Monday, March 25, 2013
More Than a Game would like to extend our thanks to Gordon Hamilton for his kind donation to our Sierra Leone appeal. We met Gordon on the boat to Freetown airport as we departed Salone. Gordon has been committed to taking Sierra Leone forward for many years. You can read about his good work with the Sierra Leone Mission by clicking on this link.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
More Than a Game would like to extend our thanks to Ed Russel, Paul Featherstone, Jane Pannell and Jaime Morris, who are the latest friends to kindly donate their hard-earned cash to our Sierra Leone appeal in support of 40 children going to school and playing football in the Craig Bellamy Foundation league.
Their donations have taken the running total well past the half way mark of £500, with the total so far raised now £635 - approximately $1000.
If you are planning to visit Sierra Leone then you can expect to hear this extremely popular Nigerian pop hit by P Square at least half a dozen times per day during your stay.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Many thanks to Shaun Gisbourne, Atheen Spencer, Rupert Williams and Erika Medene, who are the latest people to kindly donate to More Than a Game's Sierra Leone Appeal. We want to raise £1000 so that we can send 40 Sierra Leonean children to school for a year. They will also get the opportunity to play football for one year in the excellent Craig Bellamy Foundation League.
The running total is now £420. Click here to read more about the appeal and/or to donate.
Saturday, February 23, 2013 (Day 45)
Sierra Leone - England - Albania
Like I said, I feel so spaced out by the time our flight leaves Freetown that I have no sense of leaving Africa. But, something changes over the course of the next couple of hours...
... Blurry eyed, I stare ahead of me at the computer-animated flight route map. Within minutes of our departure we have long since left Sierra Leonean airspace and have already crossed much of neighbouring Guinea. As we begin to overfly Senegal I grab my pen and write down the first individual words that come into my tired head:
Humbling; uplifting; inspiring; upsetting; frustrating; rewarding; enlightening; infuriating;
These are some of the words; a few of the emotions that I felt during my seven weeks in Sierra Leone volunteering with the Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation.
Suddenly, I feel like crying when I remember much of the poverty, and the amputees, and some of those little boys working in the streets. I can say I feel proud of myself for having done this. I am definitely ready to go home but I did 'enjoy' my Salone experience, if 'enjoy' is the correct word to use.
We begin to overfly Mauritania. Gambia Bird is a joke. They are offering me a single bread roll for dinner because, despite assurances from my travel agent and at check in, they don't have any vegetarian meals. The seats don't recline and there is also practically no legroom at all making it very difficult to sleep even if you feel exhausted. Yes, I know my moaning sounds a little out of context after the previous paragraph talked of poverty and despair. But I have written this blog to record my thoughts and emotions; my highs and lows. I hope by telling things the way they really were it has given those who are interested a better sense of what it might be like to volunteer in Africa. I hope also that I have provided a balanced picture of life in Sierra Leone: yes, the country is currently one of the least developed countries in the world but it also has a hell of a lot going for it and, at times, you might end up feeling happier when you are living there, in West Africa, than when you are cocooned in your comfortable life back home in Europe or North America.
We are greeted by the sight of a spectacularly bright red sun as we begin our descent to Gatwick Airport. I think I might have managed to get one hour's sleep.
In London it is flaking with snow and so cold after Africa that I wonder what the shock must be like for an African stepping foot on this continent for the first time. It is only minus three but after seven weeks of sweating all day and all night, England has never ever felt so cold when stepping off a plane.
I cannot remember if I mentioned it before but I am straight off on holiday today. Having arrived at 7am, I check in with British Airways an hour later, a full six hours ahead of my flight to Albania, where I will meet my girlfriend this evening. It means that my journey from Charlie's house in Freetown to the Hotel Nobel in Tirana will have lasted approximately 30 hours.
A holiday in Albania? Well, after living in Sierra Leone for the best part of two months I am not quite ready for the glitz and consumerism of Western Europe. In some senses, Albania is Europe's Sierra leone: underdeveloped and largely unloved by the outside world...but full of beauty and potential.
One picture postcard from Albania perhaps....
Friday, February 22, 2013 (Day 44)
Freetown International Airport
Inside the ferry lounge I ask one very English looking gentleman if I can squeeze my bags in near his table and sit on my rucksack. Gordon kindly insists I sit with his group and they all shuffle up so I can have a seat with them. I am dripping with sweat like I just ran a marathon. I feel a great sense of relief that I have made it here with all of my stuff. The hardest part of my journey back to the UK is over.
Gordon is a top man. A former Crawley Town footballer, he is now a pastor and is doing some fantastic work in Sierra Leone with the Sierra Leone Mission. He has visited the country on a number of occasions, this time with a group of young adults, who have all been doing some excellent work on the peninsula for the past couple of weeks. No way would I have had the courage of these young eighteen- and nineteen year olds of coming out to Sierra Leone, or its like, when I was their age. They make excellent company for the ferry ride over from Freetown.
One share taxi ride later and I have reached Freetown International Airport. I have somehow managed to make it all the way here from Charlie's house in not much more than two hours and at the total cost of six quid.
OK, so there is the small matter of arriving at the airport almost nine hours ahead of my scheduled flight departure but, not to worry, I am content to have made it here in plenty of time and can spend the afternoon sitting outside in the shade, chatting to a dozen different African characters as well as three or four of the lovely Sierra Leone Mission people.
Actually, it is quite a scene at the new, very modern-looking airport: there are gun-toting soldiers and smartly dressed body guards all over the place, while helicopters are buzzing in and private jets departing.
"That is one hell of a private jet," I comment to one of my new friends.
"Yes, that was the Nigerian president flying out after the inauguration."
Gordon kindly invites me to join him and the Sierra Leone Mission people for dinner in departures. Very good company, several hands of cards and a last couple of Stars help the hours to pass quickly.
It is so bright, modern and 'un-African' inside the airport terminal that I am already feeling a disconnect with Africa as I board the Gambia Bird flight to London. It is almost as if I have already left the continent behind before the plane has even taken off.
We depart at midnight. I am so fatigued that I feel no sense of goodbye; no sadness that a brief but significant chapter in my life is just finishing. If anything, I feel rather numb.
Friday, February 22, 2013 (Day 44)
Murray Town - Freetown - Kissy
This morning I had (with good intentions) planned to visit the chimpanzee reserve, buy some gifts for my relatives and girlfriend and take the sea cat fast boat to the airport in the afternoon but last night's tomfoolery spelled the end of all that. Now, if I get the passenger ferry this afternoon instead, I can just about get by without changing another 50 euro and I won't end up getting stuck with a load of leones I cannot use or change once I leave the country.
Charlie and Dorset Alex are doing up the new volunteers' house; a task not without problems with a generator needing fixing and a complication with the water system in danger of flooding the basement of the building. They have put in four back-to-back fifteen hour days this week for the Collective Sierra Leone. Consequently, I only manage to see the lads shortly before my departure to say my goodbyes and to wish them well with all their hard work here in Sierra Leone. I really respect the two of them for wanting to improve the lives of others in this country. It is a tough gig to live and work here for two or three years.
It is the inauguration of the Sierra Leonean president, Ernest Koroma, today. My taxi driver isn't sure if this means the Freetown roads will be gridlocked, in lock down or empty. Fortune seems to have favoured me as we make it to the government wharf a full thirty minutes ahead of the scheduled ferry departure time. I doubt if Freetown's roads have been that deserted in years.
"I am sorry sir but the government has commissioned the government ferry. It is not running today. There is a forty five dollar fast boat later."
As I have commented many times: the seemingly impossible here is often achievable, while the straight forward often isn't doable.
"You could try to catch the ferry from Kissy at two."
"Oh, we will never make that sir, it is already one thirty seven," I tell the ferry official.
"I think you should try." My taxi driver nods in the affirmative...
...how on earth my taxi driver has managed to pull this off, I will never know. Thanks to all manner of short cuts and crafty bits of overtaking he has somehow got me across the whole city in 20 minutes flat. Sweating profusely he screeches to a halt near Kissy ferry terminal and tells me we should run.
As we reach the terminal, the gates are being locked so that no more vehicles or people can interrupt the departure of the 2pm ferry. I slip my ten thousand leones ticket money through the gate and almost manage to leg it off without remembering to give my driver his cash. I slip the driver a ten thousand leone tip for getting me to the boat on time and he smiles and shakes my hands like I have just given him the keys to a new house. Clearly his main priority was to get me on this boat to the airport rather than worrying about any extra cash he might make. What an absolute star.
As the ropes anchoring the ferry to the port are released, I sprint along the wharf and, running through ankle-high water, manage to jump on the boat as it is preparing to set sail. Talk about cutting it fine.
Thursday, February 21, 2013 (Day 43)
"So you will take diamonds back to the UK for me?"
This conversation is such a cliche that I cannot help but laugh. It is my final evening in Salone, and Charlie and Dorset Alex have taken me to a beach party at a bar on Lumley Beach.
The gentleman in question claims to be the son of a very important paramount chief from somewhere out east.
"You take diamonds to England for me; I make you very rich." This conversation is so reminiscent of a scene from the film 'Blood Diamonds' (a tale about diamonds and the civil war in Sierra Leone) that I look around to see whether Charlie or Alex or Jack have asked this bloke to wind me up for a laugh. Clearly they haven't.
"Listen my friend, unfortunately I fly to England tomorrow so it isn't possible."
"OK, when you come back we will discuss this." and with that my would be brother in crime gives me one of those characteristic triple Sierra Leonean handshakes, which ends with a knuckle-to-knuckle high five.
Without diamonds, it is highly unlikely that Charles Taylor could have plunged both Liberia and Sierra Leone into decades of conflict between 1989 and 2003. Diamonds were a source of wealth, entrapment and military funding which allowed the Western African civil wars to fester on for years, killing tens of thousands.
Many of my expat friends are here partying tonight, giving me the chance to have a final beer with the likes of Danielle and Doctor Jack.
When, in the midst of an alcoholic haze, a lady of the night asks me to go for a stroll on the deserted beach with her at around 1am, I am happy that Alex suddenly suggests we call it a night and go home. I think I will pass on the diamond smuggling and beach sex.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a seven-week voluntary placement in January 2013.