Lansana sits on a wooden bench on the front porch of his small home in Mandu, a farming village about 18 miles from Bo. The dirt, pot-holed, rutted road, runs from the Mende region to the Temene region (the other major ethnic group). This whole region was engulfed by the vicious civil war of 1991 to 2002. The movie “Blood Diamonds” portrays some of the violence of that war, including amputations by the rebels. But today, a decade of peace later, there have been two peaceful presidential elections and a change of power. Another election is due in 2012.
During the war, massive numbers fled the country or to Freetown or the bush. Lansana had to flee his home and run to the bush. Living in a temporary shelter he built in the bush, he and his family stayed for several years. Some of his children made it to Ghana and were later resettled in Australia where they live today.
But life in the village is not easy. “I’m penniless,” he says. Villagers live on the crops they grow (such as rice and cassava) and the little extra they sell. A group called Friends of Sierra Leone, mostly ex-Peace Corps volunteers, is helping the village construct a cement floor pig-raising facility that could boost local incomes. The government has constructed a grain milling and storage building along with a 36-foot well (none of it yet in use). There is a local school. Houses are mostly mud-walled with old tin roofs or thatch.
I write down and the practice with residents some words in the Mende language. All too soon we are heading back to town, riding again with Bob Moran, a former Peace Corps volunteer from 1972 who still lives in the same village where he was a volunteer. He works for the local Catholic Church at present and is the adoptive father of a locally born son. He visits his family in the U.S. from time to time, but he loves living here.