Text message (number unknown):
“Plz come my house. We have referee problem.”
It is 8am. Remind me never to get tipsy again in this climate. I felt the need to unwind last night after the tragic news about the murdered ocada rider and invested in a bottle of South African red. That went down an absolute treat and the next thing was I ventured out alone in the darkness and found a hut playing hip hop, reggae and calypso that sold cold bottles of stout and Star; I even remember dancing with a big bunch of kids in the street as I necked my Star.
Well, anyway, it is thirty silly degrees and I am absolutely dripping with sweat and my head is pounding. I also happen to be out of credit as I used all of it up last night when I was tipsy and thought it was a brilliant idea to send some friends in Europe drunken text messages from Sierra Leone. And so I cannot call the unknown caller and ask him why he is sending me text messages about referees first thing on a Saturday morning.
I hear Kate get up to make herself a tea and ask her if she will allow me to ring the mystery caller.
“Hi. It is Bob. The referees are on strike. We needed you to referee some matches.”
“Oh, God. I don’t feel too clever mate. What time is kick off?”
“After five minutes. Don’t worry, it is too late now. Alex and I are going to do it.”
I feel rather guilty that it is too late to help the lads out but I think I would be struggling in this heat with this hangover anyway. The referees’ strike also means that I won’t be observing them all later today as I was supposed to for CBF HQ to assess the quality of the individual referees. The referees’ strike, red wine, visit to the calypso bar and spending all my phone credit last night have combined to give me a day off.
23 languages are currently spoken by the 17 tribes in Sierra Leone; an impressive number. But, back in 1850, it is estimated that some 200 were spoken by the 60,000 freed slaves who made Freetown home. It is incredible to think of all those former slaves, from all over Africa, returning to their continent in the nineteenth century and making a new start: all those hopes and dreams.
I have spent much of my day off reading up about Sierra Leone’s history. Between 1668 and 1807, 50,000 slaves were shipped to the new world from these shores. As well as those who were sent to Europe and America others were sold to other tribes to be used in African witchcraft ceremonies. Freetown might have been established to show that the days of slavery were over but the practice of slavery was effectively only abolished in 1928, 150 years after the creation of Freetown. I still feel a great sense of shame as a white person about what was done to the Africans. I wonder if that is why a lot of us are here volunteering; trying to clean up some of the mess caused by the death of empire.
Sierra Leone became independent of Britain in 1961. But not before 17,000 Sierra Leonean soldiers fought for Britain in world war two. Today this country receives more UK aid per head than any other country in the world. And, God, how it needs that aid! After the 11-year-long civil war and decades of corruption Sierra Leone is now one of the poorest countries on earth.
The average GDP is $347. Many of my mates earn more than that in a day. Even when adjusted to the cost of living, Sierra Leone’s PPP is just $846. If I told you there isn’t a single traffic light in this country of six million; nor a single international ATM; and that one in five kids will never reach the age of five, you might start to build a clearer picture of the scale of work that needs to be done.
Perhaps there is something you can do to help. Maybe volunteering in Sierra Leone might help make a difference: it is a two-way relationship that brings its own personal rewards. And if volunteering isn’t for you then maybe you can help in some other way. Even visiting this country and spending some tourist dollars at the bars and restaurants by its astonishing beaches will help Sierra Leone to develop in the future.
For those of you who might be interested in volunteering in Sierra Leone, check out the collective’s website below. They have plenty of placements available with organisations that could use your help:
Want to volunteer with The Collective Sierra Leone? Find out how here.