Tag Archives: sports

Fun and Games

Early in the evening when time allows, I enjoy walking around the Aberdeen neighborhood near my house.  By 5 or 6 pm most nights, adults are sitting outside their homes, listening to the radio, chatting, eating a meal or otherwise passing the time.   Women are often gathered together plaiting each other’s hair. Wherever I walk,   I always encounter  children playing in the dusty streets, and youth engaged in sports.

Brothers at the beach.

Imagine a world not dominated by TV, video games, electronic gadgets and  expensive toys and you can begin to imagine life in Sierra Leone.   Imagine such a world  and you might imagine a world shaped by an appreciation of both simple pleasures and simple treasures.

Draughts is a commonly played board game.

Throughout Sierra Leone, playing and discussing football (soccer) is probably the dominant leisure time activity.  In Freetown,  every neighborhood has a football pitch,  and there are games at the beach every day of the week.  Although daily life here is physically demanding, physical fitness is nonetheless a preoccupation for many young people.   On Sunday mornings in Freetown the streets are filled with people out for a run, and I am seeing serious cyclists more and more on the outlying roads.  Basketball and volleyball are also popular in some circles.

I don't often see girls or women playing football, perhaps because they are busy cooking and caring for the home! This game was part of a recent Lutheran Youth Organization retreat.

I have particularly enjoyed watching children at play in Sierra Leone, and seeing their creativity and skill.

These kids are playing a version of football using batteries, cigarrette boxes, and bottle caps.

Home made toy: sticks and metal.

This is a typical street scene: children carrying things. Here too is , another common homemade toy: a wheel and stick , a toy known as "gig" in krio and mende.. I am told that mothers will sometimes send their sons to the market with this "toy because that way, the boy has to run straight down the road and can't dawdle or get distracted.

This particular boy was extremely quick and very proficient. Kids compete to see who is fastest and most skilled at moving the wheel.

Learning Curves

The youngest students of Calvary Lutheran primary school.

I’ve written before with reference to the educational system in Sierra Leone and the schools of the ELCSL.     Primary education is theoretically free to all children throughout the nation, with a fee system at the junior and senior secondary levels.  Sierra Leonean students participate in a West Africa-wide examination process in order to  progress from one level to the next and also to qualify for entrance to college level studies.   Schools are supported and sustained in a variety of ways:  by the government, churches, mosques, local communities, and with funds from abroad.  Overall, however, the material and human resources needed for a quality educational system are simply not available, and systemic problems  are compounded by corruption.  Payment of salaries for teachers is also a significant ongoing dilemma.    Considering all these issues and the impact of 0ver 10 years of war, it is little wonder the literacy rate in Sierra Leone is only 30%.

The primary school at Christ the King in Baw Baw village. This is a typical building constructed a few years ago with funds from the Lutheran World Federation as part of the post-war rehabilitation of schools throughout the nation. The school is "government assisted" which means the national government has agreed to pay the teacher's salaries.

There are many in the ELCSL who are committed to the nation’s educational struggle and who have a vision for a different future. Currently,  there are 5 primary schools associated with Lutheran congregations (although responsibility for one of these has recently reverted to the local community).  Each school faces its own daunting set of challenges but the local pastors and community members carry on under difficult circumstances with a remarkable spirit of perseverance.

The nursery school children in Baw Baw meet for class in the church building. They use logs and stones for seating. (I hope to offer a positive update about the furniture situation at the schools in coming months.)

As is true for schools everywhere, a variety of traditions and events shape the life of the students and their families.  Every school has its own uniform, for example.   Last year I attended the “graduation” of the pre-k students at Calvary Lutheran Community school, complete with caps and gowns and the presentation of certificates.

This year I attended sporting competitions at three of the Lutheran schools.  These community based events pitted groups or  “houses”  against one another in various athletic events.  Points were awarded to determine the overall house winner for the sponsoring school.  Many of the events were  familiar standards:  running races, relays, the sack race and jumping competitions.  Other events had a distinctly African flavor:  bottle balancing;  running while rolling a tire with a stick; carrying a baby (in this case a doll, properly tied on one’s back).   In every case, these events attracted a great crowd of spectators from the local communities, and were a great way to promote a sense of school identity and spirit.

These spectators were supporting the "Red House" competing at Calvary school. The kids in the tree reminded me of the story of Zacchaeus who climbed the tree to see Jesus.

The bottle race. Could you compete in this event?

Older students participated in the competition at St. John's Lutheran School in Ngolahun. These guys flew over the bar and landed hard on the sandy ground.

Snapshots of a Journey

On Sunday May 24 I journeyed with ELCSL Bishop Tom Barnett, a delegation from the ELCA Global Mission office, and other international partners to a meeting with Lutheran World Federation staff in Kenema.  I will write more about this trip and the meetings in coming posts.  In the meantime, here are some glimpses from the week.

On the Night Jesus was Betrayed

On the Night Jesus was Betrayed

The LWF meetings were held at a Catholic Pastoral Center in Kenema, a five hour drive southeast of Freetown.  This picture of the last supper was in the dining hall of the pastoral center.  It is one of the few contextualized depictions of a biblical story I have seen in my short time in Sierra Leone, and a beautiful piece of artwork.  Note especially the food on the table — the pineapple as well as the bowls of rice with groundnut stew.   Two of the disciples in this scene are particularly distinct:  the youthful John next to Jesus and Judas.

LWF staff member Saiku Leigh was in the minority as a supporter of the Barcelona team

LWF staff member Saiku Leigh was in the minority as a supporter of the Barcelona team

An important topic of conversation this past week  is reflected in the picture to the right.   If you don’t have any idea what this might be about, you were not among the millions throughout the world watching a a football game on TV from Rome last Wednesday night.

I have been learning all about football (soccer) in the past few months, in terms of popular international teams and the rivalries that captivate public attention all over Europe and Africa.  On Wednesday night, it was Manchester United versus Barcelona in the European League Champion’s Cup final.    The ELCSL guard/gardener in Freetown (George) is a Manchester United fan, and has convinced me that I should follow Man United too.  Most of the time George will listen to the games on the radio, but once in a while he will go down the road to a local bar with a TV, and pay the equivalent of 33 cents to see the action.

On Wednesday night I joined the multitudes in watching Barcelona beat Manchester United 2 – 0.   In Kenema, a crowd gathered on the outdoor patio of the pastoral center and watched the game on a small screen TV in the relative coolness of the evening hours.  As someone commented, it was sometimes hard to track the ball amidst the bugs crawling across the TV screen, but that somehow added to the flavor of the night.

One final glimpse of the week.  The journey back to Freetown meant taking the long way home for me, as I traveled  in the company of  6 visitors who had come to the meetings from the U.S., Senegal, Switzerland and Finland.  They needed to catch a plane out of Sierra Leone on Friday night, so we drove directly through the interior provinces of the country to the airport in Lungi.  The airport is across the bay from Freetown, and the last leg of my journey yesterday was by ferry.  The ferry crossing took about 30 minutes after a two hour wait.  Getting through Freetown traffic to my house took another hour, and once again I was very grateful to have a good driver navigating the narrow, crowded streets here.

The  geography of this region can be confusing. It was faster to get to Sierra Leone’s international airport  from Kenema without going through Freetown.  Freetown is on a peninsula, and to get to the airport by road from the capital city takes 3 – 5 hours by car, looping inland and around….   When I first arrived in Sierra Leone I took a helicopter from the airport to Freetown which is the fastest (7 minutes) and most expensive way to go; water taxis and a hovercraft also run — sometimes.

As I was waiting for the ferry, watching the activity at the shore was a good way to pass the time.