Mark Gillett

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Sierra Leone…

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I finally finished my two Sierra Leone edits… What a joy to do.

Sierra Leone had, for a long time, been one of those destinations I have wanted to reach. I have seen horrendous reports of war, expedition logs from friends, charity banners, all sorts of stuff and I just needed to go to see for myself, and now I am not sure why it took so long….

But even so, when I was asked if I would go my initial response was “no.  Not unless you can find a commission fee.” Because at the time my head was too full, charity was not a priority and I just could afford to do it “on my own dime”… Also, charity in Africa has always been a contentious issue for me so to go and give when I was not willing simply didn’t make sense.

A month went by and SuitCase finished filming and photographing at the Diamond Jubilee in Windsor and I was exhausted…. I wanted a break. A holiday, some time in the sun and without any stress, maybe relaxing on the beach…. I pondered a few destinations, Morocco, LA, Scillies (too cold, though) but nothing grabbed me….  And then on about the third evening of no Jubilee, tapping my fingers or twiddling my thumbs, I called Lewis Alderidge, one of the organisers of the Sierra Leone Marathon.. The person who had called a month or so earlier…. “So! tell me more” was pretty much all I said to him…. Lewis “rabbited” (don’t take offence mate..) on for about 30 minutes but what he didn’t know was that I was sold in the first 15 seconds….

In short, I told him I would go if they found my flight and ground costs and I would provide images and a short 3 minute film for YouTube. I was very clear and said that I couldn’t afford to fund myself and I wanted a break…. Africa sounded like a good idea. Charity was not in my head but if it gave me a week away and I could help them a bit, I was up for it…. [Is that harsh?]

Anyway, he confirmed, booked my ticket and I prepped for it the night before going. Oh apart form the jabs I needed…

In all seriousness I was delighted to be going… I did think I would have a few days photographing the coast which I had read so much about but it turned out differently..  As with all charities they needed to get me everywhere.. To see everything. Film the lot and photograph a gazillion children in school and so on. They needed blood. But then that is what they do well.

As soon as we landed, my visions and memories were quite bluntly yet beautifully taken back 20 years to when I went to Nigeria.. I have visited South Africa and Kenya also but this was different. Raw in every sense. Nothing had changed in 20 years… The airport had its damp musty smell, bars on windows and unpainted walls, masses of people outside waiting to get your bags, take you to the hotel that paid them the most commission, or just stare at you as you walked through the doors to the outside humidity and mass of more people.

I was back in Africa and hadn’t realised how much I had missed it. How much it hit every sense I had. I stood happily for around two hours just waiting to find out where we were going. Stood and watched the organised mayhem that Africa is.

Eventually we were bustled onto three buses and taken to the ferry across to Freetown. Our truck made it on but the big one got stuck at the ramp. Not that anyone was bothered. The shouting began between the driver and boat people. But not in a nasty way. Just the way they discuss this stuff… Who was pushing, who was driving and who was propping up the back wheels to in order to get the bus on the boat…  I photographed it along with everything else I saw… The people on the boat, the runners who had travelled with me for the Marathon. Everyone sweating profusely but just accepting that this is Africa.

Eventually we sailed, beers were consumed and the journey really got underway.

I will leave you there for now and let the videos tell the story….  I thoroughly enjoyed working for this charity and would do it again… Street Child do a great but most importantly and honest job of getting education to kids and kids off the street into families… they gave me back my faith in charity done well…  Kiln who sponsored the race were the perfect match for the event and their runners did a great job in raising lots of needed cash too…

The Sierra Leoneon people are perhaps the most beautiful I have met for a long time.. They have true soul. A happiness we are missing so much in our own youth and a deep beauty I just can’t explain. So go, experience it and love it for what it is… And if you can help the charity, then give a little bit too..

I hope you enjoy the videos.

One Response

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  1. yep, it’s exactly that. will never forget the first breath of air when I got out of the plane at entebbe airport at 4am. humid and rich and promising… so africa.

    Gabi

    June 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm


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