Tuesday, May 08, 2007


More football

It is amazing what 6 months does to you. Yesterday there was a football match although not the usual “Wusum All Stars” but the Makeni Amputees versus the Makeni Ladies. I recall my awkward feelings when I first arrived last November and watched the amputees play football from afar. I certainly then didn’t feel comfortable approaching the players for fear of raising in them, and in me, a feeling of sorrow for their misfortune as well as feeling some guilt of voyeurism. The match on Sunday was very different and felt joyous, more like a celebration. I felt much keener to participate and interact personally with the amputees, much more at ease with the terrible trials that these people had been put through.

The players both women and men enjoyed the challenge and I think also enjoyed being recognized by the community rather than being considered as outcasts. There must have been about 300 spectators who drifted in after the Chelsea vs Arsenal game and who genuinely cheered from the sidelines. I heard yelps of surprise at the skill of the amputees and of the women players. It is not to be forgotten that women in Sierra Leone are not “supposed” to take part in sport and are certainly not in Muslim spheres supposed to play sport with men. So there was an excellent gender equality message as well. In fact the women I think were very courageous to play such a physical game for fear of further injuring the amputees. Oh the score? Well the men won by a score of 3-1 but it didn’t really matter although it was amazing to see the antics of the amputees as they scored and then in celebration twirled in the air around their crutches. Everyone was happy.

I felt good about approaching the players and thanked them for their courage and the great effort. I was very comfortable chatting with both the amputees and women players. I felt that the women and the men enjoyed, for different reasons, being a positive centre of attraction for a change and in a physical endeavour. They seemed to enjoy also having their photos taken and in some respects felt proud of their achievement. In this picture of Ibrahim he poses with his stump almost defiantly on the top of his crutch.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the community was happy to accept the disabled amputees with such enthusiasm. I had had a rather shocking experience with the Makeni City Council whose Chief Administrator had admonished me for my keen desire to hire disabled people to collect tax. Mr. Mussah reminded me that I didn’t understand African ways and culture. Without embarrassment he carefully explained that most Africans considered the disabled as having somehow deserved the disability and were to be shunned as troublemakers. Thus the football game for me seemed to deny this cultural norm perhaps as an early but positive trend.

The game had been arranged by a fellow VSO volunteer Yani Tyskerud. Yani works for the National Electoral Commission and she used the game as a forum for young people to learn to participate in the upcoming election. Whilst the match was being played her message was played from a speaker system. I think it achieved at least a realisation in some about their electoral responsibilities. Nonetheless the match was a great way for the community to come together and support these truly courageous players. The more subtle message for the community is perhaps that all people can and should participate not only in sport but in the affairs of the country as well. Well done Yani.

Another football story this evening on the radio rather startled me. Several Sierra Leonean young boys had been found in neighbouring Senegal having been lured by criminals with the promise of being trained as footballers and sent to European countries. Their parents had been persuaded to part with life savings in their desperate desire for a better future for their children. Life is incredible here.

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