, John, Gibo, Thomas, Chanting Bee and Eugene clapping their hands above their heads, dancing, and singing the chorus at the tops of our voices:
“I got my way out… so have you found your way out? As we celebrate, for a better future for the youth in this nation.”
The music studio boys: from left, John, Gibo and Thomas. Very talented, dedicated, hard-working local volunteers. Also thoroughly cheeky and charming!
It would be impossible for me to summarise this journey - and it was only a month! - but I hope that this blog has given you an idea of what my time there was like, the work I was doing, the places I have been.
The only way I can describe Sierra Leone is as a land of contrasts: it is at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index, yet the human spirit is higher and more positive than anywhere I have ever been; the country has the third highest level of rainfall in the world, yet only 20% of the urban population have access to piped water; most of the roads are in appalling condition, riddled with gaping potholes and regularly flooded, yet big flashy 4x4’s are not a rare sight; the city is noisy, chaotic, frantic, yet the beaches and hills are so peaceful; amputees and polio sufferers sit on the side of the road, while children sing and play and dance; men and children all urinate openly in the street gutters - the same gutters from which a young boy will later fetch his football.
This is a country still rebuilding itself after ten years of devastating civil war. It is still figuring out how to transpose its source of diamonds into fairly-distributed economic growth and development. Considerable progress has been made, but there is a long way to go, and more healing to do.
More than anything, this is a country full of HOPE. The warmth and love with which people greeted me was overwhelming - “You are from England? Did you know that it was Queen Elizabeth that colonized us? England is like our second home, and you are like our sister”, people would say to me. Elections are being held in November, and spirits are high - most people believe they will be free and fair, and that Sierra Leone will continue to make progress and move forward. Freetown, I look forward to seeing you again next year!
— (translation from Krio: it’s hot today!)
A few of my neighbours. The one at the back went by the name of ‘DJ Prince’. There are actually three of them in the picture, but the little girl in the middle got a bit squashed in all the excitement!
I am so going to miss just wandering around our local area, making friends, going about my everyday routines, watching people and the way they do things. One of my favourite sights is watching the way everybody carries things on their heads - huge containers of food, apples, coal, clothes, books, flipflops, biscuits, towels and blankets, coolboxes full of drinks. And then there’s the women with their children hoisted on their backs, tied with a kanga around the top of the baby’s back, and then again under the bottom. Most of the time it’s a combination of the two - baby strapped to the back, wares in a huge containers on their head, arms free to balance and exchange money and so on. I have also seen young girls using material to strap their dollies or cuddly toys to their backs - the other day a little girl was wandering around with a toy rabbit strapped to her back! Isn’t it amazing how when we’re little we are always copying our parents?
I love watching the children on their way to school, all dressed up in their too-big shorts, pristine white bobby socks and black shoes. The funniest thing is their backpacks - for some reason all the children have enormous backpacks! When you see them from the back you just see this tiny person, their head bobbing above their bag, and then these little legs popping out underneath, the bag literally down to their knees. It always makes me smile - especially when you see how slow their progress is up the street, not looking where they’re going, mum trying to chivvy them along in a vaguely straight line.
And I will miss evenings on the balcony - especially those where the city has lost power, and I just get to sit there in the darkness listening to the sounds of the street. Bliss!
— Chanting Bee, Gibo, Mohamed, John, Thomas…