It was only last night, strolling home in a thick cloud of diesel fumes, Saharan sand and the smoke from cooking fires, washing fires and burning rubbish fires – tiny bits of plastic floating down from the sky like black snow - that I was reflecting on the fact that despite the omnipresent motorbike riders and their pillion passengers, I was still yet to witness a motorbike crash here in Sierra Leone. So – what would you know – less than 200 metres from my front door, having just set off for work at 7.45 this morning, I suddenly hear panicked shouts and cries and turn to see an okado driver and his passenger collide with a ten-metre long industrial pipe – left in the road(!) – and then go skidding off and crash in to a tree. Fortunately, they weren’t going much faster than jogging speed but the passenger was lucky not to lose his leg as the motorbike skidded along the gravel with his left leg underneath the body of the bike. An accident is waiting around every corner.
Tragically, news is breaking around town that one of Makeni’s many motorbike riders was murdered last night. The poor lad was told to drive to an address on the edge of town and once they were out of sight the passenger stabbed the ocado driver to death and stole his motorbike.
A huge procession of noisy, angry motorbike riders passes Bob, Alex and I as we walk to the education ministry on the edge of town. An estate car is in the middle of the bikes with the body of the murdered lad inside. The riders are making for the police headquarters where they are due to protest. I am not sure there is very much the police could do to stop this kind of incident happening again this very night. There are absolutely no street lights in this city and asking an ocado to drop you off in the middle of nowhere is not unusual. I understand their emotion though; I guess all of these guys now know they are a potential target.
Our meeting is with the ministry’s education expert, Mister Fuller, some of the CBF coordinators and representatives from eight of the city’s 53 schools. We plan to pilot Makeni’s first inter-primary school cup competition in decades. Outside the ministry it sounds like the protest over the murder has turned very heated; almost as if a mini-riot is kicking off.
Three hours later our meeting is concluded and the kids’ cup competition gets the green light for next Wednesday. This will be the first inter-primary competition since before the civil war. We have agreed a lot of the fine details such as a 500 leone entrance charge for the stadium (pitch hire is 50,000 leone); any player receiving a yellow card will face a 1000 leone fine; red cards will lead to a ban; player fraud (i.e. the use of over age players) will mean that team being thrown out of the competition; under 12 players will be weighed and are expected to weigh less than 35 kilos. This competition will allow non-CBF kids to get involved and will also be great publicity for the good work of the Craig Bellamy Foundation league in Makeni.
It is a full-on day with a brief trip to Makeni immigration to extend my one-month visa by another month going smoothly. Next it is my meeting with Harriet from CBF HQ who has driven up from Freetown. Once per month Harriet makes the trip here to pay the stipends to the coordinators, coaches and referees. It is also an opportunity to meet all of the Makeni staff and to discuss ways in which the running of the league might be improved. This is a vital meeting for me because it enables me to give Harriet loads of feedback from my time here and my recommendations for how the Makeni league could be run better. Working day in, day out, with the likes of Alex, Esther, Moses and Bob does enable me to get a very good sense of what is and isn’t working in Makeni.
The meeting goes well and after helping Harriette count out the bundles of notes for each of the staff she presents a couple of rewards to the community project of the month; the coordinator of the month; assistant coach of the month. The kids who participated in that excellent non-violence project before the schools cup final that I mentioned a couple of weeks back receive a brand new football kit for their team, kindly donated by a club in the UK.
The atmosphere in town is tense. The locals are more argumentative with each other than they usually are and some motorbike riders are noticeably driving much faster and more aggressively. Clearly, a lot of lads are feeling upset and threatened by last night’s murder.