This morning we were accompanied by our two friends the preying mantises (or whatever the plural is of a mantis!) Each day they appear – the largest, a green one, sits on the outside of the hall window all day, whilst the smaller brown one occasionally finds his way inside. Yesterday breakfast he decided to fly up onto Ron’s shoulder and survey our breakfast from his vantage point! Today he sat on the middle of the floor where he has remained all day. Ron is an American, part of the group who runs the Hope Centre, here on one of his many visits to Salone. It is fascinating to talk to him as a frequent inhabitant of the country, who shares a similar background to our own. It also helps the traditional conversations that we Englishmen require about the weather – here it is either hot and humid or not quite so hot and very wet. They complain of it being cold at times, but I am not really all that sure we would share that outlook.
We started with an unpreviously scheduled visit to Rokel – I say unpreviously meaning to say it was not on our itinerary. Unfortunately they had been told that we were visiting last Monday and were confused as to why we had not turned up! Apologies made we enjoyed our stay with them. Jacob Dove is the minister there who you may recall lost his wife and unborn child in childbirth last year and so it has been good to meet with him and find out how he is doing. It was also good to meet an old friend from previous visits, the lovely retired Rev. John W. Thomas who was the Assistant General Superintendent in the days of Julius Davies being General Superintendent. We spent sometime talking about the power in their area. It transpires that there is electricity in the area, and they are hoping that we might put a meter in the Manse and pay for its connection. It is encouraging to see some of these signs of improvement in the countries infrastructure, although they are but small steps.
From there we headed over to the school/church at Grafton. Grafton is the home of a large refugee camp from the time of the troubles. When I first visited there were many makeshift shelters thrown togther to home those who had fled the rebels up country, heading out to the slightly more safe city. Now there is peace, they do not want to return to the country, even in their camp they have access to many of the perks of the nearby Freetown rather than the more ‘primative’ life of the bush. The shacks are now gradually being replaced by more permanent buildings. This influx of people during the troubles has had a dramatic effect on the peninsula. The population of Freetown exploded and has not really gone down since with ever increasing strain on the already creaking infrastructure. Outside the city in places like Grafton, there is a scrabble for land with many challenges to previously accepted boundaries. I noticed today during the drive over the mountains both the increase in new builds and the swathes of deforestation for building and agriculture. I worry about the effects of that upon local wildlife, in a small way global warming and also the destabilation of the hillside combined with the fierce rains of the rainy season. This is the first time I have seen the school building here that the Friends of Sierra Leone I believe put up, and it was good to see the efforts of local teachers in running it, especially the nursury teacher who with others is voluntary, not paid for her work, but does it because she can see its importance. The church, headed up by Lovetta M’Bayo, also seems to be doing well.
On the crest of the mountain road, Mongegba is always a place I look forward to visiting. The back drop of the misty mountain peaks is breathtaking, a taste of heaven. Sadly the life of the people who live here does not match this, it is a life of poverty. I remember last year Amadu, the lay pastor here, pleading for help in supporting the local children to get to school. This was repeated again today with the request that we help the youth get to university. Their parents earn what little they can through wood cutting, charcoal burning and stone breaking. I was disappointed not to meet Saffa Lansana, their minister, as he was at hospital today. Since a serious accident to his head he has, it seems, developed epilepsy, and had gone to receive advice on treatment. I feel for him as this will no doubt be expensive and come with prejudices and ignorance regarding its cause. After meeting in the church, we were taken out to be shown the playground which had piles of soil all over. It transpires that the SLRA (Sierra Leone Road Association) had assumed it ws their land and had been about to mine it or something similar. Fortunately Rev. Amadu Sesay who lives nearby was able to produce the paperwork that was required to prevent this.
After finishing here we continued driving into the mountains, aiming for the Chimpanze Sanctuary. The drive was probably the most extreme I have ever been on! I wonder how long it will take for the whiplash to subside. Unfortunately we arrived too late for the morning guided tour or too early for the afternoon. We were admitted into the gift store but no further. The chimps it seems are extremely vicious if you are not with their handlers – a visitor was killed by them once. Perhaps it is not such a bad thing that we didn’t get in! They are also extremely clever. Apparantly they worked out how the locks worked and managed to block the latch so that it didn’t lock when a keeper shut the gate enabling them to simply push it open and escape en masse. Many were eventually recaptured, mostly lured in by food, but not all. The oldest chimp is still out there somewhere – occasionally its handler is able to converse with it with chimp calls, but it has never been seen by them. Our car made it back down the mountain roads, and limped us back home. I fear for its health now! I hope that an injection of oil which had clearly run out will do the trick…