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.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Friend Siaka

Siaka David Kpaka just below summit of Bintimani
I was just below the summit of Bintimani and we were setting up our base camp which consisted of setting up my pole tent, and getting out the Primus stove to boil water and cook some food. Since I was cooking we did not eat elegantly. It must have been the late afternoon when out of the large open area where we were setting up two strangers appeared. They came over to see what we were up to and being curious they began a friendly conversation, introducing themselves as entomologists - I think they may have said that they were collecting insects - for Forest Industries. I knew that this company was headquartered in Kenema and as we talked further - the tall thin man informed me that he was from Kenema. His name was David Siaka Kpaka. The other man was Nigerian and employed also to collect bugs. After talking for a while they left and we made our meal, prepared our sleeping bags for night, and as the sun went down we went off to sleep. There were no mosquitos.  As noted in another posting, my two trips to hike in the Loma Mountains were physically demanding and very tiring. Eventually - we descended back through the villages that we had stayed in, and negotiated tranpsort from Kurobonla to Kabala, a distance of 75 miles over very marginal roads and bridges. As we traveled to Kabala we went from Kuronko country, through Yalunka country and on the stay one night at a Peace Corp volunteers house in Kabala. After a night of recovery there it was on the Makeni and Magburaka where another night was spent. The finally leg of the trip - from Makeni to Kenema took another day.  It was on this leg during our first year that I began not feeling well. I arrived in Kenema more exhausted then I expected and for two days was too tired to do anything but sit. And then my illness started. There was intense and high fever, severe chills, incessant nausea, and a constant pain somewhere in my abdomen. At one point after 5 days I was discouraged enough to think I was not going to make it. I presumed I had malaria (which was later confirmed), and wondered if I also had picked something up from the mountain food.  Whatever it was I had no interest in eating and became dehydrated. As word got out that I was sick neighbors came with local remedies. These native medicines might have worked but I was not brave enough to try them. For the malaria I took the recommended mega-dose of Aralen Phosphate. The fever and chills did resolve but I was still left with a nausea that wouldn't quit, and an ache somewhere inside me that was horrible. I lost 20 to 25 pounds but finally started to turn the corner and after two weeks was on the mend. In retrospect I probably had a hepatitis that I had picked up on the road. It was not a pleasant experience.  In Kenema - Siaka David Kpaka came to visit and we became friends. Siaka was a gregarious man - proud of his history and of his people. He had finished school at the Kenema Secondary School (KSS), and had a good job. He was unique in that he got along with everyone. Originally from Pujehun where his family lived. He had come to Kenema for school, had married his wife Catherine Caulker (?sp), and by the time we got to know each other they had one daughter named Jeneba. Siaka liked to meet new people and I enjoyed his wonderful observations and his sense of humor. The one thing that impressed me about him the most was his ambition to succeed and improve his life. He was proud of his Mende and Southern Province roots but was also a modern man. Siaka and I traveled the local roads seeking out Mende crafts such a cotton clothes (callled Country Cloth). He also visited us often and we visited he and his wife at the government quarters in Kenema where they lived. In July 1970 we said our goodbyes and Susan and I returned to teach briefly at the Putney School in Putney, Vermont. During our second year there, out of the blue oneday I received a phone call from a man with an obvious African-accented English. His words were,"Hello Chad - do you know who this is?" It was Siaka, and he was living in New York City where he was living in marginal quarters, was working at night as a nightwatchman, and during the day he was going to University. He had come to the U.S. with $400 in his pocket - yet he was making do and succeeding. There was one visit to see us in Putney but after that we lost touch as I went on to medical school and training and he became an engineer in the City, Catherine came to live, and they became U.S. citizens. That is not to say that they have not maintained their Sierra Leonean roots - for they have. Yet they have succeeded in a climate that was harsh for them at first, in a city which is not easy even on its own, and they have raised a large family. Jeneba is a CPA; another son is a minister. They have been able to return regularly to Sierra Leone and Siaka has dreams of starting an agricultural business there. Most recently I have re-established contact with the Kpakas. We are both older than those days when we were running about in the mountains or around Kenema. We are perhaps a bit less limber.  But David - as is his English name - still has the same sense of humor, the same keen observations, and still gets along well and is well-liked by everyone. He is a success in my book. 

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