Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thoughts about those years (1968-1970)

When I arrived in Sierra Leone I was 22 years and 2 months old. I was excited about the prospects of being in Sierra Leone, and of learning as much as I could about the country. I had done some reading about Sierra Leone before leaving the U.S. but this was limited and only partially helpful. My job was secondary school teacher and with my wife (who was also assigned to teach secondary school) I vividly remember when our assignment was announced and we headed off (from the end of our training at Njala University College (Agriculture) on an all-day lorry ride to Kenema. We arrived and found the then Eastern Province Peace Corps Director Jim Alrutz, who took us up to meet and check in at our new Kenema school. We were excited to be part of a new school just getting off the ground - we had about 35 students in our first form. The school in those days seemed well-equipped and in great condition - the Catholic Mission really kept the place looking pristine. And our quarters on the school compound were very livable and comfortable. We felt far away (from home) but the two months that we had already spent in-country helped to minimize this transition. Kenema seemed big, perhaps a bigger town that we had wanted to be stationed in, but we lived on its edge, and in a neighborhood that we called Dama Road - on the road headed to Dama Chiefdom, the next chiefdom to our south and about 10 or 12 miles. Our neighborhood was made of haphazardly arranged houses made mostly of either earth (mud) or of cement brick covered with a wall coating of cement. Many of the houses lined Dama Rd. or were irregularly spaced behind and down a gentle slope to the north of the road. The Kambuii Hills - about 2 miles to our north - dominating the northern sky. And to our west and north the town of Kenema could be seen from our house. It was from here - about one mile from our house that 5 times a day the call to prayer from the Kenema Mosque could be heard. And if you looked carefully you could see the smoke rising from Kenema kitchens. To get to Kenema was a pleasant walk from the plateau where we lived down to the flat that was Kenema, by a swamp filled with rice to our right and a pasture with Pa Maju's cows (he was the Fula section chief) to our left. Kenema was busy during the day with many of the Lebanese, Syrian, and Indian stores monopolizing the economy. The big Kenema market was beyond the post office and here we could get bags of rice, various vegetables for sauces, and variety of herbs, and at times beef. Many times we had beef delivered by Amadu Bah (Pa Maju's son) - they ran a beef business of sorts. Kenema had a thriving commerce in those days from the general stores where you could get fabric, shoes, and clothes - to the waundering Fula or Mandingo salesmen selling tye-died or wax prints. These could be made into shirts or dresses by very creative tailors. There were a few stores for "Europeans" that had imported food from Europe. Kenema had a few banks (Bank of Sierra Leone/Barclays), a movie theater that showed grade B Italian cowboy movies (such as Jango Strikes Back). About once a month we would walk the two miles or so to the movie theater to see these very limited movies.

No comments: