A fishy start
We made a relaxed start to the day, but little did we know what today had in store for us. Ibrahim picked us up from “The Place” just before 10am and we asked him to stop off in the fishing village of Tombo on the way to MercyHome. It had captured our imagination on our last visit in December, but we’d had no time to explore.
To describe Tombo as lively does not do it justice. It is throbbing, pulsating, thumping, ringing with the sounds of traders, motorcycles, mothers, babies, teenagers and fishermen. We turned off the main road and pulled into the village in our 4×4 and Ibrahim found a guy to watch the vehicle—it’s quite usual to grab someone off the street and slip them a few Leones to keep an eye on the car—and we set off through the main “street” towards the boats.
Despite it being the rainy season, the heat on this day was extreme, and together with the humidity and the sheer volume of the noise, it was quite overwhelming at first. Ibrahim guided us through to where the boats were; the beach was thronged with fishermen, and fishing boats and water taxis bobbed on the water. Very little of the sand was visible, because the beach itself was littered with plastic and trash. Ibrahim told us they cleared it regularly, but it was a daily problem. Sierra Leone is sadly still way, way behind in terms of recycling and trash collection, but at some of the other more paradisal beaches like Bureh Beach, more care is taken. Tombo is not a tourist spot, and a world away from quaint English fishing villages like Whitby in Yorkshire!
A lady ripped open a huge sack of ice to reveal some rather large sea creatures, and we negotiated the price of a couple of fish to take back for the kids. Apparently, the staff later made a really tasty fish soup (but the fish heads would come back to haunt us later that day…).
A trip to SLAWS and an anxious Saffie
We returned to MercyHome to drop off the fish, and then made another quick visit to a compound that at this point was still under consideration for another possible relocation of the kids. Originally we had moved into the current home in something of a rush after the original UK-based charity closed down and left the children without anywhere to live. In the process of setting up MercyHome Freetown, we moved the kids out of their old home quickly, and during the search for a new property they had also liked another place which hadn’t been ready to move into yet. We took a look, but after a vote later in the trip, the kids all decided that they preferred to stay where they are now after all; which is good, because each move is disruptive and disheartening.
We returned again to MercyHome to pick up the dogs, Nero and Lucky, and also our dog whisperer Saffie, and “Big Chief”Augustine, so that we could head out to the Sierra Leone Animal Welfare Society in Freetown to have the dogs castrated. SLAWS is run by the renowned and respected Dr Jalloh, and we were reassured by his presence. During the journey, however, the two dogs had vomited all over poor Saffie and Augustine in the back of the car: it was the return of the fish heads, the dogs having eaten them during preparation of the fish soup! The operations went well, and Saffie was relieved that the dogs were absolutely fine afterwards. By the time the dogs were fit to travel again, it was already 5pm, so we were keen to head back before dark.
Bananas and bus crashes
We were only minutes away from MercyHome when we decided to buy some bananas from a local street vendor, so we made a quick detour and pulled up at the roadside. As we were paying for a bunch of bananas, we felt something hit our car from behind. A packed minibus then pulled up in front of us, its side door missing. Riding a minibus in Sierra Leone is not for the faint-hearted: passengers are always packed in like sardines and the roofs are always overloaded with everything from luggage to gasoline cans and chickens. It turned out that the “conductor” had opened the door too early and it had caught the side of our vehicle as it passed and had been ripped straight off its hinges.
Suddenly, we were the centre of attention, the driver of the minibus was crying, wailing and despairing (a ruse so we would let him go, because he had no driving licence) and our car was surrounded by people interested in the incident. Luckily a policeman was quick to turn up, and he hopped in and escorted us to the police station, just around the corner, where we filed a report. No harm was done on our side (only a broken tail light), fortunately the dogs were still too dopey to notice what had happened, and everybody in the vehicle was fine. The other driver, however, had to spend the night in a police cell.
England v. Croatia match puts Queen in intensive care
By the time we got back to MercyHome, our driver Ibrahim was anxious—but only because the World Cup game between England and Croatia had already kicked off! While Valerie remained at the home with the girls and young boys, I went back out again with Ibrahim, and we took Momoh and Augustine with us to a cafe to catch the remainder of the game. Most of the crowd was supporting England (luckily!), except for the guy sitting next to me, who—as it became clear that England was on the brink of being knocked out—was beginning to make plans for the Queen’s funeral. “The Queen of England is in intensive care,” he announced. “I’ve got my suit, I’ve got my shoes, I’ve got my tie, I’m ready for the burial in Canterbury!” Indeed, Croatia emerged victorious 2-1, so it was back to MercyHome for the last time that day. And what a day.