Travel Notes: Sierra Leone as recounted by Serena Caimano. Part 3

Today, we are publishing the third part of Serena Caimano’s travel diary in her discovery of Sierra Leone and the project we are running with COOPI. The strong emotions, which follow one after another at the speed of the kilometres travelled from one village to the next, have left indelible signs in Serena’s eyes and heart.

Day 4

They came to pick us up, this morning in the COOPI off-road vehicle. We were finally going to meet some of the women involved in the cashew project supply chain. When we got there, the women welcomed me with dancing and capering to which I responded with as much naturalness as I could muster.

 Later, those women spoke to me about their experiences. They explained how the opportunity to grow and sell cashews had changed their lives and the prospects for improvement for them and for their families. All the women were clean and dressed in colourful, showy clothes; some wore jewels. All in all, their appearance was full of dignity and a joyful bearing. They then showed me how they separate the cashews, into whole nuts, broken and fragments, because each has a different market value.

 Guiding us was one of the village’s women “elders” who showed us the way to inspect the farm and the cashew trees on their property. We walked into the bush and just a little way away we met a young woman farmer who was working her land, with her little child playing nearby. The cashew seedlings had been planted very recently. It will take 4 to 5 years for the trees to begin to bear fruit. In the meantime, these women farmers are growing what are called intercrops, which are complementary crops such as cassava and peanuts, which are small and difficult to cultivate here.

 The cashew project is making a concrete contribution to the lives of these people, the inhabitants of Sierra Leone. It starts by giving them the seedlings. They are then instructed on how to farm the plants and harvest the fruit. Then it helps them to find international buyers and sell their crop. This is a system that binds these people of Sierra Leone to their land and provides them with the benefit of a long-term livelihood.

 Later we headed to a second village, where we watched a training course being given. The course topic was food hygiene. Its objective was to raise the awareness of the nutritional characteristics of foods of the participants, who were all women (there were no men at all). The course lasted three days. It had a written programme and was taught using the Active Learning Method. Having the chance to watch those women sitting, listening and learning, I suddenly realized how many different ethnic groups they represented. Each of them had different cheekbone and facial structure, nose shape, cut of their eyes and skin colour from the other.

Day 5

This was the last day of my adventure. It was the day I would be returning. I packed my small bag and left the hotel. There were still a couple of hours left, so, Giacomo took us to the market in Makeni, which was another blow to my heart. The stalls were gathered together in a very small area. The hygienic conditions where the fresh and dried food such as fish and fruit, peanut paste and palm oil were displayed were not describable.

 Shortly afterwards, they took me to the airport. I was a little melancholy because even though my trip was exciting it was a very challenging emotional experience. I was very grateful to the COOPI team for their exquisite hospitality and warmth. They could not have done better.

 As I boarded my KLM airliner and headed back to Europe, already, everything struck me as being clean, bright and well cared for. That slight unease that I felt in Africa finally began to dissipate. What took its place was a ridiculous heroic feeling of “Mission Accomplished”. When we arrived in Amsterdam, I noted the discipline, the order, the safety and all of the merchandise available. If less than a week was enough to make me look at what I was used to with new eyes, the wealth of the West must be a tremendous shock, when seen with the eyes of a person who was born and raised in Africa.

 I wondered how a young man from Sierra Leone would feel when he found out that beyond the Mediterranean there was a world with many more opportunities than in his own country. I asked myself why some lived in poverty while the rest of us were unable to change those people’s lives in any significant way. I thought of John Lennon and the dream of equality that he left us in his most famous song. I thought about all those people who are the same as I am but who suffer so much. Precisely equal, identical.

 When I think of the cashew project, it seems fabulous to me, yet it is still too little: it is still not enough. I wondered what more I could do for those people. I do believe that we humans save ourselves through our work and that we save each other with our ethics and our love. I thought of all the times that I had saved myself and the many people who have helped me and saved me.

Serena Caimano