We had a lot of surprises while traveling the countries on the west coast of Africa, and the vast majority were good surprises. Sierra Leone was a very nice surprise.
What I knew of Sierra Leone was mainly what I remembered from news reports of their civil war that was fought between three separate groups from 1991 to 2002.
The term ‘child soldier’ was coined as a result of the forced conscription of children as young as 8 years old into the military forces. The use of children in fighting was mainly by the RUF rebel group, but other groups were also guilty of using children.
Gold & Diamonds?
Sierra Leone has rebounded considerably since the end of the civil war, partly due to the resources of gold and diamonds. Unfortunate, the revenues from these two valuable resources leads to corruption where most of the profits generated from sales end up being grabbed by the ruling elite and their close business partners.
China has also played a major role in the economic rebound. The Chinese have built a good highway system, shipping ports, railroads and developed a huge iron ore mine. The normal way China finances these developments is to loan the money to the government and then take mineral resources as payment on the loans.
As we drove through the country, we saw numerous agricultural developments with Chinese names; probably also financed with the crops being used for payment.
The Ebola epidemic that ravaged parts of Africa from 2014 to 2016 infected over 28,000 people and resulted in 11,325 deaths in Sierra Leone alone. While riding in a taxi in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, the driver commented on a garbage dump that we were passing and called it ‘Ebola Central.’ Fortunately, the epidemic had been declared over before our trip.
In general, we were warmly welcomed and treated with great hospitality during our time in Sierra Leone. We were never treated badly or had any large amount of overt hostility directed at us in any of the countries we traveled through in Africa. In some cases, we were the subject of curiosity as most of these countries do not have any widespread tourism.
Anne Tapler White: Red Earth in Black & White
My “Red Earth in Black and White” project documents the everyday lives of the people of West Africa from Dakar, Senegal and carrying me down the west coast of Africa to Cape Town, South Africa. I have learned from my travels that we are all bound by common threads, joined together across distant lands. The photographs tell a story, becoming a frozen narrative capturing a fleeting moment.
“My name is Daniel Conteh” is one such story. It begins in Makeni, Sierra Leone, late afternoon monsoon rains forced me to take shelter on a porch, where a family had set up a table selling soft drinks, beer and candy.
After purchasing something to drink I settled down on a bench for the rains to subside. But the rains were relentless and soon a boy named Daniel asked me to come off the porch into his home. The living area was crowded with people and I was introduced to Daniel’s mother, Grandmother, Aunt and siblings. A hall joined to an outer courtyard where neighbors sheltered from the rain. I was given permission to photograph the family and their neighbors. Daniel’s Grandmother told of her hip operation and lifted her dress to show the scar.
That chance encounter has left an indelible impression with me, especially that little boy who invited me into his home and who did not want his photo taken. But on the wall above his mother you will see that he had previously written “My name is Daniel Conteh” now for all the world to see.