Seeing is believing
21.04.2014 - 24.04.2014 35 °C
We are travelling back to Freetown after a visit out to the Orphfund children's village in tombo. Collins, the Sierra Leone manager picked up up from our guesthouse and we made our way through the crazy Freetown streets from west to east. Though it was a hot and slow trip across town we got to travel up Kissy rd, the street where Ismail grew up so I was able to see his childhood home in passing. The traffic made Melbourne peak hour look like a Sunday afternoon cruise as it combined with roadworks, street vendors, carts, three wheelers and broken down vehicles. Once we had passed the outskirts of Freetown we moved more swiftly, though at times I wish we did slow down as the scenery was superb! To our right rose lush green mountains behind open land or residential areas and out to our left stretched the water. I snapped away anyhow, hopefully we got a few good shots. Tombo wasn't far, only about an hour or so and we travelled through Waterloo which we were familiar with as we travelled that way going to York. As soon as we arrived in Tombo the driver turned up a dirt road and we travelled past a school, a large communal area, some houses and stalls and the Belamy Soccer Academy, a school and training facility started by Craig Bellamy, another inspirational venture out here. As always, the exquisite mountains towering in the back drop. It was beautiful, that earthy combination of lush greens and rich reds that I fell in love with when we first flew in. When the children's village came into view I teared up (because that's what I do pretty regularly now it would seem,) I recognised the buildings and shipping container from photos I had seen and even uploaded on the OrohFund website back home. The shipping container in particular made me emotional as I had been involved in collecting items from friends,family and even my students at Resurrection. To see it there made it all seem real, made it so worthwhile.
When our vehicle pulled up we were surrounded by the inquisitive and excited children. Joseph had been asleep but woke up and sat there bleary eyed looking at the smiling faces in front of him. Before long he cracked a grin and came out to show off and play! We were introduced to Osman, the house manager and we introduced ourselves to as many of the children as we could as they mobbed around us! They called out hello and welcome so gleefully which just filled my heart with much joy because really we are just blow ins, we may have done a bit to support OrphFund but it is a drop in the ocean in the scheme of things and matters little on a conscious level to the children. The children were so keen to ask us questions, particularly about Joseph and his background, name and where he comes from. Osman and Collins showed us around the village starting with the Girls dormitory which contained beds with mosquito nets and brightly coloured blankets that had been sent in the container, tables for the girls to play, study or snack, filing cabinets to store things and another small table area with a map of the world and some other resources. The next small building was the store house/volunteer quarters. It was made from packed mud and wire framing (which couldn't be seen) and was noticeably cool as we stepped inside. As there were no volunteers, donated goods were being kept and sorted there. Im not sure if they were the last items from the container of if they were new goods, I should have asked. When we get home we will be looking into shiping options to send stuff for family, OrphFund and Hope Academy, if anyone has contacts, please please pass them on! Next we went around the back of the buildings to see the great showers they had set up with bamboo walls for privacy, a timber platform to stand on and a bucket with shower nozzle attached. Back around the front we saw the boys dormitories next, almost identical to the girls and the central rotunda. I need to find out what they are called, because these covered circular meeting spots are a feature of every village, church and compound.
Collins and Osman then took us out to a cleared section at the very front of the property and showed us where they hope to build a school for the children. At the moment,children attend the village school in two shifts, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. The alternate time is spent in lessons at the children's village. The cost of sending them to the school is high though and takes away funds that could be used for the children's health care, food, clothing and general well being. This is why they want to build their own, a significant outlay of funds now for longer term gains. I said I will spread the word and se if we can boost funds to make this dream come true sooner. After our tour, we took some time to just hang out with the children, sing some songs, do the hokey pokey and wander all around! Joseph had an absolute ball hamming it up for them and they enjoyed picking him up, sharing their mangos and chasing him around! We took some great photos and the children took some too. We will definitely email them copies and also post prints, a letter and some gifts. What struck me the most was how happy and relaxed the children were. Given the variety of backgrounds they come from (OrphFund cares for the most vulnerable orphans in rural areas) it was obvious how much work the staff put in to create a safe space for them and foster a sense of belonging and community. A true inspiration. It is so rare to support a charity and have the chance to go see their work firsthand, I am honoured and humbled by this opportunity and my commitment to their work has been strengthened even more. For anyone who is looking to support an organisation, i cannot encouragebyou enough to consider OrphFund. They are a small organisation that do a huge amount of great work in Sierra Leine, Uganda, Kenya and Cambodia. Run by literally a handful of volunteers, they care fir more orohans in Sierra Leone than any other organsiation, now thats saying something! They rely on volunteers, keep their costs and overheads to a minimum and guarantee that 100% of funds raised go to the projects. Like them on Facebook, have a look at their website and if you can spare even a few dollars, send it their way www.orphfund.org.
I was incredibly sad when it was time to go. We had so little time to get to know the staff and children and while I desperately want to return to this country, it is such a long way and most certainly not cheap, who knows how long it will take us to make the journey once more. Having our time at the village cut short also hurt because it was a reminder of why our trip had been halved in the first place. Initially we had planned to spend some days at the different OrphFund projects but with only two and a bit weeks, most of it taken up with memorial commitments, it was just not possible. I don't want to go home at all. Going home means facing the reality of my father no longer being there, it means packing up his house and finding a way to move forward without him. It means leaving my new found family and friends and going home to so much unknown. I also don't want to go home as it feels like our holiday has only just started after the intensity of the last few weeks.
We returned from Kambia on Monday afternoon and the remainder of the day was a write off. We showered away the days of grime, rested our feet and indulged in some western food and air con. A visit to the delightful Aliea and Natu turned into a funny ordeal as Ismail got bitten by Jaguar the dog while trying to save him and Joseph got bitten on the face by his little friend Sheku. Im walking around cautiously in case I'm next on the bite hit list! Tuesday was a day of plans gone awry (I see a pattern there actually, plans are pointless in this place and time) but included some good coffee, lovely catch up time with Ismail's sister Asanatu and her son Nicolo. The weight lifted from my shoulders that night when we ventured up to Hill Station for a dinner party at Sophie's home. She was very close to Ismail growing up and kindly invited all the family and friends for a going away dinner before Cecilia, Iyesa and Ishy flew back to the states on Wednesday. We had such a fun night with food that melted in your mouth, vodka and champagne and unbeatable company. Sophie's home is beautiful, not too unlike the larger modern homes here, but she had a real flare for decorating and it is stylish and open yet warm and homely as well. As I sat back in the comfy Wicca chair with my triple shot vodka and cranberry juice (I didn't ask for it, perhaps the new lines on my face told the drinks boy i needed it!) I sighed and realised I felt lighter, I could finally relax. We had taken Joseph with us and he slept happily in Sophie's room while we ate, drank and mingled, such a huge luxury for us to be baby free under normal circumstances, exactly what we needed in these.
In our last few days were staying at Hotel Barmoi, owned by Dr Sheku, Natu's father and someone that Ismail grew up with like a brother. It is a little oasis in Aberdeen overlooking the water with a couple of swimming pools, 24 hour electricity and running water, comfortable beds, pillows without lumps, a restaurant and bar, wifi and courteous helpful staff that run around after Joseph for a few minutes while I drink my coffee. I had to laugh, when he went to bed one of the staff came up shaking her head about our little explorer that doesn't sit still! She said she has never seen a child quite like it and i have my work cut out for me! He has gained the nickname trouble maker everywhere we go, thankfully he is so charming and sweet too because they love him in spite of his mischievous ways! Between the stress of organising dads funeral and saying goodbye, rearranging our flights here, beginning the process of packing the house, keeping up with uni, travelling with a toddler, organising the memorial for Ismail's mother, saying goodbye once more, rearranging our flights home after the airline changed their schedule days before departure and the more general hiccups of travel in africa, I'm ready to come up for air and see some light. "It's always darkest before the dawn" and it has indeed been dark with flashes of light by way of love, laughter and joy. I hope dawn has broken because my faith has been tested to limits I never thought I had. We are stronger than we know and after everything, I still have the audacity to believe, in myself, in my partner, in my family, in possibilities for peace and justice and in the chaotic yet beautiful world around me.