Africa’s big cities can be as cosmopolitan, crowded and commercial as those in other parts of the world, but many of her villages are set in another time.
Over the last two months, we’ve travelled more than 6000 kilometres through six West African countries. In addition to staying in a few hotels and hostels, we’ve camped in the middle of nowhere, in school grounds, in hotel gardens and in villages.
Villages are certainly the most fun and most educational. This is because we get to interact with people and have a close-up look at their lives. That means peeking inside houses, sampling local dishes and learning smatterings of a local language.
It’s not unusual to meet people who speak three or four languages—in West Africa that’s English and/or French plus one or two native languages. Later I’ll introduce you to Hassan who speaks six languages.
But today is a trip to Byama (spelling?) in rural Sierra Leone. It’s about 2 miles from Kambama, the village we stayed in after the truck fell through the bridge.
Mohamed, our host in Kambama, walked a group of us to Byama and introduced us around town. Our first task was to visit the village chief and pay our respects. That’s what you do whenever you enter a small village.
We met him, his pregnant wife, his mother and some extended family. We also met the school principal and his two wives (yes two). The school is in Kambama, but the principal and teachers live in Byama.
Then we were guided through the village and encouraged to take pictures. Byama and Kambama do not have electricity or running water. Both do have village wells that are pump-it-yourself operations.
As in most villages, we were swarmed by children at every step. They love to stroke your skin, feel your hair, shake hands, clap, have their pictures taken and try out some English words.
It’s good to be reminded that we are the unusual ones and that we have been welcomed into their realm as guests and not as intruders.
Our visit to Byama was one of the activities offered by Kambama village, and we each paid about $5 for the excursion. The next day, a few of us did a similar stroll through Kambama. Interesting how villages are the same, but different.