Mike in Sierra Leone

Last Monday, we finally emerged from the SLRTA (Sierra Leone Road Transport Authority) with a driving license for Craig Gaffney, our Extra Mile volunteer. Apparently our three days of waiting (from Friday though Monday) was some kind of Sierra Leone record!!…………’Mike, de peepl de wait maybe over 90 days’……… and so instead of complaining, we should have been rejoicing and giving an appreciative little tip. Sadly we left no small gratuity, but I’m sure the SLRTA will forgive us had they known that during our first two hour drive to the transport authority on Friday, we drove into a sizable, two metre deep man-hole and ripped the front, nearside, costing us a ‘haggled’ Le 310.000 replacement. ‘De hole ‘catch’ bocu, bocu drivers each week’, said a smiling and very successful workshop owner, selling second-hand tyres, jacks, wheel pullers (spanners) etc. On Friday I was caught phoning by a ‘sharp-eyed’ police officer, who jumped into the back of the jeep to ‘discuss’ the reduced fine of Le 25.000, whilst later, the very same officer kindly unlocked the jeep’s clamped front wheel (Le 200.000 fine), for so-called illegal parking. Not the most enjoyable weekend.

Last week we finally got water to the building site, a series of ten rolls of plastic piping running for over a mile from the main connection tap. It took a whole day to lay the pipe, luckily, mostly along the floor of a concrete drain, although we had to dig several deep trenches to connect the last few hundred metres to the site. Returning the following day to check several leaks, we discovered a small knot of tiny pikkin (children), taking it in turn to fill their assorted ‘rubbers’ (buckets to bottles), from the pipe, having unscrewed our connection. A few ‘sharp’ words and a professional plumber’s joint, restored our supply, and so far we’ve had no further difficulties.

The construction of the school is well under way (see photos), although, sadly, in recent months all our building costs have risen incredibly, so progress is slow at best as we search for savings. I discovered our builder, last week, bless him, putting large granite boulders into the concrete foundations to try to make the concrete go further, and re- re – using the concrete shuttering timbers as many times as he can, and more, so I think he’s on our side at least as we build as cheaply and safely as we possibly can. 

Due to the increasing costs, we’ve had to build and will then use the library as our volunteer and staff accommodation, incorporating a kitchen, toilets and showers, with the internal separating walls eventually serving as supports for the book shelves when we are able to convert back to a library, at a later time. This temporary use of the library of course means that we will have somewhere to live once we leave our present accommodation at the end of this month. It looks increasingly likely that we might just manage, maybe one and a half classrooms, plus the accommodation with the present funds we have. This may give us an outside chance to be able to start our first intake of pupils by September 2014, although January 2015 maybe more realistic. So its back to the fund-raising trail once more, with local events and plenty of car-boot sales throughout the early summer.

Our volunteer Craig and Ismael (staff) left before dawn this morning for the Outamba-Kilimi National Park, way up in the far north of Sierra Leone, close to the Guinea border. Now, with his ‘new’ Sierra Leone driving licence, Craig is able to take the jeep on the 500 mile, round trip to see some of the most outstanding scenery in the country. The river ferry crossing, just north of Kamakwie, is itself quite a challenge with just enough room for one vehicle, and a couple of passengers, all having to take a hand to make the crossing. The park boasts a wide variety of chimpanzee, monkeys, pygmy hippos, leopard, western elephant and the most amazing birdlife, as well as some of the most sensational sun-rises over the Little Scarcies river network. We expect them home by Monday afternoon with several more gigabytes of Sierra Leone from their venture.

            Mike Fielding (08.03.14)