This morning afforded us the opportunity to have a lie in. We had scheduled to start the trip to Makeni after lunch. Beate, Iain, Corinna and myself gathered for breakfast in Fr Peter’s house where we have been staying in Freetown at 9.00am. Fr Peter has been unwell with Malaria but he seems to be on the mend now.
Breakfast here is a simple affair, fresh bread rolls with some butter and jam. After breakfast I went to pack up my stuff before listening to some music. It was great to have some time of feeling anchored by the familiarity of the music. Beate and myself then met for an hour to discuss plans for the first day of the Makeni workshop. It provided a bit of space for us to develop and tweak the plans that we had made in advance for the workshop. As we worked on this, Iain and Corinna worked to update the blogs that that they has been keeping about the trip.
Following our lunch of fish stew and rice, we set off on the trip to Makeni. The traffic in Freetown is notoriously bad. It took us 2 hours to make our way out of the city through the congested streets. Corinna and Iain were in the back of the 4 x 4 that we were travelling in. They have struck up a good friendship and the laughs that they were sharing kept the rest of us entertained. It was hot day for travelling. The windows were down but the warm air blowing in felt more like a hair dryer in your face. Whilst negotiating our way through the traffic we stopped by two women on the footpath; one in a wheel chair and one on crutches. They read the Caritas motif on the side of the 4 x 4 that we were travelling in and made a comment to Hannah through the open window. It transpires that one of the women had been assisted by Caritas when she went into labour during the civil war. Hannah enquired about how the child in question was doing. The women replied with. Proud amole that she was now in 3rd year of school.
The trip across to Makeni took a further 2 hours. It was interesting to see the countryside rolling out on either side of the road. A mixture of flat scrub-land, occasional wide rivers and palm trees. We stopped by the side of the road to buy some coconuts that were being sold by women sitting with their kids. She cut the tops off with her machete and we were able to drink the milk down. She then took the empty coconut shell and chopped it up so we could eat the flesh of the nut. She was pretty handy with that machete…
On reaching Makeni we made our way to the hotel that we are staying. The hotel is pretty plush by Leonean standards: air conditioning and wifi. Pious (the local organiser of the workshop in Makeni) joined us for a drink. It provided an opportunity to learn about events that occurred in this area during the civil war. This was the region were the notorious Westside Boys had operated during the war. They took a platoon of British soldiers hostage. The situation was brought to an end by the intervention of the SAS. The leader of the Westside Boys was taken to Freetown and was placed in custody. Ibrahm (our driver) also spoke about his experiences of being ambushed on the road to Makeni by rebels whilst driving for the Sierra Leonean army in 1999. The driver in the vehicle in front of him was killed. Ibrahm survived by leaving his vehicle and lying in the scrub for 7 hours. Sobering conversation indeed.
In the evening we visited a traditional healer. On the way to her home we drove past many children who pointed to our vehicle and shouted ‘Opotho, opotho’ which is Themne for ‘White person’. It would seem that pale faces aren’t such a common site in these parts. On meeting the healer we had an opportunity to ask her questions about her work. Her healing career started at the age of 7 years. She received no training as such. She uses a combination of herbs, leaves and readings from the Quran to heal people experiencing a diverse range of problems including epilepsy, psychosis, diabetes, impotency, menstrual problems, prolonged labour and HIV/AIDS. She determines on first meeting someone whether she can offer them treatment. She did not speak English fluently. Hannah translated the woman’s Themne answers to our questions. She said that treatments for particular conditions will come to her in dreams during her sleep. As the sun set outside the house in which we were sat, the women asked Iain if he was experiencing pain in his foot. She said that he had also sustained an injury on his right side – possibly playing football. Iain is not a great fan of plying football but he has an injured right hip sustained through rowing. Fortunately, the healer could not get a read on me at the current time! I asked if there were ever times that she offered treatments for particular conditions that proved to be unsuccessful. She claimed that this was never the case. Asking how her form of intervention fitted with more conventional medical treatments, she claimed that they were all striving for the same goal. We also asked about the possible causes of psychosis in her community. She suggested that this might be due to trauma, marajuana, trauma or spiritual possession. She would be most confident taking on cases caused by spiritual possession. The visit provided a interesting insight into how traditional healers operate in these communities.
The next workshop starts at 9.00am tomorrow.