Pujehun – 28th Feb to 3rd March
Our wonderful, epic tour of Sierra Leone ended its journey in Pujehun. A town first described to us by Augustus, head of the children’s club as a place ‘suffering from depression and full of ex-child soldiers.’ He was very keen to explain these children needed life skills and distractions from their tough and troubled lives…what better than to bring the Circus to town?! On first impressions the town seemed pretty bleak. The sky was grey, everything was run down and it felt empty and low; somehow missing the buzz other towns and villages have had. However first impressions really count for nothing and after two wonderful afternoons with the children, a shopping resulting in an amazing Chop My Money cap and funky trousers, plus a good nights sleeps and delicious food, I definitely warmed to Pujehun.
(You should probably know at this point I love buying hats. With me I packed a pink panda cap, an umberella hat and a jazzy swimming hat and on our travels here I have added a visor with a fish called Orvis on it, a cap so colourful it looks like multi-coloured sick according to Peachi and now my Chop My Money hat. Imagine how big Gangnam style is, add more popularity on and you have Chop My Money…it’s literally being played everywhere and I’m pleased to say I now see myself as the coolest kid in school!)
We were staying in the luxury of the Save the Children guest house, a place with real walls and en-suites and bread and light switches…all rarities after our time in the wilderness. Lulled into a false sense of security, Emma and I were shocked and terrified when a huge spider ran across us inside the mosquito net. After nuking it with bug spray and stinking the room out we retired to the safety of Emma’s room, still not cured of our arachnophobia even after sharing a room with all sorts of creepies in tiny mud huts!!
Our teaching schedule was arranged to be 2 afternoons with the potential of 1000 children turning up as it had been advertised to every school, community group and even on the radio! After a crisis meeting and a change of teaching plan we were ready to take the leap from our usual class size of 20/30 up into the hundreds. We set up a stage under the cover of a concrete area of the local football pitch and had microphones and speakers in order to reach the masses. Augustus had arranged for 4 police men to come along for crowd control- their presence made me somewhat apprehensive about what we were going to be faced with and the task we were taking on. However as usual everything went swimmingly and a great time was had by all! At least 250 people turned up although we maintain we could have dealt with 1000 easy (haha!) and we played a range of games, Kay-T-robics, (one of the funniest things ever to see 250 African children doing aerobics!) European dance and Cultural dance. Afterwards we did a show and were met with slightly confused but still happy faces, unsure of what to make of us! We did the same the next day but with an extra circus workshop first for the members of the children’s club. We were assured they’d be 40 children and over 70 children later packed into the Save the Children car park. We had ALL of our equipment out being thrown, spun and caught in a whirlwind of happy rainbow joy! AKA mayhem!
Because the children’s club is so much about educating and learning, we developed our cultural dance in the show to include a story with a message at the beginning. After establishing Brima and Morlai meant an anti-abomination message not an abomination message like they kept saying, we were ready to go! We all had our part to play; Livi the washer woman, me the one who tries to help her but gets ignored, Tim the evil voo-doo spirit killer (typecast!) and Emma & Morlai the ones who manage to stop Tim taking over the world. The basic moral of the story was don’t’ wash your clothes in the sacred river or an evil spirit will come and kill you…so watch out ok, you have been warned! I could see 4 or 5 old ladies in the audience as we were performing who loved the message. They were nodding and smiling, their faces lit up and it was so encouraging to see! I really love the elders here, have so much wisdom and are so beautiful…I think I’d take anything they told me as fact!
Augustus was extremely happy and it was clear the children of Pujehun had had a wonderful time. At the end of our last show Augustus got on stage with some of the other Save the Children youth leaders and they were dancing and singing and generally being very silly. That was amazing for us to see because so often we have come up against adults who won’t be silly or even let the children laugh and joke around in our classes. We were pleased to see he was on the same wave length as us and glad the children are in his capable hands!
Back in Freetown, ready for action! 4th March onwards
After a relaxing day at the beach and a dinner wholly consisting of pancakes, we were settled back in Freetown! Our next stop off was to two of the nearby slums that Save the Children work with. It was quite exciting and a part I’d been really looking forward too. I’ve never been to a slum before anywhere in the world, so had no idea of the reality of it. I only really knew to wear real shoes, not go to the toilet there and to watch where you’re walking. I was expecting it to be very crowded, smelly, dirty and poor, (which goes without saying) but with a buzz about it and an excitement and willingness to welcome us and see what we had to offer. In hindsight what I was expecting was spot on.
Slum 1 – Susan’s Bay
I woke up as we were unpacking the car and before I knew it was following a line of people with our stuff expertly balanced on their heads through an extremely narrow, crowded street. There were stalls selling food, milk powder, soap on each side; a dribble of presumably sewage running down the centre and no room for a car and row of people- hence I ended up standing over a tub of scouring pads, in someone’s stall with a dried fish tail in my face! We kept moving up hill which then opened onto a plain with the most incredible view on every side of the slum rooftops, the markets, Freetown in the distance and straight ahead the endless sea. We then carried on down again through a football pitch and onto a clear, flat space clearly designated for us because there were hundreds of chairs set out, seating mostly adults at this stage excitedly expecting a great performance! By the sound of their cheers (by the time we started all of the children from the youth group had turned up along with many, many more!) we gave a good show that they really, really enjoyed. For me it was one of the most rewarding shows we have done in a while because the response was so vocally positive. We gave it our all and even when the generator cut out we continued to the sweet sounds of Brima’s drumming. 2 hours later we were packed up and gone, leaving excited chatter and many happy faces behind…definitely an afternoon well spent!
Slum 2- Kroo Bay
Faced with a huge and ever growing crowd of new faces we set up for our Kroo Bay show in record time. We were stationed on the impressively large and flat football pitch and with Emma warming up the crowd we were ready to go!
5 things that made this show different to any we have done before
- There was a pig on stage that somewhat enhanced mine and Emma’s puppet dance!
- 4 ladies with HUGE stacks of coal on their heads were in the audience.
- Some dog friends also graced our stage with their presence.
- Tim got a healthy mix of sun cream, sweat and strong sunlight in his eyes making it his (quote) ‘Most challenging juggling routine to date’ (unquote)
- The football pitch was being hosed down 3 meters from our fire routine and very nearly all over the electrical equipment!
Another successful show in our books!!
Freetown Outreach 11th-14th March
After having a relaxing weekend exploring Cockle Point and having a well-deserved chill-out, we were refreshed and ready for action! On Tuesday morning we headed to a school by Lumley beach to do a workshop and show so once again we packed up the car and off we went! Our friend Craig who has been extremely helpful during our fundraising works there and so we went specifically to teach his form group, much to the excitement of them and the bemusement of their fellow students! The school itself was a typical Sierra Leone government school; tiny hot classrooms, a lack of teachers, no way of maintaining and sort of privacy or safety as the site isn’t enclosed and minimal (none) hygiene facilities. I was expecting it to be manic and although I didn’t see a single class being taught all morning (even with exams next week!) we were made very welcome and had a really great time. Half of the class did circus, half European dance then they switched over. They loved all of the toys and were so engaged in both classes, they really were a pleasure to teach especially as they clearly got so much joy from joining in. The show was incredible; we all got a real buzz from it because the audience were so vocal and genuinely very impressed! There was no generator so we had to use our tiny mini rigs and the mats were so hot our feet were burning like running along hot sand at midday…BUT it was well worth having red soles on our feet because we bought so much happiness to the school and especially Craig’s form group!
In the evening we headed to the Cultural Village where Brima, Morlai, Tessay and Mummy live for a performance swap and in my opinion it was the most exhilarating show we have done! The whole village came into the performance area to watch so it was packed out full of dancing children and eager adults awaiting the show! The cultural group opened the show with the most incredible drumming I have ever heard. The sound was so full and vibrant; they had 3 drummers out front who were not only drumming but performing with their whole body and faces which made it so engaging to watch, at least 4 big bass drums and 2 huge wooden xylophones to add melody and like I said the sound was just insane. Then when the dancers came out the energy went through the roof, it’s so hard to explain the feeling it evoked but I can say I felt so honoured to be there and especially honoured to have worked with them and got to know them, I was beaming from ear to ear as I watched! Next it was our turn and boosted by the energy in the room (well, there were no walls so almost a room!) we gave our absolute all and the audience loved it! I got the feeling they were overwhelmed by the diversity of our show but in a really positive way. They especially loved the fire and it was so lovely to see the national guys we have been working with get to perform their new skills in front of their family and friends. We had the best evening and all came away with a great moral boost and all feeling fantastic!
Wednesday came and bought with it a very poorly Livi and Emma, but luckily Tim and I were still going strong so we poodled off for our day of teaching somewhat diminished in numbers! We headed back to Susans Bay to work with a charity called Goal who work to bring street children off the street and rehabilitate them with family; whether that be parents, siblings or more extended family. Quite often these children are being exploited for work and sex and all of the children we were going to work with still lived on the street and just came into the centre 3 hours a day. They got some schooling, activities, a safe place to go and a hot meal which is great but to me horrific to think after that time they are heading back onto the street. It usually takes 3 months to get a child rehabilitated; after 1 month or so of coming to the centre they start telling the staff their real story, what is actually happening to them not just a brush over missing out the key facts. It’s only then the staff can start to find their relatives, a seemingly impossible task in a country where no-one has an address and people can easily disappear into the woodwork. The children we worked with were reaching the end of their 3 months and so nearing rehabilitation and it was clear how much of a difference Goal has made to them. They were engaged, eager, happy and extremely friendly and polite. I must admit I was very apprehensive about the teaching because everywhere we have worked so far the children have been relatively sheltered, very well looked after and monitored 24/7 so there is a huge degree of control but obviously these children don’t have that structure but as soon as my first class of beaming, excited children ran into my teaching space I knew we’d be absolutely fine! The national guys came along too so we taught drumming, cultural African dance, circus and European dance so the children got a really wide mix of skills and had a fantastic day, just as I did too!
With that our final workshop was complete and the evening led to a wonderful show at Atlantic Bar in Freetown; a great turn out of all our friends we met back many weeks ago during our Freetown Bootcamp came to support us, the backdrop for the show was incredibly beautiful with lit palm trees and the vast sea spanning out and as we watched slideshows of photos and expertly edited videos (well done Emma!) we all felt very emotional but proud of the journey we have completed together. We had a lot of fun during the show, shaking it up a bit by adding impro skits, sabotaging each other’s acts, and generally having a lovely time! After a wonderful party we called it a night, comforted by the knowledge we have completed what we came out here to do and had a ball doing it!!!
Next stop, Lumley Airport…we’ll be back, I’m sure of it 🙂
We’d like to say a big shout out to the teams in India and Nicaragua…all the best for the rest of your tours guys and we’ll say hi to England for you!!! See you on the other side 🙂
By Kay-T, thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed it 🙂