Sunday, February 17, 2013 (Day 39)
I am scrambling up Wusum Hill on all fours. It's not a pretty sight. I had no idea the climb would be this difficult. Wusum Hill looms above Makeni like a miniature Ayers Rock. There is something remarkably ancient about this large hill that completely dominates the terrain. Half way up and I tell Alasand I don't fancy going any further. I suffer from vertigo and the gradient of this climb is frightening the hell out of me. The hill is covered in the burnt carcasses of some plant which Alasand says is used in soups. Once the season is over the locals burn all of the plants so that they grow again the following year. We are using these charred remains as footholds. My record altitude was nearly 5500 metres in Tajikistan and here I am giving up the ghost at 400 metres above sea level in Sierra Leone.
Alasand and I stop and admire the view of Makeni below. I can make out the dusty street leading to our house, the elegant nearby mosque, the green patch of astro-turf that is Wusum Field, and at least half a dozen of the local primary schools I have become accustomed to. The smoke from cooking fires and rubbish pyres sits just above the city. Makeni, it has been a pleasure knowing you.
I ask Alasand what his future plans are. He tells me he wants to finish his studies and then concentrate on IT. "Will you leave Makeni?"
"Only if God wants it," he says, pointing to heaven with one finger. "If God wants I will leave Makeni and maybe even move to Freetown. Maybe one day I may even get the chance to visit one of my good friends like you in England."
Later in the day I get to do a lot of the things I had planned to get done yesterday like meet the local CBF coordintors and some of the refs and chat to a few of the girls who will play in the girls' league, which will begin in March. I catch up with the coach and the girls from Rising Queens FC just ahead of one of their training sessions. The girls will compete against Malimba Queens, Suba FC, Teko Soccer Queens, Nurse Queens, and Police Barracks, with three more teams possibly joining the competition.
"What do you find is the main difference between boys and girls football?" I ask Rising Queens coach, Mohammad C Kamara:
"Attendance for training is more problematic with the girls as their parents are not as supportive of their participation as they tend to be with the local boys in Makeni."
"I think the girls are particularly good defensively if you want to compare their style of play with that of the boys. Myself and the girls are sure of victory this season and winning the league."
Afterwards, I speak with Club captain, Isata M Tholley.
"What position do you play?"
"How long have you played football and why do you enjoy the game?"
"I have been playing since I was eight years old. I like playing; it is fun and a great opportunity to interact with others."
"Which team do you support? And what is your prognosis for this season?"
"Manchester United. I believe we are going to make it this season: both Rising Queens and Manchester United.
...I wake up in the middle of the night to hear dogs going mental near our house. Larium makes you paranoid so at 2am in the pitch dark it is easy for the mind to convince you that a bunch of psychos are about to try and break into the house. I don't know why but for the past couple of days I have felt convinced that the house is about to get done over.
I get up to make sure the girls have locked the front door and I cannot get back to sleep for two hours, lying awake with an awful fear.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a seven-week voluntary placement in January 2013.