All photographs are my own and can not be copied or used without permission.

These currently posted images are mainly from the Kenema Area in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone where we lived. Many are of my Dama Road neighbors, and of our students at the Holy Rosary Secondary School and at the Kenema Teacher's Training College. There are many also from area villages such as Vaama, or Tokpombu, or Bitema, or Gbenderoo, or Foindu. These villages all with less than 100 people in them, all are in the Nongowa Chiefdom in the Kenema District of the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. All were in walking distance ( 6 miles) of our home. I was lucky to have friends while I lived in Kenema who were willing to show me their villages and teach me about their ways. Kenema was a big town even in those days. Susan and I lived on the HRSS school compound. To this day I appreciate the warmth and friendship of my many friends including Siaka Kpaka, Patrick Garlough, Mama Hokey, the Garlough family (Pa Garlough and his wife Sabina), schoolboys Senesi Edward Lahai, Momo Vandi, and Mansaray Vandi, Mrs. Porter (and her son Bankole), Pa Sam of Vaama (and his wife Massa), and also of our many students both at Kenema Holy Rosary Secondary School (HRSS) and at the Kenema Teacher's Training College. One of our mentors while there was a woman named Mama Hokey Kemoh. She lived across from us at #55 Dama Road. In those days she was the area leader of the Bondo Society (Sowei). She was a regal woman who befriended us, joked with us, and taught us about what it was like to be a Mende woman. Many a night was spent on her veranda listening to a woman named Bonya lead beautiful Mende songs, while other women responded with incredibly beautiful harmony. Some nights this would be to a full moon, and other nights there would be rain beating down on the metal roof. It was Mama Hokey who would send for us and allow us to be there and listen, because she knew how very much I loved the wonderful songs and the very haunting harmonies. In many respects Mama Hokey was a surrogate parent to us while we lived there. In those days I smoked a pipe and thus she nicknamed me "Shmoku Pipee." Mama Hokey also nicknamed a young child living in her household as Hokey "Kpokpoi" - and called her my sister. My sense was that the word kpokpoi (?sp) meant chin in Mende and that Mama Hokey felt that this young girl with the prominent chin looked like me. I am aware as of 2008 that Mama Hokey is still alive, living back in her village of Foindu (Nongowa), but is blind.
There are also many pictures from other parts of the country including my two trips to the Loma Mountains and Bintimani, with many photos from the Kuranko village of Sokurella (?sp) at the base of Bintimani. I made two difficult treks to this area in March 1969 and again in March 1970 to hike in the Loma Mountain range - the highest mountains in West Africa outside of Mt. Cameroon.
In the period 1968 - 70 in Sierra Leone there was some unrest between the two major political parties the SLPP and the APC. We certainly were aware of the issues. However in the last two decades Sierra Leone had a very long, horrendous and very tragic war in which horrific abuses were perpertrated such as the use of child soldiers, mutilations, rape as a politcal policy, this all in a ten years downslide for which, even with the tremendous resilience of its people, may take generations to recover. Sierra Leoneans are indeed a resilient people. They will succeed in rebuilding this once proud and wonderful country. However a generation has been without regular education, has been disrupted by the depravity of the horrible war, and has been dispersed to other parts of the world.

In way of explanation the word BONDO refers to the women's secret society in the area, a society that trained young female initiates to be responsible women in the society. The comprable men's society in our area (Mende) was the PORO society. BINTIMANI is a mountain in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone in the mountain range known as the Loma Mountains. In March of 1969 and again in 1970 I hiked in these mountains and stayed in the remote village of Sokurella at the base of Mt. Bintimani. Bintimani is the highest mountain in West Africa outside of Mt. Cameroon. KENEMA was the town where we lived while in the Peace Corps. HRSS refers to the Holy Rosary Secondary School, the school that we were assigned to and where Susan taught English and history, and where I taught math and science, and was assigned to be the netball coach. TTC refers to the teacher's training college in Kenema that we also taught at. I suspect that many of our students are now important leaders in the Sierra Leone community. Then there are the many spirits (called Devils) such as the black raffia BONDO Devil, symbolizing the women's Bondu Society, GOBOI (Mende) and somewhat wild and frenzied secular men's devil, JOBAI (Mende) - also a men's secular devil. I ask any of my Mende friends to excuse any misspellings. I welcome any corrections since it has been 40 years since I have walked in Mendeline. MENDE refers to one of the major ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. We lived in their area. KURANKO refers to a small ethnic group that lived around the Loma Mountains - the village of Sokurella was a Kuranko village. LIMBA is another ethnic group found in Sierra Leone. DAMA ROAD was the road that we lived on and where many of our neighbors and friends lived (this was in Kenema and was a road that headed to Dama Chiefdom). NONGOWA refers to the chiefdom where we lived and where Kenema was the capital.

Lastly let me thank the Sisters of the Holy Rosary who chose us to be part of the first faculty of the Kenema Holy Rosary Secondary School in 1968, and who tolerated having a non-Catholic man teaching on the compound during our two memorable years there. My most memorable teacher colleague among the Sisters was Sister Adrian (Kathleen Toland) who had been in Nigeria before coming to Sierra Leone. Also Sister Mary Ibar (now Sister Celia Doyle) who came in our second year and taught math and science (at least this is what I remember). Both these women were truly dedicated to their teaching and to the students that they taught. Both seemed to have their purpose in perspective and understood that change was in the wind in the 1960's and that Sierra Leone was emerging from its colonial past as it adjusted to Independence. These two dedicated women were able to be flexible and see in their African young women both hope and promise. These were two very Holy women in the best sense of this term.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Allieu B. Massaquoi

As noted before Susan and I left for Africa in July of 1968 and by September of 1968 we both were busy with teaching at the Holy Rosary Secondary School in Kenema. Although I became netball coach at the school (and at the Teacher's Training College) I had always been interested and Track & Field (they called it Athletics). It was after the Mexico City Olympics that I was made aware of a young Kenema runner named Allieu Massaquoi. I had been told that he had competed in Mexico City in the 10,000 meters and also in the marathon. He was young - and was a student at the Kenema Secondary School (KSS) - a public school on the other side of Kenema from where we lived. I suspect that for the most part in those days he was self-trained although he may have had a coach in Kenema. He was a local legend. I was told that he could run forever and that there was no one who could beat him locally. I also learned that he came from Kenema, that his father, B.S. Massaquoi was a modern, and well-to-do Minister of Parliament from our area. I think I was also made aware that he was a good student. I did see him run once in Kenema and soon contacted him. We met at his father's home on the other side of Kenema. It was a comfortable, cinder block home in a nice Kenema neighborhood. He was very interested when I mentioned to him that I had contacts in Boston at the University level. After our meeting, in which I also met his father, I wrote the Boston University track coach, Billy Smith and told him about Allieu. Coach Smith had been aware of Allieu from his Mexico City involvement and wrote back that he would contact Allieu. Allieu ended up applying to Boston University and getting accepted and by the Fall of 1969 was a member of the freshman class there. He also became a member of the track team where he ran the long distances and cross country. It was an article in the Boston Globe, in which I was mentioned as having made the contacts to get Allieu to BU that caught my mother's eye one day. My mother had never read the sports page much but it was this article featuring Allieu that somehow caught her eye. And when it mentioned me, she immediately went to the phone, contacted Allieu, and invited him to dinner. Soon Allieu and my mother became close friends as my mother oversaw that he was warmly dressed for the upcoming winter, that he was well-fed, and that he had "family" while living so far away. And of course she wrote to me expressing disappointment that I hadn't told her of his coming to Boston. From giving him winter clothes, to inviting him for suppers - my mother became Allieu's home away from home. Allieu, ever the gentleman, put up with my mother's questions about his country, about me, and about his life in the U.S. At school Allieu was a good student although I am not sure that his athletic performance was ever what it could have been. He did run well and with some success. But there were rough times in Boston as well. There was one time when I think he was training around Jamaica Pond when he was jumped and mugged in what was probably a racial event. Although he never came out and told me of his feelings after this, I always suspected that deep down this made him upset if not angry. However, Allieu held his cards close and was tough to read. We returned to the U.S. in 1972 and from time to time saw Allieu. By then he was used to the cold winters, and was perfroming with mixed results on the track. Coach Smith was a tough but excellent coach but did not fully understand Allieu. Allieu was proud, came from a well-to-do Kenema family (his father drove a Mercedes - something which Allieu had mentioned to Coach Smith but which Coach Smith had not believed until I confirmed it). Boston was a somewhat hostile city - the climate was harsh to a Sierra Leonean, and there was - in those days - no backup Sierra Leone community. I always wondered deep down if it had been a good decision for Allieu to come to America. Allieu did not have such overt thoughts. He was forever thankful for my making the contacts so that he could come to Boston. After a time we lost contact as I went off to school and he went to a variety of graduate schools (I believe he tried Podiatry School for a while). He did get very involved in support of refugee programs during the horrible 10 year war that overtook Sierra Leone. He did tell me of periodic trips both to Guinea to assist refugees and to Sierra Leone where he told me he traveled with video in hand taking pictures of atrocities and and war damage along the way. He became deeply involved and then became lost. I have lost any contact with him and do not know if he is still in the U.S. or if he is back home. I do know that he was married briefly but this did not work out. I hope he is well. I do know that his father, B.S. Massaquoi was killed during the war. I do know that in 1980 he wrote an EdD thesis entitled, "The Development and Evaluation of a Food and Nutrition Education Program for Community Health Workers in Eastern Sierra Leone." I am led to believe from this that Allieu became involved in Public Health issues as regards Sierra Leone - he may still be involved in this. If anyone can give me an update on Allieu I would appreciate it. Thanks. I do know that Allieu placed 45th in the Marathon in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

2-15-2009: email from returned Peace Corps Volunteer - Lou Gadani - "it is amazing and just pure luck that I came upon your blog and saw the info about Kenema, Sierra Leone and my former student, Allieu Brima Massaquoi. I was the Peace Corps teacher at Kenema secondary school from September - 1967 to July 1969 and coach of Allieu. I taught English and Geography and the 2,3,4, and 5 levels. I was also the track coach and saw a student with tremendous ability for running. We trained for many inter-school, police, and provincial events. We coordinated with the government to send Allieu to Mexico in 1968. They sent a political figure with him instead of coach. After many attempts to get Allieu into an American College, I asked my track coach from Canon-McMillan High School in Canonsburg, PA to see what he could do. Through tons of paperwork, he was finally accepted at Boston University for the fall semester of 1969 in the Allied Health profession. To his dismay, upon arriving, he was told he had to run in some early races to get in shape and during one of Boston's worst sleet and rainy periods. ....It has been 40 years since this all happened. I talked and visited with Allieu many times during his stay in Boston. I got a postcard from Paris, France and was told he would enter Case Western Reserve in Ohio for a Masters degree in Early Childhood Nutrition. Since then I have lost contact with him. Anything you can do to help me reach him would be appreciated.....I am so glad you were able to help him along the way. The Peace Corps was a tremendous experience for me....hope to hear from you. Your pictures are awesome. Great documentary. It is amazing that we both were in Kenema at the same time and never met." Lou Gadani - PCV '67 - '69 - Kenema, Sierra Leone


PRACTIC said...

Great pictures, great story, great work in there, GREAT BLOG. Congratulations for all your job on this blog, with maximum respect, Robert from Ploiesti, Romania, Europe !!!

Keep it that way !!!

Anonymous said...

Many years ago Allieu and I were in a teacher training program together in Boston. Hope this helps!

Jill said...

I met him today in Boston.

Anonymous said...

By chance I saw this blog. I don't know his whereabouts today, but Allieu got me started running marathons while I was at Boston University. I ended up doing about 25 more, including Boston, New York, and Chicago, and am thankful for his contribution to my running career.

John O'Neill said...

I met Allieu in 1971 when were both attending Boston University. Allieu was an elite track athlete, having competed in the Mexico City Olympic marathon in 1968. i twas a much lesser runner, but we became close friends in Boston, and Allieu was an usher at my wedding to Irene Daley in 1974. In the years that followed we unfortunately lost contact with each other. I would very much like to reconnect with Allieu. Any contact information would be much appreciated. John O'Neill.