I grew up in a zinc shack (pan body) in the not-so-fancy Congo Town neighborhood right next to the local market. At the time, we lived in two-bedroom house which my two sisters and I together with our parents shared with our grandfather. Our parents occupied one room and our grandfather the other. We governed the parlour/living room where we would move the furniture at night to make room for our sponge mattress. Yes sponge, not foam. I vividly remember how my sisters and I would dread late night visits from folks that talked too much and stayed too long because that often meant that we couldn’t go to ‘bed’ until after they had left when we could move the chairs. This was our situation up until SSS3 when I was appointed Deputy Head Girl at St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Brookfields, Freetown.
When it rained, it poured in our house. There were more vats and bins than our house could hold because it was leaking everywhere (there were many holes in our roof). Not to mention our sleeping space significantly shrunk when it was raining because we competed for space with the vats and bins that collected the water. I remember reading the poem ‘Night Rain’ and thinking the author must have written that poem about us, LOL. Interestingly, our roof had the habit of flying off EVERY single time it rained heavily and so we would wake up in the morning with half of our roof gone. How embarrassing! #lifeinapanbody
There was nothing like a normal day’s meal. It was only normal to go without food. Our staple at the time was Gari in conjunction with whatever was available at the time. (I consider myself an expert in the area of Gari combinations by the way). Gari and sugar. Gari and milk. Gari and plam kernel oil (nahtie). Plain Gari. Gari and groundnut. Gari and palm oil. You name it. We may or may not have exhausted the possibilities in that area. Cooking was an event in itself. We cooked once a month, after my dad received his monthly salary, and it was usually groundnut/peanut sauce with mullet (mollit) fish. I have no recollection of my mom cooking any of the local vegetable sauce when we were kids. They were simply out of our league. On the day we’d cook, we’d usually finish late at night when we’d all eat from one big bowl under the dim light of a kerosene lamp (remember those lamps?:-)) after which we’d go to bed. My parents would usually excuse themselves after the a few spoons feigning a full stomach just so we kids would eat and be full. In the few days following, we’d have rice and sardines which we considered a delicacy at the time. There was nothing like three meals a day. Oosai e dey comot? We ate once a day. In fact, up until class 4 (4th grade?) I didn’t know what it was like to have lunch to school. Our school was the local municipal school just down the road from our house and so we would come home during lunch hours and return in time for the remainder of classes during the day. The idea was to make our friends think we were going home to eat when in fact we just passed time with our mom until it was time to go back. My patents, especially my mom, made us understand that our condition wasn’t permanent and one way was to make sure we never begged/asked for favors from the neighbors. Even though everyone in our neighborhood knew we were struggling, we were not allowed to accept any invitation to eat from neighbors without our mom’s express permission.
Chicken! The all mighty imported chicken was a delicacy that we looked forward to all year round. It made its special appearance at Christmas when my dad, who worked at the National Petroleum (NP) would get TWO WHOLE chickens as part of his Christmas bonus along with toys including dolls for us. My mom, ever the economist, knew how to make that chicken last! We had chicken at Christmas, and on Boxing Day and New Year’s day. Good times!
My dad might have drawn up a mental scale of preference where books always came out on top and clothes never made the list or were too far down the list. And so we didn’t have that many clothes. We only had ‘church’ clothes and ‘house’ clothes; casual clothes were a luxury we couldn’t afford. Since my sisters and I had similar body shapes and sizes, we shared clothes and because we pretty much maintained the same body weight over time, we wore the same clothes over and over again. We never grew out of them; we just grew tired of them. Consequently, parties and the school fetes were out of the question (my friends from school can confirm). The first ‘jump’/ school fete I attended was in 2002 when I was in SSS2. I had just returned from a one month long trip to Canada where I had represented Sierra Leone at a youth conference and had some new clothes (a pair of jeans) to show off. I vividly remember what I wore because I wore the same outfit to my cousin’s birthday party not too long after. Did we ever wish we had nicer clothes or could go out more? Yes we did but it wasn’t enough to lure us into the streets. Nothing was.
With the limited resources that we had, my mom being the strong and industrious woman that she is tried her hand at many trades just to supplement our family income. My dad provided the capital for the many business ventures. On one occasion, my mom bought an assortment of items from town and sold it on credit to the market women who paid in installments over time. That business failed because it was usually past the agreed date by the time the last person paid off her debt and most of the money had gone in the daily maintenance of the home anyway. But that was just one of many ventures. I like to think we’ve sold everything in the book. Butterscotch. Tombi (tamarind). Dry milk/ evaporated milk. Ice/Kool Aid. Cold water. Yogurt. Cookery. Soft drinks. The list goes on. The ventures were many as they were varied. As our income increased our items of trade become more sophisticated. Ice and Yogurt for example made the list after we bought our first fourth-hand (no not second hand) refrigerator. The thing had too many issues and the infrequent power supply didn’t help the situation at all.
We may not have had everything we wanted or even needed but we always had each other. My family bonded well during those times and that bond has only deepened over the years. Of the many values my parents passed on to us I am most grateful for that of contentment. My parents made us believe that 1) it was only a matter of time before we could get those things we desired and 2) focusing on things that mattered, God and our education, will get us to our desired point . And they were right. Many many years later, our lives are dramatically different from what they used to be. God has been truly faithful to us. Looking back, I can proudly say that I am not my background but that my background was integral to my development as a person and as the woman God intended me to be. Because of my background I am able to understand the current struggles/challenges of an economically disadvantaged person and still believe in a better tomorrow; if it happened for me, it can happen for anyone. My background doesn’t define me; it inspires me.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:6-11
Daughter of the King