We were attracting a lot of attention from the locals; Gray and I were the only white guys in the vicinity and even Kofi, a Ghanaian, was much more smartly dressed and had a different manner to the local Sierra Leoneans. Children would follow us around the village, or when we waved at them would smile sheepishly and raise a hand. A few, often egged on by their parents or grandparents would shout out “Foute foute foute” the term for foreigner or white man. I tried to talk back to them saying “Alan Alan Alan” in the hope they may say my name when I greeted them. One afternoon Kofi and I were talking about this and we realised this could backfire; the children could start going round and call all the foreigners “Alan Alan Alan”.
We were always greeted in a friendly way by the locals here; a simple hello or good morning, a wave and a smile. It was all so peaceful. I started to get familiar with some of the people – the neighbours opposite would always greet us in the morning and evening. It was an eclectic array of households down there. On the left there was the plot in which we had started our trainees working with the GPS, then a house which was under construction. Clearly there had been some foundation to this house before; on discussion with a few people it emerged that there was potentially some dark history. Sierra Leone was only ten years from a horrific civil war, and the northern regions had been where some of the worst atrocities had occurred. There were stories of whole families being wiped out, others where the young men had gone off to fight and never returned. The population was substantially reduced and old family houses had become abandoned. Now with the population rising new people were taking on the plots and building in established villages, as well as building new hamlets out in the dry scrubby forest around.
The third plot contained a substantial house which had a lot of activity; an extended family of 15-20 people seemed to live here. One of the men there was a carpenter. To the right of the plot, under an old spreading tree, he set up his workbench and spent long hours there chiselling, planing and sawing. Around him the fruits of his labour, shelving (we could have done with some of that in the guest house), doors and frames, as well as fresh wooden planks waiting to be turned into something.
I loved to sit out here on our veranda and work or read or just sit and observe village life. The more I saw, the more I realised there were patterns. The exodus of people in the morning heading down the roadway; heading out to their fields to check on their crops for any overnight damage from pests or disease, do their weeding, planting, pruning or even harvesting. The kids and young women heading off in the bush to return half an hour later with a headful of dead branches for cooking wood. A mother with a lethargic but purposeful gait taking a couple of the smaller kids down to the stream with a large bowl of washing on her head, and returning an hour or two later to lay out the washing on the big poles that all Sierra Leone villagers seemed to prefer over lines. Then there were the various vehicles. During the day they were more varied than the night-time mix of motorbikes and taxis. There were a couple of farmers who owned small tractors in the village and they were put to extensive use to ferry people around or drag equipment to the fields and produce back to the village. I say tractors; a couple of these were barely motors with a couple of wheels, a place to sit and a couple of chopper style handle bars to guide them over the terrain.