I know a guy

Aware that our trip was nearing its end, there were still a few things to check off our detailed to-do list. With the rainy season just beginning to gain traction, the kids would soon be spending much of their time indoors, so we had planned to buy them a television so they could watch DVDs during the dark, wet evenings to come.

Valerie and I arrived at MercyHome mid-morning and we decided that Ishiatu (“The Boss”) should accompany us on our TV shopping trip as the voice of the kids. We piled into the car and set off to buy a “Belgian” TV. The term “Belgian” is used to describe second-hand goods, for reasons still unknown!

First, though, we had to change some dollars into local currency, Leones, and that proved an adventure in itself. All the literature and online resources tell you to avoid street money changers, so we went to one of the reputable banks. We were let in by a security guard, and ushered towards one of the cashiers. She told us she could not change dollars, but she “knew a guy”… The cashier then gave us directions to a grocery shop up the road, where we found said guy lurking in the back. I was dubious, but Pastor Obi seemed unfazed!

Our driver Ibrahim also had an uncle who changed cash, and he gave him a call to check the going rate, so that we would not get ripped off. The grocery store guy offered us a poor rate, so we left. Pastor Obi then remembered that he also “knew a guy”, so we headed off again. It actually turned out to be a woman at the cafe where we had watched the England vs. Croatia match a few days before. Again, we were ushered into the back, and she offered us a slightly better rate. After some negotiating, we changed our dollars into a huge stack of Leones—because of the denominations even the smallest amount leaves you holding a brick of notes and looking like you’ve just robbed a bank—and set off for the TV store.

Radio shack

The TV shop was nothing more than an open-fronted shack by the side of the road. There were several, quite dusty, televisions on display, and one was switched on for demonstration purposes and the volume cranked right up. Inside were a couple of guys, doing their best to look technical by playing around with cables. Pastor Obi explained what we wanted, and the “manager” sat us down in front of the demonstration model. We watched, and twiddled our thumbs for a while. We then asked to try out the DVD player to assess the picture and sound quality, and after some connecting and disconnecting of cables, it emerged that there was an issue, and the DVD would only play in black and white. With only one remote control for all the TVs in the shop, various people, including Ibrahim and Pastor Obi, began to play around with the settings, passing the remote back and forth. This took some time, and eventually we all agreed that the TV would still only play in black and white.

We asked to see another model, so the two shop guys proceeded to disconnect the working TV and hook up another one. The ceremony with the cables began again. This took some time. The second TV appeared to work fine with the DVD player, but the shop guys were keen to make sure that normal television broadcasts could be received. After some playing around with the settings, it emerged that the tuner was not working.

We hooked up a third television, and the “assistant manager” began to tune it in, channel by channel. This took some time. Eventually he announced that he had tuned it to his satisfaction, and jubilantly turned the screen towards us, exiting the settings as he did so. However, he forgot to save the channels, which meant he would have to start all over again…

It should be pointed out that I was still feeling quite rough with an upset stomach, and after three hours in the heaand humidity, I had lost all patience and the will to live. The “manager” said he would have an “engineer” come by to re-tune the televisions, and we could come back that afternoon. One of the televisions seemed okay, and on the assurance that the TV would be working, we agreed on a price and to return later. Next door to the shack was another electronics vendor, and there we negotiated a price for a circuit breaker before heading back to MercyHome.

Should we stay or should we go?

I was more than relieved to be back at MercyHome after our TV shopping marathon. There was just time to grab a banana before sitting down with Pastor Obi to go through some more serious points about the day-to-day running of MercyHome. We had a very constructive meeting, covering everything from management of the home to schooling and the kids’ timetables.

After the meeting we headed out to the market to finish off our shopping. There were still a few things to buy for the home, like buckets, towels and a couple of charcoal-heated irons, and we also picked up a few colourful kola nuts. The Temne, one of the two largest ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, have had some influence on the English language; “cola”, as in Coca-Cola®, the drink that originally contained extracts of the kola nut, is said to be derived from the Temne word “aŋ-kola”, meaning kola nut. Oh yes, and we also managed to return and pick up the television set.

Back at MercyHome we gathered the kids together, as there was still one more important point to discuss. Earlier in our trip, we had visited another compound and the question remained, did the kids want to stay where they were, or move to the other compound? The issue was, if they stayed, it made transport to school difficult. But if they relocated, everyone would have to move to a new school, which was, however, within walking distance. Eventually, the kids agreed that every move to a new home, or a new school, was disheartening, and after several moves already, they wanted some continuity. The concensus was to stay put.

We ended the evening by inaugurating the new television. Ibrahim first made us watch a brutal documentary about Sierra Leone called “West Side Boys”, about a group of British soldiers held hostage by rebels. We decided to lighten the mood by watching “Sister Act”, which all the kids absolutely loved.

We returned home late, but happy. It had been a long day, and tomorrow would also be our last.

Part 8, coming soon…