Women of the sun
Aidata Dík and Kona Yaéh skilfully bend over, loosening the soil with a rusted tool. Their task is to harvest enough cassava to feed their families and sell the little that’s left over. “See, we loosen the soil, dig a hole, plant the weeds we have just cleared and cover it again. Some of it will provide us food in-between the cassava harvest, which can take two or three years.” All the while they continue, sweat pearling their upper lips.
Aidata and Kona are women of the sun. They live in Bolakka, a small village with less than 100 inhabitants, located on Sherbro Island off the Sierra Leonean shore. A wobbly wooden bridge connects them to Bonthe, trading centre and biggest town of the island; but even Bonthe is two hours away from the mainland, and another seven hours by road from Freetown.
In Bolakka there is no electricity nor running water. Bolakka has a primary school, a water well, mobile phone reception and pregnant, fertile soil. The villagers live with the elements, becoming part of a rhythm between soil, rain and sun. They dance with their tools, trying to create and sustain life in the form of children, who have to commute to Bonthe in order to attend secondary school. Many do not return after graduation, but look for brighter futures at distant shores.
Aidata and Kona’s hands are covered with their home soil, their livelihood, their foundation. For them the cassava farm is big, enough to sell and trade leftovers for other valuables, such as peppers, onions and Maggi stock cubes. Palm trees provide ample shade under the relentless sun, indicating that it’s midday. It is their guiding principle, the giver of it all, guided by their God Allah, whose mosques with minarets function as a spiritual clock all over the world.
“We wake up before the first prayer (5am), boil water to wash and take care of the children. Then we either go to the farm or do some fishing. Sometimes we find oysters in the mangroves, and shrimps. We go to bed after the last call for prayer (8pm). We have no attractions, maybe we play some music when the day is over. We come and go with the sun”
They work hard. Their biceps, agile bend and radiant skin speak volumes. Men do less in this village. Perhaps they take their canoe and go fishing out at sea, or brush the farm so their wives can work it. But these women are not complaining. The sweat on their brow reflects a natural wisdom of how things are. They just are. Just like the sun. When it shines, it shines. When it comes, it goes. And in that process, lies life.