I wrote a post in 2010 titled ‘New Used Shoes’. It was a story about three young girls who had never owned a pair of shoes. They were orphans cared for by an older woman in the village. They went to school in flip flops or, more often, in bare feet. And so we went for a little shopping trip and I purchased each of them their first pair of shoes…used shoes because there is nothing new for sale in Sumbuya.
It was a day I will never forget.
I became close to the girls, who considered me their father. Tears upon leaving the village were matched by hugs and dancing whenever I returned. But stability is not the way here and I have lost touch with Lucia–she became pregnant a few years ago and lost her baby at one month.She moved to Freetown and has lost touch with everyone in the village.
Maserai, who is less than five feet tall, had her first child at fifteen. She is now pregnant with her second child. Among other girls I have written about here more than half have become pregnant in a village where the health nurses tell me
that birth control, either by IUD or injection, is free.
Why? Imagine a village with no power and little light after dark. No television or radio. Imagine as well a place with little else to do, other than work or go to school. And the schools were closed for a year due to Ebola, so teenagers have had a lot of time on their hands. And where most of the teachers and ‘big’ people are male–role models for boys. And where many villagers feel birth control methods make women infertile in later years so if you cannot get pregnant you are of little value.
Mamie, the little one in the right of the photo did not get pregnant. We had a joyous reunion in Freetown and Mamie finally got to meet my wife, ‘Mam Shelley’. Mamie lives in a room with a sister and three other women, a situation that is not at all unusual here. She is is not happy and feels unfairly treated by an older relative. As I write this we are looking for a boarding school but may settle for a separate room close to her sister.
We keep looking for Lucia. Recently I wondered out loud with my friend David Stephens if perhaps she has died. “Oh, no,” he said, “she is not dead. But I fear she is in a tight corner.”
A tight corner. It is an apt description for life for everyone here.
Next time…I will introduce you to some friends we are helping to set up businesses selling solar lights. Yes I have a healthy scepticism about many of the NGO’s here, but I haven’t lost hope for Sierra Leoneans. More to come…