Sierra Leone 2020

It’s been brewing in my head for a couple of years by now – a yearning for the next chapter to start, but I wasn’t sure what it was or how it looked. Our favourite TV show had become Ben Fogle’s New Lives In The Wild and Friday evenings sat on the sofa binge watching episodes and drinking beers began to sow the seeds. Semi-drunken idea formulating is great fun. Google and Facebook knew I was a bit lost and were directing lots of fascinating blogs, podcasts and articles my way. Ideas were forming as we pondered what the future might look like. Then Kirsty got back from a hen-doo in Summer 2018 and announced she was pregnant. We cried then celebrated, but my mind went in to overdrive. What seemed like an age later, along came Elsie in March 2019 and I knew our time in London was nearly up.

London

London has been amazing, I love the place so much and i’m sad to leave. It seems like yesterday that me Rossal Iz and Luke Cool were out roaming the streets of Clapham looking for a really nice 4 bed house for £500 a month each. We got laughed out of the estate agents. One of them suggested we look in Tooting Bec. We looked up where Tooting Bec was and said thanks, but it was too far away from Infernos and Peoples Republic. Two days of house hunting later we decided to view the place in Tooting and loved it.

3 Adams Mews became the next 3 Wellington Road – we enjoyed the house immensely. One Friday I got home from work around 6pm and there were already 5 friends/friends-of-friends sat in the living room drinking, music on, readying for another awesome weekend, and none of them even lived there. It was the ultimate open house, even better than 3 Welly road. It was an extension of student life only much much better – we had some money and we’d made it to the big time. Life as a 22 year old in London, armed with a salary and a credit card for the first time was good. Very very good.

Then the lads started to assemble. First was Danny T a couple of months after us in late 2008. He lived on our sofa for a month or three before finding a room about 5 minutes away. Almost every weekend we hosted mates from Manchester and Wales, and soon our #squad began to grow. Charles moved down from Uni for a year-in-drink-training with the bigger boys, stupidly choosing not to live in Tooting but in Purley. Where even is Purley? He stayed at our house every single Friday and Saturday for the next year and had a single mattress on the lounge floor. In October 2010 we received substantial reinforcement when Luke moved in to a flat across the road. Fresh from his overseas skum-points based adventures Thirsty Thursday’s became the new Friday’s, and Monday’s and Tuesday’s started to become write-off’s. Everything we needed was in Clapham. And Tooting.

Mum and Dad would come down to visit and I would proudly show them around, always in the knowledge I was missing a night out. That was the only excuse for missing one in those days. Mum and I went back to Wimbledon for a second time 🙂 and lot’s of very happy memories were made.

Then the big boys started rolling in thick and fast. Tom “The Faff” Humphries arrived in early 2011 and formed Flat 6 with Danny and Luke, in Clapham South, and Mike Halfpint a couple of months later. Mike & Tom drink lager like its going out of fashion, and the pace picked up another notch. Flat 6 became the party flat as Twenty Twelve saw the arrival of Scottport, Hughesy, Cobbers, Charles back for more, and Dudley. Scott and I established a base a few doors down from Flat 6 and Sheena joined soon after.

One for the road

Summer 2012 Scott Sheena and I threw a houseparty, “Olympics 2012” themed. And then the London Olympics started, an unforgettable time to be living in London, and life was getting better all the time. I decided to pay £1,000 for two tickets to a prime track & field day at the athletics, to treat my Mum, who loved athletics. I bought them as a surprise and told her we were going to Hyde Park for the day to watch on the big screens. I’d umm’d and argh’d about spending the money, but i’m glad I did now. A day to treasure.

The rest of 2012 was a bit of blur – our #squad had grown and there was always a bunch of us up for going out. My work definitely suffered. This birthday card I got from Scott & Sheena in 2012 summed things up.

I moved jobs to Freightliner in January 2013 and turned over a new leaf, kind of. A few of us started thinking a bit more about finding girlfriends. This had never been a priority – finding girls on nights out was way down the pecking order. Lads and pints came first, always. I started to up my training, chasing a sub 3 hour marathon. I joined Crossfit Central London and Jon Shelby’s fearsome endurance classes. But then Mags moved from NYC to London and turned it up another notch, and outings like our first collective big trip to Glastonbury in 2013 were still the priority.

London was the perfect place for me – it had everything. It even had Kirsty, who I met in late 2013. We hit it off straight away and the rest is history. We have a shared love of London – the variety, the anonymity it brings (the opposite to the small towns we’re both from, where everyone knows everyone and their business), cheap Thai and Indian BYOBs, posh spots when you fancy splurging, gigs galore, Streatham Lewisham Brixton Balham, Greenwich Park and the Hare & Billet on Blackheath Common, Tooting Lido, Tooting Market, the Rookery. We even invented The Hangover Platter. As I looked to start settling down a bit and spend more time with Kirsty, London continued to give me everything I wanted and needed, and way more. Sometimes, but not often, doing nothing, safe in the knowledge there’s 10 things you could be doing, would win the day. It’s hands-down the best city in the world.

Real Life started happening

Life in London continued on an upwards rally until late 2015 when my Mum became unwell. She passed away in January 2016 – it was the saddest time of my life and hit me really hard. A few months later our good friend and all round top man Mags passed away, and life looked different. There are different phases of mourning and i’m not sure where this bit fits in the psychological models, but I decided to make the most of everything, to get on and do as much as possible, as our time here is short. I figured that drinking heavily was preventing me achieving some of the things I wanted to achieve, and needed a clearer head to deal with my grief. Kirsty and I started to plan our future. We married (eloped is the official term for us) in November 2017, at a very small ceremony in Lambeth registry office and jetted off for a short honeymoon to relax, drink and break the news to friends and family.

Along came Elsie

Tooting began to take on a new meaning as we visited St Georges hospital for check ups, and eventually welcomed Elsie to the world on 14th March last year.

Having Elsie changed my outlook on lots of things, but mainly made me really realise I needed to slow things down. I’ve written about this in other posts (link) and ultimately the desire to spend way more time with Elsie drove our decision to leave London. I was finding myself too stressed by work and the busy-ness that London brings. Until this point being constantly busy was a positive in my eyes, and London never fails to deliver on that front. But now I just want to spend time with Elsie. (And Kirsty). I also wanted to start a new job and look at different career paths, but barely had time to think, let alone invest the time needed for such a move. And I craved more nature and greenery, and wished we had a garden to play in. I worried about her little lungs as she was walked daily along Streatham High Road – becoming a parent opens up so many new avenues of worry.

The Next Chapter

As Elsie grew and we found out more about babies and children we realised our small 2 bed flat in Streatham wouldn’t be fit for us within a year or two. We’d need a bigger place with some outdoor space. The price of the local day nursery scared us. Over a few months we weighed up the pro’s and con’s of all the various options we thought we had and, at the time (and it’s held true until now (mid-Jan2019)), the best option, the one that ticked the most boxes, was to move to Sierra Leone for 6-12 months.

Box 1 – Kirsty’s dream – the AdAmi Project

Sierra Leone is where Kirsty’s heart lies. She lived there from 2006 to 2010 and during that time founded a primary school for girls in a small community called Swawou, in the town of Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone. Today 120 girls attend the school each year, across 6 year groups, most of whom would otherwise not have gone to school. School in Sierra Leone is free, but there are still costs that many families simply cannot afford, like lunch, uniforms, books and exam fees. Government run schools also practice corporal punishment and the learning conditions are very challenging. Swawou would and did and still does champion the rights of the most under privileged girls, and aims to give them a better start in life.

Frustratingly, in 2018 Kirsty was forced to walk away from the project she worked so passionately on for years, after disagreements with fellow Trustees and the local Director. In late 2017 two pupils (Adama aged 15 and Aminata aged 17) fell pregnant and were forced to stop attending the school, against all the principles Kirsty believed the school stood for. Until recently in Sierra Leone all pregnant girls were forced out of school on the basis that they set a bad example to their peers. The cycle of poverty spins faster for them and many others in their situation. Young and expectant mothers experience high rates of stigma and shame – it is common for the father to deny responsibility, and the expecting mother to be kicked out of the family home as the family cannot afford to feed another mouth and because of the cultural stigma. Many of the pregnant women or young mothers find themselves homeless, with no money for medical help (there is no NHS in Salone), no support, and feeling helpless at a time in their lives when they most need support.

As the girls’ pregnancies progressed Kirsty worked with Musa, a long-time trusted friend and colleague to try and find organisations and people who could help Adama and Aminata, but no such services or organisations existed. The AdAmi Project was subsequently born, and today the project supports 45 young women in the same situation as Adama and Aminata. There are many hundreds if not thousands of young women across the country in a similar situation.

Since learning that Adama and Aminata were thrown out of school this has been Kirsty’s fierce passion. She visited Salone in October 2018, quite pregnant herself at that stage, determined to continue her work.

Our move to Sierra Leone will allow her to focus on her dream of developing the AdAmi Project and helping more young women realise their future dreams. I am constantly in awe of Kirsty and Musa’s tireless efforts on the project.

Box 2 – spending way more time with Elsie

I’ve written before about how amazing it is getting to spend 2 weeks with your baby when they first arrive, and how I don’t think it’s long enough. Our 6 weeks together in Mexico was the highlight of my life – the time bonding with Elsie was so sweet. I’m not quite sure how the next few years will pan out, but if I can spend as much of my time with her before she goes to school i’ll be a happy man. One thing i’ve heard a lot from people at work who are a bit older is “I wish i’d spent more time with my kids”. I don’t want to ever have to say that.

Boxes 3 – next step careers wise

I’d recently listened to a (highly recommended) Tim Ferris podcast with guest Derek Sivers, who was asked what advice he’d give to his 30 year old self. He response was “don’t be a donkey”. Asked to explain this further he went on:

Well, I meet a lot of 30-year-olds who are trying to pursue many different directions at once, but not making progress in any, right? They get frustrated that the world wants them to pick one thing, because they want to do them all: ‘Why do I have to choose? I don’t know what to choose!’ But the problem is, if you’re thinking short-term, then [you act as though] if you don’t do them all this week, they won’t happen. The solution is to think long-term. To realize that you can do one of these things for a few years, and then do another one for a few years, and then another.

This resonated strongly with me at the time. One of the many sources of my stress was I didn’t know where to go career-wise. Some time out being a full-time Dad and focussing on Elsie would be good for me (and Elsie), I decided (hoped). Quitting my job has given me the impetus to think differently about how I can earn a living in the future, and made me think differently about money compared to when I first arrived in London. Maybe this will be something I can write more about one day. While in Sierra Leone (Salone) my outgoings will be comparatively tiny, and it gives me a bit of breathing space to set myself up for whatevers next.

Box 4 – getting out of my comfort zone

London has been great, but I was firmly in my comfort zone. I’ve always wanted to live overseas but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Sierra Leone isn’t your usual choice, it’s a challenging place on many levels. But I like a challenge and the rewards they bring, and I want to get out of my routine and off auto-pilot. Some of the podcasts and blogs i’ve been reading lead me to believe that sometimes the unknown can bring opportunities that you never expected or would have ever thought of, and take you in new interesting directions that you never dreamed.

I guess the grass always looks greener, so we’ll see how it goes. Maybe we’ll end up back in London with my tail between my legs. In the meantime i’m aiming to write updates on our life in Sierra Leone every now and then.

Main objectives in no particular order – slow down, enjoy and experience life, help enable Kirsty to build AdAmi, keep Elsie safe and happy, learn new skills.

Godspeed to us.

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