West African Nations - 2012

The reserve was clean and the animals looked healthy and well-fed. The workers seemed totally devoted to this project. Perhaps even the corrupt government smiles a little bit on the reserve since it is a source of tourist interest and dollars. What an ambivalent feeling came over us in this visit: admiration for the keepers, hope for the chimpanzees, and despair at the surrounding conditions.

Handicap Soccer Game Our most uplifting and happy experience in Sierra Leone was the handicap soccer game we saw on the beach at Freetown. However, even this has its dark side--evidently everything in Sierra Leone has a dark side. Anyway, this soccer game pitted the amputees against the polio victims. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? I thought so too and did not want to see it. But I was so wrong! But first a bit of background: a young woman from the USA came to volunteer at a clinic being run by an American surgeon and his wife to serve the people who suffer from malaria, river blindness, resistant TB, HIV/Aids, and other medical ills. She saw the young men amputees and polio victims languishing about with nothing to do with their youth, energy, and need for something meaningful to do. She asked the clinic owners about starting a soccer league for these people and was reluctantly given permission to advertise her idea and talk to the potential players in the clinic environs. Probably out of idle curiosity, several young men showed up and she talked enthusiastically to them about organizing a league. They were sullen and silent and when quizzed directly about the prospect, they told her she was crazy and that such an idea couldn’t work. How were they supposed to play soccer when they were missing limbs or had limbs that could not function? They scoffed at her until she lifted her skirt and revealed her own prosthetic leg. She told them she plays soccer with a girls team and asked why they couldn’t do as well as any woman? That apparently challenged their masculine pride and they agreed to give the idea a try.

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