Even though Sierra Leone has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, young children are everywhere - walking to or from the school in their uniforms, playing on the beach, running between houses (fences don't exist in Lungi), playing soccer, congregating under shade trees talking and laughing, or carrying food or water on their heads (mostly girls).
Children in Lungi, a town of about 20,000 across the bay from Freetown where Sam andJosephine live, have the run of the town. It's not uncommon for them to take off from home, roam the neighborhood, and be gone for hours at a time. Everyone feels (is) safe. It reminded me of my childhood where on a summer day I could disappear with my friends for most of the day and wander all over my part of town and it was no big deal. Moms didn't worry back then like they do now. It was a safer time.
When Gav and I took our afternoon hike down to the beach a little six year old boy tagged along. I didn't notice him at first. But as we made the big turn and started walking back to Sesay's by another route I pointed him out to Gav who told me he had been following us the whole way. Sheku told me his name was Alpha and he was Hawanatu's son (Sheku is the pastor of the Susu Gospel Ministries church in Lungi and Hawanatu runs the ministry's preschool). Alpha had wandered away from home and made his way to Sam's and then he came with us. He was a long way from home. His mother didn't know where he was and it was no big deal.
I was struck by the freedom Lungi afforded Alpha. Lungi was a safe place. I saw Hawanatu at church the next day and mentioned how Alpha followed us to the beach and hung around with us for a couple of hours. She smiled and reported that it was common for him to disappear for hours at at time like that. She wasn't worried because she knew he was safe. Everyone watches out for each other's children. In this sense, Africa felt like a welcome step back in time.