One of the more interesting and fun experiences during our time in Sierra Leone was our interaction with the children. As soon as we got out of the truck, the children surrounded us. They would take our hands and tell us their names. And after about a half dozen kids told you their names, they would start to ask you to repeat their names. So, the deal was, we memorize a whole bunch of names, but all they need to do is remember ours. Very challenging. But, for the most part, they were delightful. This actually happened to us in two communities: Makeni, where we stayed, and Manonkoh, where we spent most of our project time.
While we were outside, the children were with us constantly. And as you might expect, certain kids show up all the time. Their regular presence gives you a chance to get to know them and to become friends. I think each member of the group formed friendships with one or more of the children. Certainly I developed somewhat of a relationship with the little guy I’m holding in the photos. I met him on the first day I went to Manonkoh. His name is Joe, and he learned that my name was also Joe. And so, from that first day until the last day in Manonkoh, he was at my side whenever I was there. He was attached by an invisible elastic band. When I would get out of the truck, he would suddenly be there. And if I walked off or moved around to take a picture, he would soon appear again at my side. He rarely smiled, and we didn’t converse much. But he did lobby me from time to time to take a picture of him and a friend. He is the size of a two-year-old, but I suspect he was perhaps three or four. He sort of took possession of me. When other children came up to me and took my other hand, he would chase them away. I made an effort to stop him from doing that, but he was rather persistent. I actually had to physically restrict him from hitting some of the other kids. (Just as an aside, the children were very rough and tough on each other. In many ways, they are no different than children anywhere.)
You can see that I wore a yellow bandana while I was there. One day, late in our stay, I took out a bandana and tied it on Little Joe’s head. That raised quite a stir. Several children asked me for a bandana, and I did finally give away a few. After I gave Little Joe the bandana, he disappeared for a while, only to show up a few minutes with a woman who must have been his mother. He held up a bag to me. In it was two guava fruits. It was his gift to me.
In addition to telling us their names and requiring us to remember them, the children also constantly asked us to “snap” them. Snapping, of course, refers to a snapshot–a photo. Their method of communicating this was to come up to us, hold their tiny little fists over their eyes as if to simulate the picture-taking process, and then call, “Porto, porto, snap me, snap me.”
Now, porto translates as white man. Actually, the term is “el porto” and hails from the first white visitors, the Portuguese. But the “el” often got dropped, or would be pronounced more like, “Aporto, aporto.” You get the idea.
The process of taking a snap is to make the photograph of the child, and sometimes his or her friend, then turn the camera around to show them the viewing screen so that they could see themselves. This usually resulted in a lot of oohs and ahs.
Now, there was a risk to snapping a child. The crowd around your legs might only be four or five kids at any one time. But as soon as you took the first picture of the first child, the crowd would quickly grow to 10 or 15, and often more. The more photos I took, the more requests I got. This was the same for everyone in the party. The children just swarmed around us. They pushed and shoved each other to get in front of the lens. They never tired it.