Alice spends most evenings inside her baray, a circular concrete structure fourteen feet in diameter (~4.25m) and three feet high (~1m). Concrete seats decorated with broken tiles extend from the wall around its entire length. The conical roof consists of an intricate wooden frame covered with layers of dried tall grass. It reaches twelve feet high (~3.66m) at the apex. The open space between the roof and wall creates a continuous window interrupted by a single entrance.
Alice had the baray built on her front lawn for family gatherings, prayer meetings, community discussions, and quiet relaxation. She shares her story while sitting inside the structure with her daughter, son, and daughter-in-law. Her granddaughter, Annet, sits on her lap.
I’m a housewife and I sell lunch—bread and beans—every other day at the Islamic secondary school near my house. I enjoy giving food to the students. The work gives me a small profit, and I use the money to buy ingredients at the market and cook for my family.
My parents gave me away at a young age. We lived in a village so they wanted to ‘mend me’, or send me to live with another family for a better life and an opportunity to receive a good education. My mother asked if I could live with the brother of her husband’s other wife. He worked as a mechanic and had a natural talent for understanding machines. He and his wife had nine children together, so I made ten. At the time I cried and felt very sad but slowly I began to appreciate the strangers and see them as my own family. They received me with kindness and love. The man and his wife treated me as their own daughter. To help them, my parents sent money for food and school fees whenever they could.
I stayed with the family all of primary school, but then my father died. I had to move back to the village and help my mother so I never sat the National Primary School Examination (NPSE). I left school forever because nobody could pay my school fees. My mother and I lived together from 1985 until she died in 1996.
Alice falls silent. She plays with her baby grandchild and talks with her family. Her other granddaughter enters the baray holding a notebook—she’s in primary class six. Today the class learned about squares and square roots. The teacher gave an assignment so the family reviews the topic together. Afterwards, Alice continues her story.
I still remember the man who mended me. I think of him as my uncle. He passed away about five years ago. His family and I don’t visit each other or even talk on the phone. I stayed at their house for many years and miss them sometimes. I’m really thankful that they raised me.
Thankfully I never needed to send any of my four children to another family. My eldest son is now in his 30s and he’s a secondary school teacher. My youngest child is 20 and goes to senior secondary school. I also have four grandchildren. The eldest is eleven and the youngest is six months.
I’m thankful for my life and happy with the way it turned out. I pray for God to give my children good work and success. That way they can support me as I have supported them. I want my children and grandchildren to have health and a bright future. I wish the same for all Sierra Leoneans. Let us have peace, success, and unity.