The office recently headed up country en masse for the annual two-day retreat. A time for important reflection, but also a bit of fun – and centre stage was the sports afternoon. In the 4x100m mixed relay I was at second base. We already had the lead when the baton was passed, but it was such good fun sprinting down the side of the football field. The exhilaration was to accelerate for the first 30m and then find that there were still more in the tank, so it felt like I was getting faster and faster almost all the way through.
I’ve never done any proper sprinting, though on my now occasional jogs I like to finish with a sprint. There’s something primeval about it though – just running as fast as you can over a short distance. It makes you feel young and athletic as you push your body to do something it’s intricate autonomy is put together to accomplish. In a couple of decades sprinting will be something I dream about rather than do, but how many of us give-up prematurely on these youthful and simple pleasures?
I was up country this week. After rising early, I took a stroll out from the hotel while awaiting breakfast. It was before seven but you already had the feeling a hot day was coming – far hotter than what we get on the coast. The hotel itself was Lebanese-owned and the separate bedroom blocks around a narrow quad each had a large 4×4 parked outside.
Outside the gate, the high wall, and the G4S security guards, the mud road was wide and looked like it had recently been flattened. The ground was moist with dew yet to be burned off, and the majority of traffic outside was schoolchildren walking in all directions, and the odd dog shuffling around. The hotel was on the outskirts of town, so the land in the vicinity was a mix of small homes and fields. There was green space. A stream with croaking frogs ran through fields a short distance from the hotel, and I picked one of the mud crossing paths and headed to a small bridge. Children said hello as they passed. Around homes, kids were washing themselves from buckets, lathered from head to toe in soap. Parents were sitting on their front steps greeting passers-by and exchanging news with the rest of their families. There was often laughter in the air.
I’m sure they knew I was from the hotel. They probably considered I was one of those crazy people who’d waste $80 for a bed for the night. I obviously had more money than sense.
An idea came to me to make a little video one day juxtaposing the start to the day here, and then with some busy professional in the West. Emphasising (unfairly, but for a point) how the latter could go to work without anyone saying hello, and never sharing a joke. At the end they would both see representations of the other – the westerner would say a charity advert showing a miserable African, and the West African would see something aspirational showing the apparently glamorous life in the paradisiacal west.
In less than a month I’ve been in deep snow in the foothills of the alps, spread out on perfectly cut lawns at an English country house on a warmish Spring day, and here several hours from the coast in Sierra Leone. It’s a privilege.