Going to the mattresses
After an early morning dip in the pool—incredibly, our very first!—followed by breakfast, we met up with Ibrahim around 9.30am. We headed to MercyHome and picked up Pastor Obi, and then went straight out again to the local clinic to inquire about vaccinations for the children. Their vaccination histories are sketchy in some cases, so we decided it was best to bring them (and later the staff) all up-to-date with at least yellow fever and hepatitis vaccinations. The yellow fever vaccination is, incidentally, mandatory for admission into Sierra Leone, and Valerie and I had gone through the whole gamut beforehand (also including hepatitis, measles, mumps and rabies).
Our busy morning continued with a trip back to the mattress factory to pay and also organise delivery. After that, we drove to the market to buy (and haggle for) towels and pillow cases. Then we headed back to MercyHome to finally spend some time with the kids. The mattresses were delivered that same afternoon and it was a total surprise for the children. They arrived strapped to the roof of a 4×4 and the kids couldn’t wait to unload them and put them straight on their bunkbeds. Pastor Obi tried to bring some order to the distribution process, but it was pretty futile! The kids were quick to swap out their old mattresses; because the bed frames are metal, it’s important to have mattresses that are dense enough but not too firm, and these fit the bill perfectly. I’ve never seen children so excited about new mattresses!
Once things had calmed down again, Valerie distributed some hand-made photo frames and letters that had been kindly sent by a group of ladies in France who call themselves “LES SERIAL SCRAPEUSES”. The kids were able to insert photos of themselves that we had distributed earlier. After extensive research and some painstaking work going through old digital photos, Valerie had been able to put together pictures of the children from when they were younger, photos which most of the kids had never even seen before.
The day finished with a group discussion about possible relocation to the other compound, but no conclusion was reached, so then Valerie and I headed back to Tokeh.
Tacugama: in awe of the chimps
We spent the entire next morning with the kids, and while I “interviewed” each of them for their website profiles, Valerie spent some time going through their case histories. We had to wait for Aminata, Saffiatu (Kanga) and Fatmata to return from school, because we had scheduled an excursion with the A-grade students that afternoon. Our top students were Momoh, Nancy, Kanga and Haja, and we had agreed on a trip out to Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, located on the outskirts of Freetown, in the Western Area Peninsula National Park. The sanctuary cares for about 100 chimpanzees on site and has grown into a diverse conservation organisation. It is well worth a visit, and on a guided tour you can follow each stage of the chimpanzees’ rehabilitation, from admission and quarantine through to preparation for release back into the wild.
Afterwards we had lunch and then went shopping at a supermarket in Freetown, something of a novelty for the kids and, of course, they had to have their photo taken in one of the aisles! Then it was back to MercyHome, and there was still time to chill with the kids for another couple of hours. I had brought a tube of Dunlop tennis balls with me, so we played catch for a while, until it was too dark to see. It was a nice way to end the day.
Shopping spree in Freetown
Today was Saturday, and we had planned another day out with our own sponsored kids: I sponsor Mohamed, while Valerie sponsors N’Mah. Our first stop in Freetown was to one of the outdoor markets, where we purchased some original African-made items so that we could try and sell them on the flea market back home in Austria. Our shopping advisors Mohamed and N’Mah helped us buy shawls, bags and jewellery, and later from the indoor market we bought a couple of fans and a basket, as well as some sandals for a couple of the MercyHome girls. Valerie also bought a nice African skirt, and despite the enthusiastic sales techniques of some of the market ladies, I refrained from buying an African shirt for myself!
On the way to lunch we stopped at a street vendor to buy some DVDs for the kids (at this point, though, they still had no TV!). Driver Ibrahim tookus through one of the Freetown slums to show us the reality of day-to-day life in Freetown, and it was truly disheartening. We followed lunch with a drive around the famous cotton tree; the symbol of Freetown sits on a roundabout and its size has to be seen to be believed. By this time, though, the heavens had opened, so we drove by the seaweed-strewn Lumley Beach and stopped off quickly at Family Kingdom, but the rain was so heavy we decided to head home, picking up a few coconuts from a street vendor on the way back.
I had also started to feel ill during the car ride, so was happy to make it back to the hotel! By this point I was wondering what the Freetown equivalent of Delhi Belly might be… In any case, we needed some rest and a good night’s sleep before the following day’s events: the official inauguration of MercyHome Freetown.
Part 5, coming soon…