Ever since the girls and I moved in to this house in Makeni we have shared the compound with a group of young Sierra Leonean builders. The lads are friendly (although their vocodered mobile telephone downloaded songs at 3am in the morning do raise the occasional tut) - always saying Good Morning and Good Evening and using a tiny space outside our veranda to say their prayers at various times of the day. And over the weeks we have watched as they have rapidly built walls and balustrades around the neighbouring house. Enjoying my marmite & laughing cow and the cool morning breeze I nearly drop my baguette on the ground: the wall they have been building and painting these past weeks is now a pile of rubble in the yard. One of the builders drove into it with their van when he came home during the night. Someone is for the high jump today.
I mentioned the lads praying. It is refreshing to see Muslims and Christians living happily side by side here in Makeni. The further upcountry you travel, the greater the influence of Islam tends to be with Guinea beyond these borders and Mali still further north. Overall, Sierra Leone is around 60% Muslim and 30% Christian, although traditional beliefs seem to intermingle with both religions. So, in other words, a Sierra Leonean Christian and a Sierra Leonean Muslim might both typically believe in bush witchcraft and the omnipresent influence of the devil on day to day life. Both religions are happy to inter-marry and it is not unusual for a Muslim to convert to Christianity and a Christian to Islam. The Christians seem to fall in to two groups: one being traditional Methodists and the second the American-style Praise-be-to-Jesus evangelist types, who like Sunday service to drag on for four or five hours. Aside from the beautiful central mosque in the afternoon, you can barely hear the call to prayer at all; especially not first thing in the morning, before sunrise. And aside from some smartly dressed older gentlemen and some uniformed school girls, who simply cover their hair, you cannot readily identify the Muslim members of the community from their dress.
I have been sweating now for the best part of five weeks. I mean you never ever really stop sweating in Sierra Leone unless you are fortunate enough to have air con in your life. I sweat most of the night in bed; perspiration starts to trickle down my forehead when I eat my breakfast at 7; if I gulp down a packet water during the day, more often than not the water comes straight out of my pores; and after eating my evening meal my clothes are almost instantly drenched. The dry season here runs from November to May; the wet season from June to October. Sierra Leone gets an incredible 5000mm of rain per year, with some mountainous areas being dumped with up to 7000mm. When you consider it has only rained for five minutes during these past 33 days I have been here you can appreciate just how wet the wet season is. If you check the annual precipitation figures for Freetown you will quickly appreciate that only a handful of cities in the entire world can compete with the Salone capital in terms of wetness. But, like I said, the dry season is anything but dry because all you ever do is sweat: Sierra Leone has a wet season and a sweat season, some people say.
Plans are firmly in place for Wednesday’s inter-school cup tournament and I am busily finishing off the last of my tasks before I leave. This is my final week working in Makeni and I must admit I feel sad about leaving behind so many down-to-earth, charming Africans. There is no bullshit with these people.
Our house cook, Famarta, is promising to cook me a different African dish for each of my remaining evenings in Makeni: Crain Crain, cassava, potato leaves and foo foo are some of the delights that will be on offer. She is an excellent chef and I will certainly miss her tasty evening meals and straight no-nonsense chat. I think she likes me because I never ever leave any of my dinner and I always tell her how damn tasty it all is. It is always a good idea to stay on good terms with the person who cooks your meals.