“morning sir, ow di bodi?”
“fine sir, how di night?”
“sleep fine (chuckle)”
Walk on a few paces…
“morning mr.ben, ow di bodi?”
Repeat several times until you eventually get to the temporary beach kitchen / zinc (aluminium) shack and pour hot water over a banana, some oats and guava syrup, grab a mug of coffee and saunter out into the morning sunshine.
Greetings at the start of the day in the tiny fishing settlement at John Obey Beach, Sierra Leone, are almost as persistent as the breakers that crash relentlessly on the volcanic-black rocks and golden dawn sand. Everything about this sliver of land sandwiched between two-end-of-rainy-season-full-flowing rivers halfway down the Freetown peninsula is equally dramatic and calm.
Fisherman are returning with the nights catch. Women – spearheading most village enterprises – sway onto the beach, baskets on heads and start to noisily barter for the silvery stock. The men fish, the women buy and sell. That’s how it works here.
Behind them and their mud-clad homes the hill rises up into the bush. The backdrop to the village is the sierra itself; a fierce rising mountainous jungle. Imagine Cape Town before the city was built. Morning mist clings to the peaks, a different climate exists up there.
Back down on the beach nestled next to the fishing community is our new patch. About seven acres of sand, bush and rock swerve downhill along the river and spill out onto literally kilometers of barefoot perfection. After exploring every beach on the peninsula we eventually fell for for John Obey – named after an English slave trader who didn’t quite make it to Freetown – and have leased the plot through contracts with a welcoming government, a very enthusiastic community and a private landowner.
By the time I’ve finished the oats and coffee the space under the palm, acacia and cotton trees is filling up with our new community team. Through the agreed goodwill payment we are able to provide between 20 and 30 full-time jobs a month and a further 10 smaller enterprise related positions. This seems like a lot for the scale of the project – but the community have been really keen to get as many people directly involved as possible, as we are often told, ‘we’ve been waiting 30 years for this.’
In the first two weeks living and working with the community here there has been excellent productivity – a compost toilet block is almost complete, a 12m hole has been drilled to find freshwater and a hand pump has been installed on the hill, the skeleton structure of a large beach kitchen is in place, and a store house secured. More importantly a sense of real partnership has already sprung up. Led by Hassan Marah, an unassuming 35 year old who has twice been elected headman (chief) of this near 400 strong John Obey (both fishing community and larger village a mile up the track), there is a great sense of purpose about what we are doing – for the community, for the new friends who will join us soon and for ‘Salone’s’ international image itself. You can see the pride bursting through the smiles, sweat and occasional forceful debate. Softly softly certainly isn’t the way when it comes to communication here.
In two weeks our ‘first footers’ from the tribe will set their feet in this beautiful place. There’s plenty to achieve before then. There’s even more after. But as we have started we hope to carry on… ‘small small’ as they say here. Step by step. It’s good to be building something new again and the view ain’t bad either.