Category Archives: WRITING

A good walk spoiled

jhr

Freetown Golf Club (FTG). Saturday, May 18th, 2:03 p.m. – I was finishing some interviews for a feature article about Sierra Leone’s only golf club, when I saw something remarkable for a golf course; people running.

Caddies charge back against the men who invaded the golf course

Caddies charge back against the men who invaded the golf course

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You lucky dog

jhr

 

Paddy chews on a bone, as his friend Frisco looks on.

Paddy chews on a bone, as his friend Frisco looks on.

The goal of Journalists for Human Rights is to make everyone in the world fully aware of their rights. We do this through facilitating good human rights journalism, primarily in developing nations. It’s sometimes hard for visiting trainers like myself not to feel like we should be doing more than just this. When we leave, we leave so many problems behind.

However, this is the story of how one JHR Trainer helped a youngster called Paddy, and about how Paddy is defying the odds to prepare for a new life in a far away land. (Of course, it’s worth noting that Paddy does not have any human rights. Paddy is a dog. Some call him the luckiest dog in Sierra Leone.)

To read Paddy’s story, click here

Digging up the future

jhr

In Hollywood “romcom” movies, you’ll sometimes see the male lead whisk away his lady in a blindfold for a surprise holiday. When they arrive, he removes her blindfold and she gushes in delight. Maybe that was an episode of The Bachelor, but I think you know what I’m talking about.

Bureh Beach is about 90 minutes from Freetown

Bureh Beach is about 90 minutes from Freetown

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A deafening silence

jhr

Bonthe is like nowhere else I’ve ever been. It has no cars, no real roads, and just a few motorbikes. It is like stepping back in time. Crumbling colonial buildings line the town’s shore, looking across to the mainland. Behind them, are a mixture of mud houses, simple modern bungalows and metal shacks. For the most part, the only noise to break the silence is that of kids laughing, calls to prayer from the mosque and the ‘put-put’ of the odd boat weighed-down with goods like rice, cement and petrol. It could be 1913 or 2013.

Bonthe is home to around 10,000 people.

Bonthe is home to around 10,000 people.

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A closer look at Democracy

jhr

 

Keziah Gbondo, Arnold Elba and Mabel Kabba share a laugh on a conference call.

Keziah Gbondo, Arnold Elba and Mabel Kabba share a laugh on a conference call.

For much of the past month I have been working with journalists at The Society for Radio Democracy 98.1fm in Freetown. Most people here refer to the station as simply “98.1”, but its name is a nod to its origin. The station was set up 16 years ago, in the middle of the civil war. It first broadcast in secret, from a location near the airport. The aim was to promote democratic values and human rights. A mission that remains important today.

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In the field, literally

jhr

Just like in most countries, Easter is followed by a four-day week here in Sierra Leone. That normally equates to less being achieved, especially after a lazy holiday weekend. Normally.

The fan belt snapped on our SUV, delaying us two hours.

The fan belt snapped on our SUV, delaying us two hours.

On Tuesday morning at 6 a.m., I headed for Bombali District with two journalists from Radio Democracy in Freetown – Mabel Kabba and Fatima Sesay. We were joined by one of JHR’s two Freetown-based trainers Martha Kargbo, and our driver Junior. Our mission: to gather material for three human rights stories in three days. Considering the infrastructure in Sierra Leone, this was ambitious.

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A Good Friday lesson

jhr

I started my Good Friday with an early trip to Lumley Beach in Freetown. I ran a wavy line along the soft, white sand, dodging the waves as they lapped up to my feet. Then I cooled-down with a quick swim in the Atlantic. There was no one else in the sea for maybe two kilometres in either direction. Not a bad start to the day.

Freetown kids with their Judas effigy

Freetown kids with their Judas effigy

As I made my way home, I saw what I thought was a child lying in a ditch.

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The patience of my job

jhr

On Friday, I was helping one of the employees at Skyy Radio with writing and recording her voice track for a radio documentary. We were forced to delay its recording twice, because others needed access to Skyy’s only recording studio for more urgent matters. When we did finally get started, we were again interrupted. This time, by Jesus himself.

Skyy Radio’s recording studio

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Divided and United

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Every Saturday afternoon, the chaotic streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone get a little quieter, as English Premier League football draws thousands of young men to the city’s sports cinemas.

These cinemas do not have wall-to-wall projection screens, Dolby Surround sound, or popcorn. These are humid, white-washed rooms, where the temperature inside can top 40 degrees. Soccer fans fight for the best seat in front of a banks of televisions mounted on the wall.

And today, March 2nd, the cinemas are a little more humid. A little more tense. It’s Manchester United against Norwich City.

“There’s a division now between club and country,” says local sports reporter Alie Turay.

That’s because, on the previous weekend, Kei Kamara became the first Sierra Leonean to score in the English Premier League. The striker was recently signed, on loan, by Norwich, from Sporting Kansas City. His goal made history and helped his new team to an important win.

Turay watched the game in a bar in Freetown’s seaside neighbourhood of Aberdeen. “That goal sounded like Sierra Leone playing a home match,” he says. “I never head a Sierra Leonean talk about Norwich City. Not until last week. Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Those are the four teams people follow.” And follow they do.

The jerseys and logos of those teams can be seen all around this city, this country, and most of this continent. But in Sierra Leone, the love of England and English football runs deeper.

Over a decade ago, British troops intervened in the country’s devastating civil war. Tens of thousand died here, before they helped to rid Freetown of rebel forces. A move that eventually brought peace to Sierra Leone.

“I like English teams and English people. The English people saved our lives. I appreciate everything they did for us,” says Osman Kiss-Conteh. He is among around three hundred men, and two women, cramming into the International Sports Cinema Hall on Rawdon Street. “Let them support Kei Kamara, but I’m going to support my team. Manchester United.”

Some United fans are not as loyal as Kiss-Conteh. “I like everything about Man U, but Kamara, he is our brother,” says Mohammed Sesay. “I hope he has a goal, but does not win the game.”

Fans of other teams have no such dilemma. “Definitely I’m going to support Norwich because I have my brother there,” says Chelsea fan Dowda Bangura. “I felt very happy [last week]. I felt very proud as a Sierra Leonean.”

Kamara starts the game on the bench. The crowd juggles its attention between the three games on show. Real Madrid vs. Barcelona – arguably the biggest match-up in world soccer – is being shown alongside. A round of applause rises as Kei warms up on the sideline. Cheers for their guy, literally living the dream.

Kamara enters the game, but seconds after his first touch, the game is over. United score their second goal. The game eventually ends 4-0. Business as usual for Manchester United. Kamara barely got a look in.

Fans file down the stairs. Booming postmortems move out to the sweltering street.

Santigie Sesay has his red shirt draped over his shoulder. “Manchester game is very good.” His English is halting. His joy is not. “I also feel proud today. I like Kamara. He will have the courage to try more in the future. I love my Salone brother, but I love Manchester more, because it’s my team.”

His friends – Arsenal fans – put their arm around him and agree. Another civil war in Sierra Leone is over after just 90 minutes. And life continues in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Norwich hosts Southampton next Saturday. And they’ll all be back here here again. Freetown united.

Home Again

jhr

I follow Edwina Thomas through the tight alleys of Kroo Bay in Freetown. This is one of the city’s most deprived areas. Thousands of metal shacks, built beside open latrines. Mothers washing and cooking. Teenagers sitting around. Kids running, everywhere.

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