Thursday, 10 November 2016

Post Trip Postmortem

How successful was this trip?  It's an important question that must be answered at the end of every trip but it  is particularly pertinent for this trip, our first trip post-Ebola.  Additionally, it was my fifth and final trip so considerations of success, collective and personal, are vital.  After so many trips I have a wealth of comparative information to consider this question confidently.  I think...

Was it a success?  Given the inevitable anxieties about the aftermath of Ebola it has been an unequivocal success.  By simply daring to travel and returning safely and without incident we have achieved confidence and reassurance of our safety in Sierra Leone.  Furthermore, we have sent a clear message to our friends in Sierra Leone that our strong links will not be weakened by hysteria.  Furthermore, in a symbolic way it means that we stand with them/by them through thick and thin.  Caught in traffic, which became an undesirable characteristic of this trip, my eye caught a wall emblazoned with "Wi go "was" Ebola!"  Ebola is most definitely in the past and Sierra Leone wants to move on.  It was curious how it was not mentioned unless asked about and even then personal accounts lacked the apocalyptic hysteria of our media presentations.  At JT Reffell there wasn't a single case but we know about people at Ballanta personally affected.  That said the 2 million people of Freetown realistically had very little practical experience of the virus, which only nationally rose to just over 10,000 cases.  Only...

Back to success.  Did I provide the opportunities for success?  More than any trip to date I have managed to provide more opportunities to the travelling students.  See below for evidence of a packed itinerary.

Not only have we visited chimp sanctuaries and markets but we have also visited women's clinics, blind schools and orphanages.  This latter grouping brought a much needed dose of reality and awareness of hardship that our team needed.  There is something potentially troubling about luxuriating in an air-coniditioned hotel compound but it's a necessity for safety.  Hence, visiting clinics and orphanages is vital to ensure that our students [and staff] have the most three dimensional view possible of West African life.  The orphanage was a find - literally!  Bumping into a Sierra Leonean man with an American accent made me curious and my curiosity got me an invite.  As with all things in Freetown, it was inevitably an invite that wasn't as straightforward as I thought [see separate blog entry about our 2 hour+ bus breakdown stew].  When we did eventually get there it was a wonderfully spontaneous happening - the most torrential rain hammered down upon those of us ensconced in the safety of a small hall where our students bonded, connected, illuminated the lives of kids whose lives they simply could not imagine.  Sometimes serendipity actually does work outside films!

Visionary success? My vision [and that of the lovely wife I left behind this time] has always been one based on cultural sharing and fusion rather than one of us delivering cultural instruction.  I have never wanted Ballanta to be WCS in Africa - I have always wanted it to be an African WCS, which is a huge difference.  To dismantle old colonial attitudes involves us recognising that we don't know the best way - we just know our way.  The journey of the musicians on this trip was quite intense.  We travelled with an unusually small group of musicians.  It was a risky gamble but what a gamble.  Chance had brought a group of jazz musicians together and after a shaky start flourished in the fertile musical garden provided by Ballanta.  Their ability to let go of the classical sheet music constraints and embrace the freedom of African jamming and adventurous mistake making was wonderful to see.  Our last concert at the British Council epitomised the musical fusion I have always strived for.  We played classical; we played jazz; we listened to jazz; we attempted to African dance; we played alone; we played together; we combined and collaborated and collectively succeeded.  It was epitomised visually in Hafren's duet with Francesta at the concert's end.  Not something unusual for this trip [it has happened before on other trips] but something symbolically powerful to remind both stakeholders in the project how important our link is.  Our brave troubadours have learned something fundamental about music and musicianship from the joyous, insanely multi-instrumental Ballanta musicians.

Did I mention non-musical success?  The JT Reffell team went to Sierra Leone with big ideas and small resources.  They quickly got to grips with the reality of implementing big ideas in a completely alien educational environment i.e. they swiftly worked out what was going to work and what wouldn't.  I could have told them that, and did, but sometimes experience is the only true form of education.  The adulation that greeted them every break time, with Lydia and Olivia virtually being stretched limb by limb, was testament to the great job and excitement they brought to these children's lives.  This group has also been responsible for overseeing the greatest amount of glitter ever glued to the faces of African children ever - M. Bolan and D, Bowie [both now RIP - not from glitter ODs, mind] would have been proud.  In a way I feel sorry for the JTR Collective as just as they were hitting their stride they were hitting the floor of the water taxi home.  The timings of this particular trip did not allow our usual momentum and it is certainly a consideration for the next trip.  Again, a vital lesson has been reconfirmed: we shouldn't be playing football on a stony clay pitch - not that the egos of Angus, Freddie and Rhodri would miss out on the chaotic celebrations on every goal scored.

Complete Success?  Each team has its own short shelf life and sometimes the shelf life continues well after the trip.  The best teams prioritise cultural education over all else; personal enjoyment and personal problems have to take a backseat.  The odd thing is that when teams take it seriously like this the enjoyment comes easily: they end up learning profound life lessons and are rewarded with fun and friendship.  Other teams prioritise the fun and, unsurprisingly, get fun.  But very little learning takes place.  It's all about prioritising the right things and setting expectations high.  Of late phones have become an irritating problem.  With better internet access more recent teams have been able to access Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube etc and to the detriment of their overall experience.  Looking down the bus many times, I saw a few faces looking outwards but the majority of faces looked inwards riveted to their phones or discussing some social media related trivialities, which is a wasted opportunity.  Luckily, such indulgence can only be a small part of each day.  

I have not been able to measure the individual successes of this team because I have spent so little time with them, which seems like an odd thing to say.  I have been a busy boy, possibly too busy, in Freetown and taken all types of opportunities I normally wouldn't: visiting film schools working with street kids, designing new logos [see bottom], terrorising national TV, blagging my way into the Irish embassy etc.  The lack of a central meeting space in our HQ this trip has certainly not helped this process and it is something to think about seriously for the next trip.  So much happens every day that a team debrief becomes almost essential.  I know that the enjoyment and bonding levels were very high but I have yet to discover how much learning happened.   I have resorted to post-trip discussions and what I have so far found out has been intriguing.  Watch this space...  Despite what has been learned the most difficult aspect of such learning is to retain it, to not let it be washed away by the chaos of life back home, to be able to contextualise our own lives through an awareness of other lives.  It takes strength to not succumb to our familiar coping mechanisms of whinging over trivialities and feeling sorry for ourselves when in a wider sense we have no right to do so.  Only those with a strong moral core can do this well.  To assimilate such temporary cultural learning into a more permanent worldview is akin to wisdom.  Difficult to measure now; maybe best to test 10 years into the future!  They look more enlightened below...or is it just exhaustion?

Solo success?  All down to me?  Not likely!  Firstly, I must thank Johanna Harrison for agreeing to return to Freetown - and thereby making the dastardly transition from student in 2010 to staff member in 2016.  What a calm and mature hand to guide our musicians!  Johanna was a great support to both students and staff and her presence was key in creating a successful trip.  Secondly, I must also thank Jules Desmarchelier for firstly, assisting me in the trip but also more fundamentally in taking on the work I have spent the past six years doing.  I look forward to seeing how Jules continues the good work of the project into the future and I am confident that the project lies in safe hands.  It is odd to hear how long I have been at the helm of the project and I have mixed feelings about letting it go.   It was supposed to be only two years but ultimately, I know that my time is up and my energies spent.  The project needs fresh eyes, energy and ideas to keep the momentum rolling.  Each trip and each team has brought unforgettable memories, challenges, disappointments, failures...but mostly successes.  The highlights reel would be very long indeed!  

Personally, I have no idea how successful I have been and in what ways I have been successful.  I am happy with some things, unhappy with others but ultimately all that I can say is that I have done my best.  In doing my best I have been aided by some brilliant people over the years.  Thank you to all of them but, most especially, thank you to Sarah.  I spent my spare moments this trip looking to my left and finding not stories about her day but hot, humid space.  I would be a liar if I said I didn't taste loneliness among one of the friendliest peoples on the planet.  But those sharp shards of loneliness have prodded me homewards.  Sierra Leone has challenged us to marry, to embrace parenthood, to essentially become better people.  If nothing else I can only thank them for teasing us into action and accelerating our journey into joint happiness.

Success? Yes.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Sunday 30th October

Day 10: Sunday 30th October 2016

Our last day in Sierra Leone was mainly filled with packing and then travelling back home.  However, we began with a morning walk along the beach. The beach was much busier than the the day before as virtually ever square inch had been turned into football pitches. The few that did not go for the walk on the beach stayed at the hotel and organised a game of football with some of children staying at the hotel. This was much fun despite the relentless heat. 

After having packed up our cases we all went for a much needed pizza in the restaurant next to the hotel and got on the bus for our last journey with Augustin the bus driver. It was rather emotional to see the outline of Freetown as we left by water taxi and waved goodbye to members of the Ballanta academy who had come to bid us farewell. Although we were really sad to be leaving we knew we were all taking some amazing memories back with us and some unforgettable experiences. 

We soon arrived at Freetown airport where we had a 3 hour wait before boarding our plane. This was spent drinking cans of coke and exhausting our knowledge of card games. It was then on to Monrovia in Liberia where we stopped for 1 hour before finally departing to Brussels. Almost 7 hours later we zombied our way to another terminal to pass over 4 hours waiting for our final flight back home.  Typically, it was delayed by almost an hour and we didn't meet our faithful bus driver, Mrs Tully, till close to 12.00.  It was 3.20 before we came to a halt in the stableyard [we also managed to stock up on some high quality junk food en route - BurgerKing or KFC being the only moral options available].  Before we rushed indifferently to familiar faces one final lecture/ warning/ congratulations from Mr Meally and then we were free to be exhausted in whatever fashion we had been a hell of a journey or was it a hellish journey that lasted over 24 hours from Water Taxi to WCS-bus- shaped taxi?

By Lydia & Joe 

Saturday 29th October

A late night on Friday meant that we decided not to physically partake in the so called fun run we were supposed tostart at 8.00. It didn't help that Augustin didn't show up with the bus until 7.58!  Instead most of us went for a leisurely beach walk along beautiful Lumley beach.  It was deserted and pretty cool by Salone standards and it turned out to be a beautifully unexpected treat for us.  Meanwhile after sloping into the post-Fun Run reception where certificates had been issued to the participants [hypocritically accepted by the Wells Walkers - Mr Meally interestingly changed gender by becoming Michelle Meally!] the Wells musicians performed a short concert at the Radison hotel, which was unfortunately hampered by sudden rain. 

Everyone then returned to our hotel for some much needed rest, some beginning the ominous task of packing! Unfortunately, such thoughts of departure made Verity, Lindsey and Hafren extremely nauseous indeed.  So while they recovered and caught some much needed sleep the rest of the team then visited a local orphanage, which many found extremely moving. just as we got in the door we were hit by the hardest and liongest rain shower we had seen to date since we got here.  Individuals from the team brought gifts and donations for the kids, including books pens and sweets. The interactions with the children included games and dancing, causing one kid to fall asleep in Angus' lap. One member of staff at the orphanage was a trumpet player and we were fortunate to hear a talented duet between him and Albert, accompanied by some of the children on a variety of percussion instruments. After this we returned to the hotel for a quick snack before preparation for the concert later on. 

In the evening we had our final concert, at the British Council. It started with some instrumental music from Groovy Colours and then Hafren, Bertie and Verity played in Ballanta's quintet who had been rehearsing all week. After playing a classical section we moved onto our jazz pieces and did our jamming with James for the last time. By this point we had really got to grips with the improvising (and dancing) and were sad that this was the last time playing with James and the rest of Groovy Colours. We then performed the African dance that we had been taught at Ballanta (which was met with some laughter!). Groovy Colours then performed another amazing set and the concert ended with a duet sung by Francesta and Hafren. After the concert we said goodbye to all the amazing people we met and worked with at Ballanta, which was very emotional. It was a great concert to end the trip with.

Rhodri and Verity

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Friday 28th October

Day 8: Friday 28th October 2016

Today was bittersweet for the musicians as the students said their goodbyes to the place that they had come to know very well indeed in only a short space of time. The Ballanta, so different than the 'music academies' we are used to in the UK, encapsulates the point of a music academy- music making, working together, and sharing that music with the local community- and it's so much easier to access that once the trappings of concert etiquette and prestige are taken away. The students commented to me how much they valued this kind of music making and how much easier it had become during the week- I hope they have gone back to Wells enthused by the possibilities that they've seen here. There was one last trip to the bakery helped (or maybe aided and abetted) by the wonderful Ballanta staff- jam tarts have never tasted so good- and then we set off for the JT, managing to steal James from Groovy Colours for a short while to help us entertain the children at the school.

There we definitely had the hardest job in terms of a performance space- I felt like I was melting in the heat and I had to pried away from the one fan in the room! Everyone joined forces to do a variety of musical pieces in the apocalyptic heat and the children loved it and were a bit bemused in equal measures. The Ballanta crew have had a great week and have learned so much- they say that teaching is the one way to make sure you yourself learn, and I hope that the lessons this week are those that they will take back to the UK with open minds and hearts. 

 - Johanna

Today was an emotional day for the JTR crew as we knew we would be headed there for the very last time. We also knew that not much work as such would be done, as we had a full programme of celebrations ahead of us. After our final walk to the school in the excruciating heat of the morning, we arrived greeted by the cheers of excitement from over 500 children expecting us for the promised football game. In Salone football is king and a real contact sport, but our boys acquitted themselves superbly, leading by 2 goals to nil by half-time (30 minutes). Notably every time Mr Meally graced the pitch we leaked goals like a rusty sieve - no advantage of experience there.  The JTR boys made a fantastic comeback in the second half, but with a little bit of luck, WCS murdered them 3-3! 

We followed this with some games in the school yard during their lunchtime. This was all part of the big build up to the concert in the afternoon: JT Reffel primary and secondary students treated us to some poems in French, a play and a few songs (including I am told as it was hard to hear over the cheers, a very rude rap song) and the JTR team, with MC Angus at its helm, lead the round of singing. By then the musicians had joined us from their morning session at the Ballanta Academy of Music and lead us into an incredible end of concert, with nearly the whole school dancing! Thank God for Bertie's trombone, Hafren's trumpet, Verity's clarinet and Lindsey's saxophone... and the duo of ever joyful James and our own dexterous Dillon on the piano. 

We left the school full of sadness but also with a sense of warmth, newly forged friendships and strong connections.  It has been an absolute joy to share this experience with Angus, Joe, Rhodri, Freddy, Liv and Lydia - they have been full of energy, enthusiasm and have given a lot of themselves. They have survived a full week of sparkles, songs, story telling in French (chapeau Rhodri!) and hopefully will never forget their time at the school. 

Until next year from me...
 - Jules Desmarchelier

This evening saw our first formal concert engagement at the residence of British High Commissioner, Guy Warrington, and his lovely wife, Karen.  We performed a set showcasing our musical flexibility by presenting some classical pieces as well as our new found Jazz expertise.  We concluded the evening by playing with Groovy Colours.  Whether it was the higher expectations of the crowd or just the monkeys marauding around the palm trees, the musicians upper their game significantly to produce their very best performance by far this trip i.e. a smooth transition from great to top class.  Most memorable moment came courtesy of Hafren's scorching cover of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good," which occurred when the winds were picking up and torrential rain clouds seemed to be closing in rapidly.  They were obviously listening carefully and didn't want to change Hafren's mood so they held back the rain till after we departed triumphant...we all left feeling good on a job well done...except for Mr Meally, who had to lie on the floor for 30 minutes because he hurt his back.  He obviously needs to book himself in for circuits training when we get back!

Wednesday 26 October

Day 6
Wednesday 26th

We started the day at Ballanta and JT Reffel as normal. At JT we taught a different class, to start with we made masks with different craft equipment, they loved the glitter and decided to stick it all over their faces, hands and Rhodri who is apparently afraid of it.   After this we decided to teach them the round that Dillon and Hafren had taught us on the bus. This comprised of three songs, Swing Low, Oh When the Saints and I Want to Sing.  The kids loved the singing and tried to sing loud enough to make the whole of Freetown jealous. 

After teaching at Ballanta (with my [Lindsey] first composition student!), we finished the morning jamming with James - rehearsing pieces for outreach concerts later in the day. After this we met up with the others before heading to our first outreach concert - at Aberdeen Women's Clinic. Here we were shocked to see so many pregnant young girls even younger than us. Johanna's incredible voice was much appreciated by all the girls, as was the rest of the jazz that the musicians played. 

Our second outreach concert of the day was at SOS school. Francesta (the singer from Groovy Colours) used to go there - which made her something of a local celebrity! We began the concert with Johanna's impressive vocals, then swiftly followed this with our jazz pieces. After joining up with Groovy Colours, Hafren stunned the audience with a rendition of Summertime, as we improvised. Next, we played James's Jam - our nickname for the first piece we played with James, Groovy Colours' pianist. One enthusiastic boy was summoned over by Hafren to dance, leading the whole audience (including teachers!) in a freestyle dance off. We managed to join in on the dancing, even while improvising. Hands down this was one of the most incredible experiences of our musical life!

Lindsey and Olivia

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Thursday 27th October

We got up early and went to breakfast as usual, got on the bus and drove to Ballanta through the normal gridlocked traffic. The musicians did a short rehearsal of our jazz repetoire before our students arrived. Less teaching went on this morning as fewer students were there.  Some African dances were learnt however and performed later that evening to the rest of us. We also took a short trip to visit a local bakery and bought some very tasty jam tarts.

Today at JT Refell we started the day by teaching class prep 5 'A Sailor went to Sea' (moves and all). The children seemed to really enjoy the rhyme and they picked it up surprisingly quickly, culminating in them challenging even us for speed. This over excitement perhaps contributed to the ridiculous amount of glitter spread over the classroom in the next exercise. This involved the kids making their own sea animal and making them as colourful as possible.

The two groups then joined up and went to the Lebanese International School where we performed by ourselves and with Groovy Colours. Once again, a tune we have named James' Jam, improvised by Lindsey in a rehearsal, got everyone dancing, especially when Angus joined in. We left amid a storm of requests for photos and drove back to Ballanta to drop Goovy Colours off and visit the market.

The indoor markets were an an experience to remember.  We were immediately mobbed by vendors offering various bright shirts, trousers and accessories. After about an hour of bartering and browsing everyone had bought what they wanted (apart from Dillon) and we headed back to the hotel for a swim and much needed hit on the pipe.

Dillon and Freddie

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Tuesday 25th October

 25th October 
Today was our first proper day teaching at the JT Refell school. We decided to split into two groups of three; Olivia, Rhodri and Freddy together and Joe, Lydia and myself [Angus]. Splitting into groups proved to be a good idea as it meant that we could meet and teach more children. To begin with we did a book reading of "The Hungry Caterpillar" - however it was in French. We kept it interesting by using group inclusion show and tell. Once finished we told the kids (aged around 7) to draw what their favourite food in the book was. They warmed to this idea of imagination and individuality and produced wonderful drawings of fruit and sweets (mostly ice cream). After this activity we took the children outside and thought them how to play the drama warm up game - SPLAT! This activity proved extremely successful and was unsurprisingly very popular. By the time we had payed a few games in small groups and one large game as a whole it was break time and thus our first day of teaching was over.

Today was our second day at the Ballanta Academy.  We all had 2 or 3 1 on 1 lessons as well as a few group sessions. Several people had lessons with more than one of us on different instruments. Dillon had a pupil who had never played piano despite his age. We started jamming with James, the pianist of Groovy Colors and we discovered that we made a really nice sound (with me [Bertie] playing a traditional African drum!) and decided to play in the open mic night later that night.

The original plan after teaching  was to go and perform at a local orphanage.  However, whilst on route to the outreach we had the unfortunate mishap of the engine in our bus failing. We were lucky enough however to break down near to a petrol station and opposite a very welcoming restaurant - which would come in handy. We ended up waiting in the scorching hot bus for 2 and half hours. 

This was a very tiring ordeal however the owners of the restaurant kindly let us in to their building to get out of the sun. Finally the bus started again, we got petrol and we were on our way. We arrived back at Ballanta ready to play and listen to Groovy Colours. They started with some instrumental music before we all went outside to listen to some Sierra Leonean music and some kids danced for us. It was all really exciting. Their singer then sung some UK pop songs like Adele and Bruno Mars but with a reggae twist. They continued to play music till the sun went down.

Albert and Angus

Monday 24th October

Lindsey and Verity started the day bright and early by departing at 7.00 with Mr Meally for a TV broadcast for Good Morning Sierra Leone. This went very well despite a slight issue with Verity's chair which sank down gradually throughout the interview!

The JT reffell group spent our first morning in the school. After a very friendly welcome from the staff and the chance to take in the amazing view, we went into every classroom meeting children ranging from primary to secondary school. Each class welcomed us back to the school with some even performing routines. At break time the children all ran out to meet and play with us, (some a little too energetically as they managed to pull over Olivia). After managing to escape we waved goodbye with a better understanding of which classes we want to teach for the rest of the week. 

On the musicians' first arrival to the Ballanta music academy we were all excited to get started and teach our first pupils. After a quick tour, students started to appear, and before we knew it we were all teaching. Soon we were accustomed to the heat and our slightly wacky teaching spaces (Bertie and I having an open-air courtyard for our brass lessons!).

We travelled to Martillie international school in the afternoon to perform an outreach concert with the 'Groovy Colours' band from Ballanta. It's safe to say that the children were excited to be out of lessons as they filed into the hall. After a successful attempt at our infamous round of singing the Wells group performed some jazz pieces before we got to listen to the great singing from Groovy Colours.

One of the highlights of our day was a visit to Freetown's Blind School, where we performed some numbers for them, and in return their choir sang a number of beautiful songs for us, accompanied by a very skilled pianist. Solomon and Moses showed off their rapping prowess after the concert with a fast and lengthy rap, and Fatima made it clear that she doesn't much care for Social Studies (by nibbling at her textbook). It was an incredibly rewarding and humbling experience. 

We can't wait for the rest of the week!

Lydia and Hafren

Sunday 23nd October

First thing in the morning the musicians and non-musicians split into two groups, to visit two separate church services. 

The musicians visited Buxton Church, where we'd rehearsed the day before. It began with the procession - "we are dancing in the light of God" - which we were invited to join in on. Near the end of the service we were given the opportunity to contribute, singing Amazing Grace as a group before playing two jazz pieces. We then joined in with their procession out, included in their singing and dancing as we had been on the way in! 

In the morning the non-musicians were lucky  enough to attend the proclamation service at The Zion on the hill church. Among the guests were the Sierra Leonian Minister of Tourism and culture and a spokesman for the President. The mixture of colourful song and prayer (with some serious political undertones) made for some interesting listening, which climaxed in the church being made a national monument of Sierra Leone by presidential proclamation. It was a fascinating experience to be exposed to such a contrasting way of worship. 

Afterwards we were invited to eat with many who came to the service and enjoy some traditional cuisine. Next we were taken to watch street performers - one thing we'll all definitely remember is one vibrant dancer who could somehow stomach eating sand!

Joe and Lindsey

Saturday 22nd October.

An early start for the group was followed by a scenic mountainous drive through the trees toward the first stop of the day: a chimp sanctuary. A short walk up a hill took us to the lodges, where we were taken by the guide to the chimp areas. Seeing the animals play together was a very enjoyable experience.  It was something we could've watched for hours. The sanctuary takes in stranded and orphaned chimps and rehabilitates them so that they are ready for the wild. Seeing this process in different stages as we walked round the sanctuary was highly fulfilling as it showed the progress that can be made, even over short spaces of time. After this we returned to the hotel for some lunch, including some tasty chicken wraps.

After lunch the JT Refell group returned to the hotel and relaxed for a few hours by the pool. We talked over our plans for the rest of the week including lesson ideas for when we get to the school. The group is relishing the idea of interacting with the kids from the school and experiencing a contrasting education system from our own. We hope to teach a mixture of outdoor activities and indoor crafts, depending on the extreme temperatures!

The musicians took the bus to Buxton Memorial church for a rehearsal with the Buxton gospel band. After attempting some Anglican choral music we switched to a more exciting 'Amazing Grace' arrangement for singers, saxophone, drums, bass and keyboard. Then the band performed two of their own compositions to give us a flavour of their gospel music. Eventually, we returned on the bus to join the others for sweet and sour rice, and rehearsed some of our jazz pieces for an outreach concert.

Rhodri and Dillon

Monday, 24 October 2016

Friday 21 Oct 2016

Day 1: Friday 21 Oct 2016

A day for every early riser: we left school just before two in the morning and headed for Heathrow and a very long journey to Freetown, via Brussels.

As soon as we landed, we were hit by the incredible heat and humidity, and then had to wait for what seemed ages before we all managed to get our suitcases back. Thankfully, nothing was lost in transit! We then headed for the boat shuttle that would take us into Freetown - the alternative is a four or five hour journey on some sort of road (although now that we have experienced roads around Freetown, I dread to think what it would have been like!). As we boarded the boat, the sun was setting on the Atlantic ocean which afforded us some fantastic views of the capital across the bay. Five of us were lucky enough to be allowed to sit at the front of the boat, which was a fantastic way to arrive in town. On the other side, the welcome committee from the Ballanta music academy were awaiting our arrival, while Kitty stood with hands full of food prepared for us after our long journey.

We went straight to the hotel, and after a few minutes settling int our new quarters, we all gathered and ate with gusto (our only main activity today).  After that, it was off to bed for all of us as by the end of the meal, we were nearing 24 hours on the go!

Our first impressions of Salone as Sierra Leone is known by the locals: amazing and welcoming with warm people and even warner heat.

Jules Desmarchelier

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Wednesday, 30th of October

We all woke early and gathered our belongings. It felt strange to be packing up and seemed only a day or so ago that we arrived and settled into the Comfort Zone. 

By the time we had piled our suitcases on the ground floor, Lamin was waiting in the minibus to take us on the final journey of our trip. We made our way through the bustling streets of Freetown and waved a final goodbye to the local people who had greeted us with smiles and cheer every day since we arrived. We had arranged to have breakfast at the Family Kingdom before heading to the airport and what a treat it was! We were warmly greeted by the staff serving eggs, sausages, waffles, pancakes, fresh fruit, croissants and much more. We filled our plates and savoured our last meal together. Before long it was time to make our way to the airport. 

After a quick speedboat ride across the water and a smooth check-in, we were sat in the departures lounge of Lungi airport waiting to board our flight home. I could finally relax knowing that everything had gone according to plan.

Organising this trip has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I have struggled to put into words how much it has meant to me to be involved in this project and whilst reading various travel blogs about Sierra Leone I came across this statement which sums up my thoughts entirely;

“Freetown is a magical, exciting, colourful city full of wonderful, friendly people. It is also a poverty-stricken, overpopulated, under-resourced city where you’re never far from sadness, disease and crime. Don't go to Freetown if you don't want to face corruption, inequality and the leftover horrors of war. On the other hand, don't let that be a reason to deny yourself the incredible experience of visiting this amazing place and meeting such wonderful people.

You'll find multi-coloured buildings, fantastic music, great football, warm handshakes, big smiles, honesty and friendship, street-politics, stray dogs, beggars, amputees, congestion, pollution, poverty and a vibrancy that can only be born from the humour and strength of people who have known horror and are still struggling to survive”

I have been lucky enough to visit twice during 2013 and have fallen in love with the place. I would urge everyone from the developed world to go to Freetown and be prepared for it to change your life forever, as it has mine.

Amy Hugill 

Monday, 28th of October

We started the day in the normal way; we had breakfast while celebrating James's birthday. 

We then preceded to J.T Reffell for our last day of teaching which was emotional but gratifying to see how we had influenced the children. During the day at the school there was a football match between the senior boys and a local women's team, which was lead by Charlie.  While we were doing this, the musicians went to Ballanta for their last teaching day.

Once we had finished teaching for the day we performed a concert at the Lebanese international school in Freetown. We performed alongside the Ballanta band and we were generally well received although there were many requests for One Direction!

After a day of teaching and performing, we all returned back to "The Comfort Zone" to rest and relax before a small concert that evening for the house staff. This small concert was to show our appreciation for all they did for us during our stay. The performances went well, nearly everyone performed and it included a performance of Darcey's infamous 'Summertime' which was well received. 

Although James was unwell during the concert, we all thoroughly enjoyed it and he celebrated with his cake the next day.

Anna C & James

Sunday, 27th October

After a long and exhausting BUT fun week of teaching and performing, a day of rest and relaxation was exactly what we needed. It all kicked off at 9.30am where a handful of us made our way to a local church service which Maggie, the principle of Ballanta attended regularly. From what we all heard, Sierra Leone is big on its church services and gospel singing, which we got plenty of. The pace of the service slowly increased until the appearance of the preacher. Through the cries of 'praise Jesus' and 'I feel the lord' our preacher dictated a subtle narrative concerning the debasement of Jewish culture in Israel concluding with his vision of America, France and China instigating the apocalypse with their nuclear fire. The proof of this lies in the 'red moon', he claimed. Needless to say we all donated generously to the collection pot. It was definitely an experience we will never forget.

After saying bye to Maggie, we left the church at 11 o'clock and made our way back to the comfort zone where we all had a chill before heading out kitty's private beach! It was a long and bumpy bus ride but it was worth it in the end where we were greeted by a glorious long stretch of sand and clear blue sea. 

 The moment we got off the bus, everyone stripped off to their bikinis and swim shorts and ran towards the sea... except for few people who wanted to take as many 'beach selfies' as possible. 

Spending the whole afternoon on the beach and having a beach bbq was absolutely amazing and everyone enjoyed it until the storm came. Most people ran for cover (whimps!) but a few 'hard nuts' stayed in the sea and experienced the storm head on where it was actually warmer to stay swimming rather than on land! After storm swimming, we all went into Kitty's beach house where we tried to dry off and had some entertainment from the students at Ballanta playing music with buckets and singing the alphabet. After a lovely afternoon at the beach, we headed back to the comfort zone where we had our usually routine of dinner and relaxing.

Darcey and Charlie.

Saturday, 26th of October

After an extra half an hour in bed (which was greatly appreciated!), we all set off for Tacugama, a chimpanzee sanctuary. The bus was filled with nervous laughter as our driver proceeded up the 1km, off-road, cliff edge, ascent and applause was given as we reached the top! 

The chimpanzee sanctuary itself was amazing - filled with peculiar sounds and dominating members of the pacts, it was certainly an interesting and hilarious experience!

We spent the afternoon at the pool, which was certainly a needed cool down! The time was spent with the Meally's translating our names into traditional Irish and many games of water polo!

After being in the pool for a good few hours, we went to the restaurant for a pizza which was a lovely change after eating pasta for a week!

Tomorrow we are going to Kitty from Ballanta's private beach, which we are all looking forward to!


Friday, 25th of October

Today we all went to JT Reffell to teach because Ballanta was having an open day and so no lessons were taking place. The kids were especially excited as there were many of us there. We all went off to our different classes to teach and there was lots of singing and dancing. After we taught, we spent time with the kids who loved to be picked up and 'snapped' (have pictures taken of them)

We then went to St. Joe's, a catholic school for girls, to do an outreach concert. It was one of the teacher's birthday and the kids there really enjoyed sing along as we played happy birthday to her. 

In the evening, we went to Ballanta for a Bafa night. We had a 35 minute set which we found out only when we got there so we rushed back to get out instruments sort out what we were going to play. Many of the Ballanta bands and ensembles played as well and at the end everyone got up and danced. We also bought some chicken and unknown meat skewers which were yum.

We are all looking forward to the weekend!


Thursday, 24th October

We started with our usual routine, teaching in Ballanta music academy. The students were already waiting for us having practiced what we taught them in time for our lessons. It was incredible to see how much they had progressed and their enthusiasm to learn more still. Meanwhile, the teaching at JT continued. Football, glitter and nursery rhymes were all on the agenda. 

After lunch we took the bus down to the Aberdeen Women's Centre. AWC is a centre for women caring for their maternity, especially for the poorer citizens. This was a very interesting experience for us, as we met many mothers whose age ranged from 12 upwards, some given birth to their child just today. After being given a tour of the centre, we gave a concert to the patients and the 117 members of staff. Opening the concert with Angharad on the trumpet the repertoire ranged from Wallace and Gromit to Gershwin's Summertime. Plenty of entertainment, photographs and laughter followed, then we had to make our way back to the comfort zone to prepare for the concert in the evening.

After a satisfying meal of spaghetti carbonara, we drove to the British Council to deliver our concert. The atmosphere was buzzing with a mixture of apprehension and excitement as the audience began to fill the hall. Lizzie started the evening with a blast, singing the great jazz piece, Ella Fitzgerald  'At last'. As the concert drew to a close, Darcey dueted with a local citizen and the amazing Ballanta band played a few tunes as everyone left.


Wednesday, 23rd October 2013

After the memorable experience at the Cultural Village yesterday, we were all very excited to wake up to a brand new day of wonderful sights and memories. We arrived at Ballanta at 9:30 and after hearing the spectacular sounds of the various musicians whilst walking up the stairs, I knew it was going to be a great morning of teaching. However I realised fairly quickly that most of the men and women I was teaching couldn't read music, so after a short warm up, (an essential and often chaotic part of the session) I attempted a crash course in Grade 5 theory, some of which I hope sunk in!

At 12:00 the singers in the group along with Angharad and Millie, made our way up to the famous band room. We were to have a rehearsal for a joint piece between musicians from both Wells and Ballanta and I think it's fair to say we were quite surprised at just how well the Ballanta band played together. We were thrown into the world of West African music, and after a joint Reggae rendition of the classic "I Will Always Love You", the band entertained us while we danced around the tiny attic room. After this we ate our beautifully prepared wraps which we are just about getting used to now, and then we met up with the JT group to travel back to the Comfort Zone.

As normal, the afternoon was reasonably relaxed with a few last minute rehearsals before dinner at 4:00. Dinner today was no normal meal, but in fact the much talked about deconstructed tuna pasta that James had been banging on about before we even left for SL! At 4:45 we left in the bus to go to the British High Commissioner's Residence and had enough time to explore the beautiful gardens before a group photo and some rehearsals. The concert started at 6:45 and everyone played wonderfully despite the heat and regular forks of lightning! The audience were extremely appreciative and over some delicious canap├ęs afterwards, we got to talk to the High Commissioner and his guests who were very complimentary of our singing and playing. To end the evening the band were in full swing and the whole group ended up dancing, including Mr and Mrs Meally who took little persuading to show off their moves!

I can't believe we are already at the end of Day 5, but I am sure tomorrow will be just as rewarding as today was.