Cold and not just the weather, but it is nice to be anonymous for a while. Not sure what all the fuss is about London or big, developed cities for that matter. It seems my heart and future lie in Sierra Leone for now. Safe and satisfied with that knowledge I plan on enjoying every second, every comfort and every reunion Europe, the U.S. and Caribbean have to offer. It started with a nice dinner and hot bath in London, followed by Easter Monday in Munich with friends.
Leaving the tribe, the beach and the barefoot lifestyle was hard, so hard in fact it took me three attempts to finally do it. The adjustment is not easy, not waking up to the beautiful, smiling faces of my Salone family, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the feel of hot sand under my feet..... but the sweet memories already make me one of those daydreamers you see on the planes and trains with a grin from ear to ear.
Times at tribe were not always carefree and easy, it's like a big family all living together, you have to take the good with the bad. With a team of 23 there were often disputes to be resolved, and resolved the Salone way, with a lot of talking and a similar amount of palava. The traditional way to handle theft is an interesting one, involving a sorcerer, a bible, a key and an audience. Sickness is another difficult one to witness, particularly when there is little you can do to help or change the situation. Pretty much anytime someone was diagnosed in the community it was either Malaria or Typhoid or a combination of the two. I am quite suspicious that they were the only two tests the doctors knew how to administer.
On the lighter and brighter side some of the highlights included seeing and helping create understanding and lasting change in the team with regards to improved work ethic, customer service, team management and job ownership. The building team now create budgets in excel and our kitchen manager has picked up some skills to deal with issues diplomatically. It takes time for change and having the opportunity to spend 6 months with the team has been such an amazing experience. I am extremely grateful to Ben and Filippo for creating this project with just the right amount of direction and freedom - an awesome vision and wonderful experience for all. From visitors, to volunteers, to the team and local community, well, probably everyone except the sand miners. I am pretty sure they were planning a party to celebrate my departure.
Most certainly the biggest challenge and the biggest highlight was this 'san san business' that I got involved in. Before I arrived to Salone Filippo had prepped me that some trucks had been taking sand from the beach next door and that tribe had recently increased the monthly goodwill payment to the community to protect the beach. It was on my list of things to look into once I landed, little did we know how out of control it would become. In October there were 3 or 4 trucks a day and the headman and elders assured me that before the elections in November this would stop. By the time November came there were more like 50 trucks a day and it was becoming clear that the headman and youths involved had no intention of giving up their lucrative mining business. At this point, with the help of WHH (Welt Hunger Hilfe), we escalated matters to the District Council who swore support and action. Little happened other than letter writing, lengthy meetings and a lot of talk. So now it's December and the amount of trucks coming have at least doubled and they are now coming 24/7. Scores of young men have moved to John Obey from all over the country in search of easy money and a shanty town has formed on the beach with a plentiful supply of alcohol and Jamba....
By January we are still chasing our tails with empty promises of action and now an empty lagoon as well. The beach looks nothing like it did a few months ago and angry neighbouring communities have made it clear that they are also seeing huge changes to their own beaches as well. By February we have jumped a level to Ministerial involvement. The Minister for lands is first, he should have direct interest in the fact that Sierra Leone is loosing meters of coast line each year. The threat to the environment, to tourism, and to the future potential of the John Obey community is at a tipping point. All interactions are now happening with the section chief, a level up from the head man and he understands that tribewanted is now fearing for the future of the project. He takes us to parliament to meet the Member representing our constituency. He is an ambitious, straight talking man, who immediately sees the threat to his territory and 2 days later he is at the beach, assessing the situation with his own eyes and calling stakeholder meetings. At this point I am withered from being fobbed off by authorities and seeing nothing but an increase in the destruction every day. Anyway, quite skeptical and losing hope we had yet another meeting........but this time something was different and I started to get really excited. This guy was taking no prisoners, he gently and methodologically guided the stakeholders who talked themselves into corners and tripped over their own lies while he took notes. He meant business and 20 phonecalls, 2 weeks and 2 meetings later and we have a temporary ban on sand mining, there have been a plethora of arrests and all the while a new, sustainable strategy is being defined to balance the need for sand for construction with the environmental, touristic and investment priorities of the country.
A happy end, hope is back and only a healthy amount of skepticism remains.... a nice way to end another amazing adventure in Sweet Salone! Looking forward to many more....