Today I’m packing my cameras, notebooks and Yorkshire tea, plus special gifts for Sierra Leone. This will be my seventh visit to the West African country, but one that comes after a long pause, during which a lot has happened, for me and for them.
For the first Christmas ever my parents will not be here, so I’ve decided not to be here too.
For many people in Sierra Leone this season will be a difficult one also, without parents, children, siblings and friends lost to ebola. Though the country has been given the all-clear, there is an observation period in place from now until February, as borders are porous and the disease keeps rearing its ugly head in neighbouring countries. Ebola and its aftermath are causing problems, and my heart goes out to those left behind coming to terms with loss, as well as the vulnerable youngsters and orphans, and the survivors suffering health and social problems.
Still, there will be joy at seeing my female friends again – Rebecca, Julie, Sally, the two Cecilias, Sarah – and getting back to work recording life and lives. Gladys has promised to cook jollof rice until our ‘bells-full ping ping!’. I remember the burn of the hot pepper on my tongue and the sounds of burnt grains being scraped from the bottom of the cooking pot and never thrown away. She asked me to bring along mixed spice for the Christmas cake. She is an expert baker at her charcoal fire, controlling the temperature by shifting the lid of the pot and blowing on the coals.
We will all miss much this Christmas but one thing’s for sure, In Sierra Leone we women will not be alone.
Gladys preparing dinner © Lee Karen Stow