In our last few days in Kenema we visited Tiwai Island down near the Liberian boarder in the Gola forest and had a tour through the dense sticky forest to see two types of primates and some bush pigs which was exciting. Trying to run as quietly as possible to see the hogs was hard and only a few of the group managed to catch a glimpse but it was still a great experience.
We also visited a community at Dia Kabulka which was the community last year’s Gappers visited as well. We got to see the complicated and very labour intensive process of making palm oil which was done by the women of the community while the men stood around and watched. This deep red liquid gave off an awful sickly stench but is used with most traditional dishes such as Cassava leaf/ root, Krain Krain and potato leaf.
We walked to the local school just over a mile away and had a long talk with staff and parents about the education system in rural communities and the struggle to pay teachers. We found out that out of 7 teachers, only 1 was paid (surprisingly not the head teacher). Parents were asked to pay monthly fees so that other members of staff would have money but this was not happening. The monthly fee per student was 2,500 Leones which is roughly 40p but larger families with up to 6 children could not afford this.
Once we arrived back at the village, followed by the whole school we sat down with the elders and spoke for some time before a young lady brought us chicken and fish ground nut soup with boiled rice. One of the nicest things that day was when we offered to pay for lunch but instantly they said no and laughed.
The reason for this was that the support CAFOD and Caritas Kenema have given them over the years has helped them so much. Through the many self sustaining projects that are up and running in the community, individuals and the village as a whole have transformed for the better, and this small meal was their way of saying thank you. Not long after lunch we had to leave back to the city but not before being given a massive selection of fresh fruit to take home.
Kenema is a strange place. On a few occasions we ventured into the town and markets to try and experience the culture. I decided I would like to have my hair plaited and we found this little hair salon deep in the stalls but within seconds of sitting down, nearly 100 people where surrounding us taking photos and laughing at the pomoi (white man) having his hair done like a girl!
Nearly every other shop or hotel doubles as a diamond dealer but despite these rich minerals, it is only outsiders that can buy, often exploiting the diamond miners and buying them for a fraction of the value. There is no electricity unless you have money to buy and run a generator and roads are in very poor condition.
I read that in the 70s street lighting and tarmac roads were the norm, but now Kenema seems to be going backwards. The most popular venue, Capitol nightclub is closed and just a shell but apparently a Chinese company is building a casino which will hopefully boost tourism and local businesses.
We are now back in Freetown and our exploring and learning experience has nearly ended. We had a chance to go to the River number 2 beach which we had to ourselves the whole day and the sand was amazingly white against the clear blue water. Hopefully this beach and the country won’t be destroyed by consumerism and big businesses ‘taking away’ from the people of Sierra Leone, but I can see it becoming a major holiday destination in the next 20 years.
Hopefully I will, one day, return to Sierra Leone and its beauty will be preserved, but with one last day it is nearly time to say goodbye to Africa. I will miss it.
Applications are now open for next year’s Step into the Gap programme.
For more information click here.
Sierra Leone is CAFOD’s focus for Lent this year.