Sierra Leone: People-to-People
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

  Dispatch 4 - Makeni  

Lunsar-MAKENI (60km, 37miles) We travel to the edge of the Temne ethnic group.

Points of interest: rice farms, stone breakers, Makeni (President's town), NGO activities: Childhelp SL

Cycling conditions: paved, rolling


North of Lunsar the terrain is flat and often good for paddy or swamp rice.  The Temne area is one of the bread-baskets of Sierra Leone.  Prior to the civil war, Sierra Leone was a net rice exporter.  During the civil war rice production eventually Sierra Leone, forest and rice farmingfell to about twenty percent of  its pre-war levels.  After peace returned in 2002 rice production began to rebounded.  In 2010, the country should be back to self-sufficiency, about 80% of pre-war levels and after that they should be able to start exporting again.  So far, once away from the coast, all of the rice that we have been served has been freshly harvested, local rice.  It is rice harvest season now.

Freshly harvested and 'country rice' from Sierra Leone is a real treat.  It has as rich a flavor as buttered rice, but without the butter.  It has a distinctively different taste from imported, polished, white rice that has been in a warehouse and / or boat for months.

Sierra Leone, charcoal cookers for sale Traveling along the Lunsar-Makeni road, it is interesting how different villages have different production specialties.  In one village it might be pounded metalSierra Leone, ceramic pots for sale charcoal cookers (left), in one village is will be all ceramic pots (right) and in another village it might be baskets.  Or sometimes it is a whole series of village that all compete with the same commodity.

Sierra Leone, village housing with vegetable gardens

Each mile along the way the scenery continues to change and continues to be interesting.  There were sections of forest, sections of farms, oil palm estates, and clusters of houses with gardens (left).  The changing scenery also provide a changing set of people to greet, watch and museSierra Leone, carrying fresly cut rice from the farm to village about.  Some of the activity is pretty clear; students going to and coming from school, and farmers harvesting their rice and carrying it from the farm to the village.  Other people  headed off busy andSierra Leone, road side activity clearly with a purpose, but on a mission and to destination that we could often only speculate about.  It provided a constant stream of images and information to think about.  No one moved too fast, maybe that was a concession to the climate, but things were progressing.


Sierra Leone, stone breakersThe roughest job of the day that we saw was stone breaking (left).  Big boulders were chiseled out of the hillside -- by hand.  The boulders were broken down to big rocks -- by hand.  The big rocks were broken into smaller rocks -- by hand.  And so it went until a man sat and pounded fist size rocks into gravel -- by hand.  Some of the workers had managed to arrange some shade for themselves, but many work directly under the sun.

The big road and building construction projects had big mechanical rock crushers to prepare their materials.  It was hard to image how there was still a place in the economy that paid a living wage for breaking rocks by hand.  The coast of a pile of stones could only have been a few dollars and it would take days of labor to make one pile of stones.  My arms ached at the thought of it.

 In Makeni we stopped at a local non-governmental organization (NGO), ChildHelp Sierra Leone, to learn about the community and hear about there program.  One of their focuses is to get non-attending, school-aged children in school (partially to insure that the children weren't exploited as child labor.  They are providing some support to primary schools in communities that previously didn't have schools and the have established a school for orphans, who often have additional needs from those of students living with their families.

We weren't the first guest to visit the schools.  Both schools had prepared welcome song to greet us as we arrived.  At one school, in addition to the rehearsed welcome song, they had prepared signs describing their situation: "We need teach materials."  "We need food." "We need medical supplies and school books."  The signs were great for communicating given our groups proclivity for taking photos.  Other signs welcomed us, thanked us for visiting them and blessed our journey.

Sierra Leone, afternoon rainSierra Leone, afternoon rainWhile the skies were sunny, with varying degrees of broken clouds during our ride and tour of town, about an hour before sunset the clouds quickly thickened up and dumped buckets of rain for about twenty minute.  The downpour ceased as quick as it started and the evening sky was dry.

After dinner there was a wine tasting of fresh local palm wine.  The wine received generally positive reviews, though no one seemed particularly ecstatic about it.




 Next dispatch.



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