Neal, our gapper currently in Sierra Leone, sent his first blog through yesterday.
Neal’s hoping to send more news through in the next few days, so watch this space!
My two weeks in Sierra Leone have been incredible. I had never expected to visit Africa in my life and I still don’t fully understand how I am here. Internet is hard to find and up until now we have had no access at all. But here are a few things that have happened so far.
Our first 3 days were spent in Freetown, adjusting to the climate, keeping hydrated, exploring the city with the CAFOD Freetown staff and having a meeting with CAFOD’s director, Chris Bain, over Skype (after sorting out all problems with technology!) On Sunday morning we went to Freetown Cathedral for Mass and we met Archbishop Edward Tamba. We also visited the National Museum to find out about local tradition and history as well as the slave trade and recent civil war, with an over enthusiastic tour guide who thought we knew Hitler!
Having a great passion for trying new food and exploring local cuisine, this new environment has been perfect! I have tried so much West African food in the many different restaurants (if you could call them that) with hygiene standards (lack of) you couldn’t imagine in the U.K. From slimy cassava leaves, krain krain, ground nut soup, plantain and lots of chicken, fish and cow. Every meal contains a big portion of rice and a lot of spice.
Wednesday morning we set off for Makeni on a four hour drive to visit communities over the next 10 days and check how poultry and fishing projects are developing with the help of CAFOD and Caritas Makeni. We were introduced to the local Caritas Team and given a tour of the University and the Holy Spirit Hospital. We visited 3 very different rural communities involved in the EC farming project and saw how far building work for chicken houses had come.
A highlight of these visits was when I handed a large group of very scared looking kids a football and their eyes lit up. Suddenly we were surrounded by about 30 excited children who would run away if we went near them before. We had a little kick around, tasted some Poyo (Palm wine) and went back to Makeni for lunch with children clinging on to us and running after the car.
On Monday 20th we made our way out to the small village community in Rofenka where we spent an amazing 3 days and 2 nights. We arrived late afternoon and as soon as we stepped out of the car we were greeted by a load of hands old and young. We moved our bags into shared rooms with no lights or electricity that a family had thankfully given up for us. This is probably the most basic accommodation I have ever stayed in and even less practical than a tent.
This was a typical one storey house in Sierra Leone with bricks made of mud and a corrugated zinc roof making the rooms very hot during day and night. With only one small window to let light in we found it very difficult to see what we were doing and move around. At night it became even harder to find anything and I was constantly losing clothes. I woke regularly through the night with a sore back from the straw/ wood mattress or from the sounds of young children but I finally woke at 7am after 3 hours sleep to go and wash myself at the water hole with the most amazing view over the rice and cassava fields while watching the warm orange sun rise.
We have now travelled down to Kenema and went to Mass at the Cathedral this morning, now sitting around discussing our itinerary for the week and have been invited to have lunch with the Bishop of Kenema this afternoon.
Applications are now open for next year’s Step into the Gap programme.
It’s a unique and special way to learn more about yourself and the wider world we live in.
For more information click here.
Sierra Leone is CAFOD’s focus for Lent this year.