Boy with toy lorry - Sokurella (Bintimani)
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Kuranko girl spinning cotton thread - village of Sokurella (notice young boy with his machete nearby)
From carrying water, to cutting and toting wood for the kitchen fire, to helping on the farm, to cleaning the yard (sweeping with a small hand held broom), to "brushing," to cleaning the clothes, to helping Mom with the "other" children, the children in upcountry Sierra Leone worked hard, perhaps more so the girls then the boys. At an early age the girl's were Momma's helpers, often carrying a junior member of the family around and about while Mom was preparing meals, or selling at the market, or doing any of the number of daily chores that were a part of the day. Obtaining water for the house was always a big item. Off the kids would go with several gallon metal buckets - in the case of our neighborhood - to the nearby water tap - where the buckets would be filled, then balanced on their heads as they carefully walked back home. Our neighborhood tap water came from an open reservoir in the Kambuii Hills just to our north. This water was from high up in those hills and supplied relatively clean but untreated water to us all. In the dry season it might get interesting both in color and in what might some through the pipes to the tap, I remember once a very large worm came out as we collected water for drinking. Susan and I were the only ones who boiled the water (we then filtered it before putting it in storage in our kerosene fridge). The difference in organisms from what we were used to, and the occasional parasite or bacteria that one could pick up from drinking unboiled water made us hesitant to gamble on drinking water straight from the tap.
Getting water might be a 3 or 4 time per day job for the kids. As young as 5 or 6, the loads of water could be as much as 15 lbs - a heavy load for a 5 year old who had to carry the water for a long distance. Getting the wood for the kitchen fire was another expected duty. Many times boys would go off with their mother or father, machete balanced on their head, as they went off into the bush to find wood. After several hours - back they would come, Dad or Mom carrying a huge bound load of sticks again well-balanced on their head, while behind the parents with a smaller load similarly balances, their helper - perhaps age 6 or more - would be similarly carrying a heavy load of sticks. It was from an early age that children learned to use a machete, to cut wood, and to see to it that the household was supplied with the things that kept people going and happy. That is not to say that there wasn't down time for kids, when they could play. Life was paced slowly, and although much was expected of children, they did have time to play, and occasionally get into trouble. I remember one group of rascal boys who played havoc on the women of the school market one day. It seems that the boys came across a column of soldier ants on the road to where the market was set. As I watched from a distance I noticed the boys dispersing the column of ants by throwing pebbles at the column, this resulting in the previously easily seen column being dispersed and camouflaged by their blending in with the gravel road. Then the boys hid nearby while the market women, with produce well-balanced on their heads, approached from down the hill. The unsuspecting women walked into the boys trap. As they came upon the dispersed and camouflaged ants these ants climbed up their legs and starting biting - all the women were attacked - and that day the market was disrupted. The boys ran off laughing at their joke - only later to get their punishment when they returned home. The poor women were bitten, had to either drop (in some cases) their produce, or at least had to place their produce down carefully as they jump about with the burning sting of the bites as the ants crawled up under their skirts. Boys will be boys - anywhere. Some kids made due with what was available or what they could make. Football (soccer) the sports passion of the country was played barefoot by the littlest of boys. Often the inside of a fruit was used for a ball, or a small rubber ball was used the size of a tennis ball. There was little chance to play with a full-sized football until secondary school and then only if you played for the school team or a club team. Footballs were just too expensive. And I marveled at how little kids could play so well with these little balls - dribbling them with skill that was truly amazing. The absence of football cleats was due also to the fact that shoes were too expensive, and hard to come by anyway. But also - since few kids had sports shoes of any type (they might have their school shoes or sandals, or flip flops). The kids played barefoot - and when at a level when they were provided with cleats - they often found them hard to use at first. They could kick that football better barefoot many thought. From time to time I came across an inventive kid who had made his own toy such as an intricate wooden truck. Other times I might come across a boy with a stick and the metal inside of a bicyclye wheel. With the stick he would run the wheel along as he ran perhaps going to another side of town, or just to visit somewhere else. One thing was clear - kids made due with what little they had. Their was little to distract kids then - and kids seemed to be able to get by. The expectations were great - much was expected of them in the family.