Wednesday, January 16, 2013 (Day 7)
Makeni's scraggy stray dogs lay lazily by the side of the road; many still sleeping or just about mustering up enough energy to give themselves a half decent morning clean with their smelly tongues. The last of the school children are on their way to class; dressed in immaculate bright blue or red or green school uniforms. This is the best part of the day. I am walking to work not long after eight o'clock. The air is still fresh and low on Saharan sand and there is still a light breeze with a hint of coolness in it which makes everything feel comfortable, optimistic and mellow. Not a hint of the awful sweat I will suffer later in the day. It is a ten-minute walk to the Restless Development office in the New London district of Makeni where I live. Restless Development is a youth-led development agency which has kindly allowed volunteers from the Collective to use some of their office space to charge computers and phones, to write reports, conduct meetings and, if I can find out how, check emails in some internet friendly side room. For me it is all about the electricity. That is the single most problematic issue I have thus far experienced because I have no sooner charged my computer when it is flat again after a couple of hours of computer use at the house. The generator is on at home from around 7 until 8 in the evening so it is a small window of opportunity for working and/or reading in the light or taking advantage and having a decent bucket shower. Last night I wasted some of that blessed 60 minutes with a post-work Guinness on the porch, listening to the locals go about their lives after the sun went down.
Bob meets me at Restless Development at 9.30. One of the CBF co-ordinators is going to take us to see the preparation work for an upcoming community project. Themed community projects are another part of the work of the CBF and participation in these is compulsory for all teams competing in the league.
It is almost 11 when we get to the school and unfortunately turning up late means we cannot meet the head because he is in a teachers' meeting. A lack of transport means a lot of time is wasted walking from school to school.
At the second school we visit, the head is very happy with CBF's contribution and is keen to continue supporting us and for the project to keep improving. Several kids ask how they can join the league while other older children inquire if an Under 16s league might be considered once the kids have graduated from the under 14s level. Currently, once they have finished at under 14s the CBF has no further involvement with the children, which seems like a bit of a shame on first impressions. There is a danger that a rival under 16 league might be set up which would be based purely on winning and 'farming' the best players, rather than with the intention of offering the kids the opportunity to build a better life for themselves through sport and education.
Back at the office I write up blogs and reports for four hours. It is cool in here and blessed with reliable electricity. I can even make a cup of coffee or tea when I feel like it. During the afternoon, I meet young Ahmed Kamara, who wanders into the office and is absolutely delighted to have his first ever type of a computer keyboard, writing his name and then changing it to bigger and different fonts until the name 'Ahmed' seems to take on a brand new, much more significant identity. He also clicks on some travel photos and videos of me in Patagonia and grabs his friend Thomas to show him the unbelievable sight of an Argentine glacier. Thomas hangs around a bit longer and ends up playing Bejewelled, eventually departing after getting the hang of it and smashing his previous record of 750 points with a whopping 12,250. He leaves a happy looking young boy.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 (Day 6)
We stroll past three elegant two-storey mosques that remind me a little of images of Mali or Niger or some other North African state where Islam is prevalent and all the buildings still look like they belong to a bygone past.
Our second school visit of the day is to MCA (Makeni Comprehensive Academy). Our arrival is a little mistimed because the younger kids are about to knock off for the day to be replaced by the senior children. We still manage though to visit some of the classes for a quick on-the-spot school attendance check and I get to introduce myself to a second school head.
On our way back to the co-ordinator's house we get a vitamin C hit from some oranges we buy by the dusty roadside. You pay to have the skin peeled off and the top cut away so that you can simply suck out the juice. Bob and Esther laugh at my amateurish efforts. Esther also buys us some small bags of delicious ground nuts to munch on for lunch.
Back at the house I am waning badly. The heat has completely done me. Bob takes me to the Restless Development office to introduce me to the staff there. This NGO is kindly allowing us to use some of their office space to work in each day. One very important factor is that they also have a constant supply of electricity.
After this I quickly nip home for a lie down in the shade. My head has no sooner hit the pillow than I am into a deep thirty minute sleep which ends with a three thirty alarm call.
Bob takes me to the police barracks football pitch to watch a coaching session, passing the popular Flamingo night club on the way, which rather conveniently has a cheap and cheerful motel located ten yards across the street. There is also a 150-euro per night hotel a few yards further away for anybody wishing to large it.
Moses has been awarded the best coach award for the past three seasons. I am not surprised to hear this. Everything about Moses says football: his physique, appearance, body language. This lad is totally focussed on what he is doing. He is strict with the boys in a not-taking-any-shit kind of way but is also able to be kind and considerate. You also just know by looking at Moses that he is also a very good footballer. Many African players are flare and strut but this boy looks like an old pro who would quickly steal the ball away from anybody trying to do an unnecessary step over or shimmy. It is fitting that this man should be head of the coaches and a member of the steering committee.
There are two dozen boys present either playing as under 12s or under 14s. The main focus of Moses' session is close ball control, dribbling and short passing. I would love to see how European kids would get on trying to play on gravel, pot-holed surfaces like this. Most of them wouldn't be able to keep a ball under control, never mind run with it seemingly glued to their feet.
Moses very kindly allows me to spend twenty minutes coaching the boys. The thing that strikes me is that the boys are extremely focussed. When I talk to them there is none of the giggling or excitement that you usually get from young African boys when a white man turns up to play football with them. On the contrary, the boys listen intently and then redirect their eyes to Moses when he gives a second explanation in Krio of what I have just said.
My coaching exercise involves the boys 'playing through the thirds', an excellent drill I first picked up watching my mate Dav train Hinckley United's under 7s a few months ago. This means dividing the pitch up into three sections with the middle section only for midfield players, who must tackle and pass the ball through to their lone attacker's sector without ever leaving their area of play. I am particularly impressed by the boys' ball control and intelligent passing choices.
After football coaching, Bob and I stroll back to the Restless Development office as I know how to find my way home from here. On this occasion I decide to jog home so that I make it back in time for our pre-arranged 6.30 meal of rice, boiled eggs and a spicy 'special sauce'.
Kate and Jayne have had a frustrating day with many of the people they wanted to meet having been in meetings. It is the first time I have heard Yorkshire Jayne so quiet. She says she is just knackered from the heat and work. Later on she tells me she has received the fantastic news that she will be a grandmother for the second time next summer and we celebrate with a cold beer each. She has also heard that the UK is covered in snow and that one of her relative’s communities in Yorkshire has been cut off. 'SNOW CHAOS BRINGS UK TO A STANDSTILL' the Daily Express will no doubt have as a headline today. Alasand nips out to buy me a Guinness from a street vendor and I finally have a decent cold bucket shower for the first time in three days. Before the generator is switched off I read a couple more chapters of 'Capital' by John Lanchester, a book that is a very easy read and I am really enjoying. It is the kind of novel I wish I could write. I struggle to read novels when I am in my normal day to day life but whenever I am 'travelling' I suddenly love to read.
Just as I am nodding off to sleep Esther sends me an SMS asking how I thought the day went with the observing of the schools. I was very impressed with her attitude to the project today and her determination to improve the positive impact of the CBF league in Makeni. I was equally impressed by a number of her Salone colleagues.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a seven-week voluntary placement in January 2013.