Black journalist in Sierra Leone: Chapter 2

Feb 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Reporter's Notebook

Editor’s Note: The following entry is from the reporter’s travel diary of Martin Ricard, who recently traveled to Sierra Leone to report on youths’ attitudes toward agriculture since the end of the country’s civil war in 2002. It originally appeared on Martin Ricard’s blog.

Jan. 29

I’m starting to feel right at home. We spent most of the day Wednesday in Waterloo, in the Western Area Rural District, where we met with three youth farming groups. They all had interesting stories and seemed very determined to get their projects off the ground.

But they all mentioned one similar problem: Because they were women’s groups, they were all dealing with the issue of getting young girls out of prostitution (which is very common here because of the lack of job opportunities and the difficulty of funding education for young people). They seem to be having some success pulling former prostitutes off the streets with the incentive that farming could not only provide self-sufficiency but also income.

While we waited to start the day, I sat with Alhaji, our driver in Freetown, outside of Sahid’s house. Since I told him I was from California, he had been telling me about a friend he knows from San Francisco, Janet Allen. He told me he met her while she was on a Peace Corps mission in Sierra Leone. So he asked me to contact her when I got back home and give her his information. He carries her number and e-mail address on a piece of college-ruled paper in his wallet, perhaps just for opportunities like this. I consider this my reminder to follow up on his request as soon as I get back. He also showed me his tax receipt that he keeps in his wallet at all times along with the piece of paper with Janet’s contact information. He told me that the government makes everyone here pay taxes, 5,000 Leones a year (about $1.25 in U.S.). Interesting fact knowing that 70 percent of the population here lives in poverty, and jobs aren’t necessarily easy to come by.

It was late in the evening. Sahid, my other guide in Sierra Leone, invited me into the living room because he wanted to show me a documentary about his NGO, Democracy and Improvement Associate-Sierra Leone, which helps youths find employment in rural parts of the country. But a few minutes into the documentary, the generator gave out, which meant no more electricity for the night. So we moved a few chairs from the living room outside to talk and relax. There was a cool breeze that keeps my mind off the mugginess of the night. The only other light came from the moon.

After awhile, Augustine came to join me outside. He is one of the nine people Sahid takes care of, and when he isn’t in secondary school he helps out with chores around the house. The first question he asked me was one that I’d been waiting to hear since I arrived. “Do you know about Litt-le Wayne?” he asked. Of course, I responded. He listed a few other popular American rappers, and we got into a long conversation about how much hip hop has influenced young Sierra Leoneans. Augustine told me that he, like many young people in Freetown, listens exclusively to hip hop. He told me how much young people relate to the music, and I told him I completely understand. I also gave him my thoughts on how I love hip hop as well since that is the music I grew up listening to, but how I’m troubled with the images some artists portray in the music.

Augustine told me that the music gives he and his peers the message that black people in America take for granted the opportunities they have obtained since the Civil Rights Movement. He told me that people here have heard that the day a baby is born in America, they have a bank account. I assured him that reality is only true for some people born in the U.S. While we’re talking, I couldn’t help but wonder why is that if hip hop has had such a big influence over here and if American hip hop stars have made so much money over there, then why is it that Bill Gates is the person putting all this money into Africa and not a 50 Cent or a Lil’ Wayne.

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