Aminata visits her friend’s hairdressing salon almost every day. The two usually sit on the shaded veranda and talk about their lives and past experiences. Aminata decides to share her childhood memories of white aid workers in Sierra Leone.
I grew up around my mother and noticed that she helped many white people. I can remember some of them—Sister Mariam, a nurse at the girl’s school; John Vial, a teacher at the Catholic school; and a man we called ‘Bird’ who worked for CARE International.
She cooked for them so they could focus on their jobs, and they loved cassava leaf, potato leaf, and beans. My mother put me in charge of delivering their food baskets after my primary school lessons. I would tote the food on my head and walk to the various places where they worked. At the end of the month the workers handed me money in an envelope for my mama.
The white people in our town called me ‘Bendu’. They would photograph me when I washed pans, climbed trees, and ran around playing games. They encouraged me to do things for their pictures, then developed them for me. I still have the photos at my house! They also photographed my father and would ask him about his life. He cleaned, gardened, washed clothes, and cared for the chickens at one of the town’s Catholic schools. One white teacher would even go fishing with him in the Yambatui River.
My family and I never argued with the white workers, and we enjoyed our time with them. They would take me to Serabu Hospital whenever I became sick and would bring my mother along. They were impressed with my school marks. Plan International asked schools for their top students, and I held the first position in primary class one. The organization agreed to sponsor my school fees for two years, but then the civil war happened.
One day the rebels invaded and changed everything. The white people left us and we lost contact with them. If not for the war, I would’ve finished university by today, I’m sure of it. Instead I lost hope and dropped out of school after losing the Plan International sponsorship. I began to sell cakes at this time and even had a kiosk, but my father died and my mother became sick with high blood pressure. I had to close the business to take care for her.
I want to tell white volunteers in Sierra Leone that I’m happy to see them around and I still remember the ones who helped me in my youth. They talked to me and treated me kindly. I felt so happy when they wanted know more about me. I wish I could reunite with them again to make sure that they are still alive. I don’t know if they made it out of Sierra Leone during the war. If they see me all grown up, I hope they still want to be my friend.
Today I continue to sell my cakes around my town. Afterwards I spend time with my best friend at her hairdressing shop. I have a daughter now and her name is Agnes. I want her to learn, achieve, and become somebody great in Sierra Leone. Hopefully she can find the help she needs to succeed. Free education doesn’t pay for university, but maybe she will find the money to attend one day. Agnes is in senior secondary school one (SS1) now and I always think about her future.