In 1990 Sierra Leone’s devastating civil war began to take shape and the consequences that followed were documented all over the world.
My great-aunt was one of the lucky evacuees. It was her second time on an aeroplane and her first trip to the UK. She was 86 at the time. For the period of a year, before returning to Freetown, her stay will always remain in my memory.
The inspiration for this painting was borne out of our walks together. My aunt, like many from the very rural parts of Africa remained pure and unpoisoned in life’s outlook …she was incredibly grounded and practical.
It was a warm day (much to her approval) as we strolled along a street aligned with apple-blossom trees; a few steps into our walk she paused next to one and pointing upwards asked me about their fruits…
“No fruits Aunty, they are only here to beautify the area”, I replied. Holding my hand she leant out and looking further down the road asked about the others; my response was the same, only this time with a knowing smile, convinced I hadn’t sold it to her.
She stepped in close and began to explain the importance of planting trees that bear something… ‘harvest what is natural and free’
“…luk bah, tumara we dɛn kɔl, yu go rɔn go bay na shap lɛkɛ kresman …tin we yu kin jɛs pik yaso fɔ natin”
“…tomorrow when they are ready, you’ll travel quickly to the shops buying apples like a crazy person …something you could’ve picked here for free”.
Although we laughed, mutually aware of the gentle clash of cultures, her statement stuck! What she described goes much further than seeds, pips and council logistics. It was a revelation to me on the state of our lives today; ‘Freedom’ certainly comes with a price tag! Do simple acts of giving freely still exist or are we all held to account by some economical undercurrent? We grow only in our yards, in our-selves, what is naturally free; but are we willing to share the results of our efforts at no cost? Like the trees on our walk, we see only a partial side; the prize stock kept secretly only for self. With no fruits to distract us we walk, are we perhaps failing to enjoy nature’s dynamics? If juicy edibles were hanging off a branch or two, one would not only stop to pick, but maybe spend time to contemplate the savouring season …maybe.
I was once witness to some children in Sierra Leone racing toward a tree their target a huge ripened mango hanging there quite limply. Whilst avoiding a hail of incoming stones, the bigger lad in his eagerness to reach it, had climbed quite near, but somehow overstretched knocking it to the ground. The smaller children dashed off with the prize each trying to snatch a bite. A mixture of fear (purely driven by their older adversary who was now in hot pursuit) coupled with the irresistible taste and shine of this large fruit added to the game that ensued. There was laughter, dodging, stumbling and mango skin everywhere; so much energy and laughter was felt in that moment, even for those watching.
I appreciate that we live in a very different world and to think of this utopia where we can simply walk along picking free fruits is purely a daydream; logistics dear boy – the mess, rotting fruits everywhere – order must be in place to keep our lives sustainable and free… right?
I prefer the leaf from Mother Nature’s book.
Aunty Wadia passed away 31 May 2008; She was 104.
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