I remember walking into my old friend’s living room in the Grassfield area of Lumley way back in 1990. Like many homes then on a Sunday afternoon, you could hear the BBC radio station blasting from a far distance. As I walked in and sat down next to my old friend – I called him my old friend for a good reason and you will see a lot of references to many of my old friends in my letters – he motioned to the radio that was strategically placed on top of the credenza adjacent to a bookshelf on the far end of the room.
“That’s Alistair Cooke”, he said with a smile. “One of the best out there.” Of course he was. Alistair Cook was a British/American journalist, television personality and broadcaster. He was also a journalist whose radio program, Letter from America, aired on the BBC radio from 1945 to 2004. That visit and conversation took place some twenty-five years ago but it evidently left me thinking.
What an idea! Writing and sending letters to compatriots in Salone from any remote location seemed like a wonderful plan. I was thinking a different location then; an imaginary excursion – somewhere in my dream – from where I could relate stories that continued to shape us and make us who we are.
During one of my trips to Salone, back in 2008, I was introduced by a friend of mine to a group of people at an Internet café in Freetown. “Meet Ahmed”, he said with excitement. “He is from the Diaspora”. I extended my hand for a handshake but, at the same time, was baffled by the introduction. From the Diaspora? I understand the not too endearing term, JayCee, but dis wan full mi moht, I thought. Why am I from the Diaspora? Historically, this term has been reserved for mass exodus or dispersion of people who settled somewhere far away from their homeland. So I guess I had become part of that epic or Biblical proportion of Sierra Leoneans who left their homeland for various reasons to settle across the Ocean? I was more embarrassed, somehow bemused than proud of the description. It dawned on me though, that people in the Diaspora generally think of returning home one day, have a strong relationship with other communities in the Diaspora and the homeland, and somehow lack the tendency to or are unwilling to fully assimilate wherever they are. It gave me that sudden and renewed inspiration to continuously connect with the country we all know and love so much, the land that, regardless of where we are, will always be home.
As I sit here, thousands of miles away from home, I once again thought of my good old friend in Grassfield, Freetown. I thought about days in Freetown and how life seemed so simple. In every culture or belief system, man tends to gravitate towards the center, that of finding a connection with his own spirituality. But he is also being pull away by the unknown forces of worldliness. Like everything in nature, these opposing and most times unequal forces tend to be at war with each other. I have found that phenomenon everywhere and against that backdrop, we are going to have plenty to talk about. There is the election, the Olympics and just life in general. I am very happy to be part of this adventure and here’s wishing my other old friend a success. And until we meet again, here is a poem that has nostalgia written all over it. From an imaginary location…
Un Bombero por un día:
(In search of Sia Tiyaama)
San Cristobal de las Casas
When Sia Tiyaama entered the Cantina,
clad in a traditional colorful Mexican dress,
she could, in spite of her dark complexion,
be mistaken for a China Poblanas.
But there was no mistaking who she was;
her mischievous smile and seeming nonchalance
gave her away.
She was the anonymous writer
many believed never existed,
that her name meant something
in Mende, Madinka or Swahili.
She was the mythological spirit
in her native country, Sierra Leone,
a champion to those who loved her,
( much to the chagrin of her detractors.)
But there she was, smiling and giggling
As she approached my corner,
far from the Mariachi Band playing
on the other end of the room
It was a dimly-lit room
but Sia Tiyaama’s presence
suddenly transformed this place
into a glowing backdrop
of a Hollywood movie set.
Care for some Margaritas?
She called from across the table,
as she leaned forward, very slowly
motioning to the waiter
in green, white and blue Sombrero hat.
I made him wear that.
Reminds me of Sierra Leone.
I haven’t been back home in twenty years
But it is a place called home
The waiter gave me thumbs up
and broadsided Sia on his way to the bar.