Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Friday, 27 December 2013


This one is for all the S'Lone volunteers who made my life happy and wonderful in Makeni.  What a revelation Sierra Leone was to my naive brain!

This was in the period 1984 - '86 and I was a lecturer at Makeni Teachers' College, trying to train Maths lecturers and develop the Primary Maths Curriculum. I lived in a small, one-bedroom flat on the campus and it was an uncertain life.

Electricity was available rarely and water had to be carried upstairs to my third floor flat in a bucket, when it came, sporadically. Then, we all rushed and queued up - or pushed and shoved- to reach that trickle before it stopped. We learned the optimum height from which to pour a half-bowl of water into the toilet to clear it. Rosemary, a Canadian volunteer, taught me that.

Food was limited to what you could get locally. On the days the butcher slaughtered a cow, approximately once a fortnight, I waited on my small terrace to see him hang it up on a pole down the road. I would rush to get the fillets before the sun did the cooking. Fillets, of course, cost no more than other bits of beef.

The vegetable stall in the local market contained a few squashed-up tomatoes, half-onions, tiny okras well past their eat-by date... Nothing to take home. The Lebanese stores sold potatoes and you could buy cassava leaf and potato leaf anywhere. Corned beef and spam if you were lucky.You learned new tastes. And I lost two stones in weight.

The plassas was out of this world. Served with rice. I loved it. Sometimes I went down to the Shell station and ate it with the owner. You could also collect the local gossip: which musungu was sleeping with which black beauty, who was drunk at Pa Kargbo's veranda bar before eight in the evening...

The three-storey flats in which I lived was a self-contained community. Philip Kargbo's radio woke us all up at odd hours of the night and all of us ran down to see the cobra, which lived in the wood-pile behind my flat. Susan, who lived opposite, dumped her baby on me to look after when she had to go somewhere in a hurry and my friend, Fiona, the VSO who lived next door, made groundnut soup for me. It was delicious. She also taught me a great deal about Primary teaching.

Entertainment in a place sans TV or power was inventive. I played board games with Matt for match-sticks and rode pillion with the PCVs to unnamed places. I remember going skinny-dipping in a delightful, isolated, pond somewhere in the bush with one PCV. There was a waterfall and we had to push the tall grass aside with our hands to reach the pond on a motor-bike. We cooked and ate communally many-a-day, mainly cabbage soup and rice. Someone on a trip to Freetown would have brought a precious cabbage back.

Riding pillion was forbidden, but I got myself a helmet and risked being told off. HQ was so far away  and how would they communicate with us anyway?

One night a happy gang of PCVs woke me up at the two in the morning to see the forest fires. I tagged along. At 51, I was twice the age of most of them, but it did not seem to be an issue with those girls and boys. They were fun and non-judgemental in all matters. They always found new ways to have a good time.

The PCVs looked after me. They asked me along to fourth-of- July celebrations and spontaneous song sessions. They were talented and original. One designed a fish- breeding pond; several created prosthesis for children with damaged limbs. In Makeni they created swings and climbing frames for the children near by.

On the 25th anniversary celebrations they made me an honorary PCV. I was very proud that day.

I have been in other African countries since, living and doing similar work. More 'developed' some of them. But I have never been happier anywhere else. Now, at 78, I long to go back to SL and wonder how Makeni is now, how the College is and how , above all, my SL friends are.

What a country and what a people!

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