The lost photo

The photo was lost on the pavement. It was covered by a fine layer of dust which I wiped off with my sleeve. At first, I felt amused by the outfit of the man. Everything was so grandiosely formal. I looked around to see if anyone was looking for it. The road – next to my Dakar office — was buzzing with people rushing home for the weekend. A memory lost among the crowd, I felt sad for whoever misplaced it. I looked at it one more time, before returning it to the street. I placed it against a wall to be protected but also to be seen. A memory lost on a pavement. I hope it was found before nightfall.


Just before my departure from Australia, I was convinced that it will be easy to write about Africa and my decision to take the first step towards a new journey in the West part of it. I was foolished to narrow down a whole continent to the assumption that I have seen it before. Having a knowledge of the East doesn’t mean that I was ready to comprehend the West. I was bound for the unknown.

Dakar: island city… floating on the Atlantic Ocean, last piece of land of the African continent. Enigmatic, chaotic and all the adjectives you are willing to add in between.
I was swarmed with the heat, harassing porters, colourful taxi drivers and the sight of few goats grassing at the main entrance of the international airport.
I felt trapped and vulnerable to everyone. I took refuge in my hotel room.
It was the deluge that woke me up. A curtain of water falling from the darkest sky: introduction to my first morning in the Senegalese capital.
Rivers quickly ran into the busy roads and the morning traffic saw vehicles becoming rafts of fortune. Elegant men and women were running under bridges or sharing small umbrellas for protection. The rainy season was welcoming me.
I am notoriously badly prepared to settle in a new country. Few decades ago, I arrived in Montreal of the middle of winter and I had to rush to buy a pair of ugly earmuffs to avoid loosing my ears from a whopping -25 degrees cold air. During the Southern Hemisphere summer of 1997, I arrived in Alice Springs – the Australian version of the land of Mordor -wearing an Irish jumper just because it was January! I was one of the first certified idiot abroad.
The trenched streets of Dakar were not going to allow me to get away with my pitiful travelling tradition of poor clothing choice. My new leather shoes, my pressed chino and white shirt were no match to the red sticky mud. My arrival to my new office was indignant and I couldn’t apologise enough to the cleaning lady while she was following me with a vengeful mop.
I have friendly new colleagues. They speak French with a musical accent. They are smiling all the time and their names are Alain, Henri, Francois, Delphine, Marie Rose, Jean Baptiste…
Esperance or Pepe is from Benin: the Latin bastion of Africa. He is round and joyful like the Michelin man. He wears a Bou-Bou (the unisex and traditional costume of the region) and since my arrival, his mission is to teach me the West African way.

Him: Bruno…
Me: Oui Pepe…
Him: Encoutes moi / listen to me…
Him: Rapelles toi toujours de ceci / remember always this…WAwa!
Me: Quoi? / what?
Him (loudly): WAwa!
Me (softly and hesitant): WAwa?
Him (smiling): Oui / yes
Him: WAwa signifie / means: West Africa wins again!

He laughed while I was pondering the meaning of this statement. I already knew in my heart why WAwa had to be my moto for the next few years.
I will lost my mind and my soul if I attempt to resist to the African roller coaster. I was already beaten by the heat, the rain, the mud, the harassment of few porters, taxi drivers and the weirdness of couple of goats grassing at the main entrance of Dakar international airport.

I surrender to West Africa and allow myself to be swallowed.

A safe place for children to play

In Central African Republic, conflict has affected more than 2.8 million people, many of whom need access to water, sanitation, food and protection. More than 436,000 of those people are living as Internally Displaced People – unable to stay in their homes, so seeking shelter elsewhere in the country. In Yaloke World Vision has opened up a space for children to play, stay safe and try to forget about the fighting they’ve left behind. One World Vision worker at the Child Friendly Space said: “This is the only safe place that they can play in Yaloke…so sometimes they come from very far.” Another added: “Children who come from groups who have been fighting play together here. The problem is never with children, it’s with adults.”

Today, Sierra Leone is Ebola free.

Sierra Leone is officially Ebola Free! My first though is for all my WVSL colleagues who work so hard – most of the time on their own – to efficiently and passionately contribute to fight the outbreak. Thank you to the National and International Communicators who reported the dedication, efforts and the stories of so many Sierra Leoneans. I will remember the first hours of the crisis and the despair of so many facing an invisible enemy. Proud to be a West African today.

Meeting Louis Cole and Raya in Sierra Leone

What an amazing week with Louis Cole, Raya, Siân, friends and colleagues from World Vision Sierra Leone. Louis is a World Vision UK’s Ambassador, a global traveller and You Tube superstar with over 1.9M followers worldwide.

Louis and Raya have visited World Vision Sierra Leone’s Ebola Response programs, met with community and religious leaders, World Vision’s employees and mostly the children who are still surviving the virus.

The good news: kids are smiling, playing and learning again. Check out the videos about this trip and the importance of the work done all around Sierra Leone to beat Ebola!

The agony of an Ebola funeral

SIERRA LEONE — It was mid-afternoon when our World Vision team arrived in the outskirts of Moyamba, a town in southern Sierra Leone. We were guided to a small house, surrounded by at least 100 people. A woman named Betty had lived in this house. Here, she had shared food, love and laughter with her two sons and extensive network of family members. And here, Betty had suffered and died after contracting Ebola.

World Vision workers had come to carry Betty’s body to its final resting place. I had come to photograph all the correct steps, so as to help educate other communities on ways to safely handle the bodies of those who died from the disease, and provide a dignified burial.

James, Betty’s teenage son, stared at me, teary-eyed but with a hypnotic intensity. I couldn’t tell what he thought of my presence here, at his mother’s funeral. In a culture where physical contact is paramount, I couldn’t even touch James’ arm to show him that I cared. And despite my good intentions, I could see that the heavy camera I carried was threatening.

Feeling like an intruder at such a painful time was almost more than I could bear. I joined the burial team as they began doing their work. I know them and they know me, and I needed the distance away from the stares and quiet hostility of the family. I filmed the team’s precise preparation for burial, including the disinfection of the body and everything it had touched. I admire the team’s commitment to doing such a dangerous but absolutely necessary job. But while the act of filming removed my feeling of inadequacy, I continued to avoid looking at the grieving people standing nearby.

From a distance, I watched one of the workers spraying chlorine throughout the main room of Betty’s house. The too-familiar stench and acidity of the disinfectant is everywhere these days. As I watched, I realized that even such extreme, careful measures would mean little or nothing for Betty’s family. The fear of Ebola is so great that no one will ever inhabit the house again. In a courageous act of compassion, an older woman came forward and held the sister as she grieved.

I continued to photograph as the brief memorial ceremony took place … click, click, click. A local pastor, who had arrived with the team, began praying for Betty. As the family joined in, the silence broke as tears began to flow from many of those present, including me. The Lord’s Prayer has never been more intense and more meaningful than at this particular instant.

Through my viewfinder, my vision was limited to the sorrow and the pain of the family members. Then suddenly, I heard something. Betty’s youngest sister screamed and ran towards the body, calling out “Sister, my sister!” over and over again. Her face a mask of unbearable grief, she fell to the ground, clawing at the soil. My own tears flowed freely now. In a courageous act of compassion, an older woman came forward and held the sister as she grieved. At a time when all physical contact is discouraged, she gently helped lead Betty’s sister away from the body. Her cries continued “Sister, my sister!” for what seemed like an eternity.

The burial workers slowly carried the body to a pick-up truck, which transported it to a nearby burial ground. Betty was laid to rest among the others from the local community who had died from Ebola. She received the prayers and the dignity she deserved. It is all we can offer to the dead. In the meantime, we’ll continue our efforts, along with governments and countless other agencies, to help those still living in the shadow of Ebola.