S. Leone bats for cricketing glory from ashes of war

Updated 21 December 2012
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S. Leone bats for cricketing glory from ashes of war

Packed with hard red dirt overlooked by a faded scoreboard, Sierra Leone’s only cricket oval is worlds away from the lush, carefully grassed grounds typically associated with the game.
Muddy water pools around the edges of Kingtom Oval after a downpour, as a rag-tag group of young men, women, and children barely big enough to hold a bat, gather to warm up for cricket practice.
But first: The daily battle of chasing teams of footballers off the pitch, a sign the soccer-mad nation, which zealously follows teams in the English Premier League, is not yet bowled over by the growing success of its cricketers.
“The footballers are here every time we want to play. Look at them! They are playing football right now whilst we are playing cricket!” says national team player Emmanuel Pessima, who is also chairman of the Kenemmanjane cricket club.
With the glaring footballers relegated to the outskirts of the field, the cricketers unfurl a strip of grubby green astro turf, torn in places, along a long slab of cement which forms the pitch.
While any fielder would think twice before diving and sliding to stop a cricket ball on such unforgiving terrain, it is from here that Sierra Leone’s players have edged their way up in rankings on the African continent.
Cricket has a rich history in the west African nation, where it was introduced by the British in the late 19th century, and had a thriving club and schools league until war broke out in 1991.
Kingtom Oval was “well-grassed” in the 1980s, says Beresford Bournes-Coker, chairman of the Sierra Leone Cricket Association.
But during the devastating 11-year conflict which left 120,000 dead and thousands maimed by rebels, the field, which belongs to an adjacent police station, became home to hundreds of refugees looking for safety.
While cricket structures fell apart, the game did not die, and it was the country’s wildly popular U-10 Barracks League which “kept the momentum going.”
Mostly made of up of policemen’s children, the league has provided the majority of the country’s cricketers, many of whom in turn joined the force.
While the children’s games still whip up the most fervor, it is those who grew up during the war who became members of the under-19 team which in 2009 defied expectations to reach the Cricket World Cup qualifier in Canada.
But, in a massive blow to the team, they were refused visas to participate.
In 2010 Sierra Leone moved up to Africa’s Division Two, also that year winning an award from the African Cricket Association for the most improved cricketing standards on the continent.
“Sierra Leone is being branded as the Afghanistan of Africa — meaning that with nothing we’ve gone so far,” says Bournes-Coker, referring to the war-torn Asian nation’s recent successes in international cricket.
Sierra Leone hopes to bring the same fervor for the game seen in other parts of the continent to mostly francophone west Africa.
The country is trying to rope in Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast who have never played cricket and encourage them to join a regional tournament in Gambia in March 2013.
Cricket has never caught on amongst the French and its former colonies but this may slowly be changing with countries such as Mali playing organized cricket since 2005.
“For the east and southern African countries, they have lots of regional tournaments, which is why they perform better and it has been a learning curve for them and we must try to replicate the same in West Africa,” said Bournes-Coker.
Local sports journalists held a workshop recently to avoid being stumped by cricket jargon, where a “duck” is not an aquatic bird, a “bail” has nothing to do with being released from jail and players may yell out “Howzat?!” from time to time.
“Hopefully by 2014 we are looking for, with all the facilities and with the playing standard raised, we should be able to apply for an associate membership” of the International Cricket Council, which governs the sport, Bournes-Coker said.
He believes his players have the potential but lack the facilities.
Women’s cricket captain Ann-Marie Kamara, a fierce bowler with dark green eyeshadow, agrees.
“The cricket ground is pathetic because if you play on this bare ground you bruise... when you go to another man’s country you see the grass but here it’s just sand and if you fall you get yourself injured,” she said.
The Sierra Leone Cricket Association was recently granted a piece of land outside the capital by the government which they plan to develop into a cricket academy with two pitches.
It is also trying to use the game as a social tool to get boys off the street and into school, handing out scholarships and school materials as prizes at tournaments.
Equally important is instilling a love of the over 400-year old game and nurturing “great players rather than celebrities” chasing the golden ticket.
The players seem to be getting the message.
When asked why she loves cricket, Ann-Marie replies without hesitation, deadpan: “It’s a gentleman’s game.”


San Francisco restaurants open kitchens to refugee chefs

Updated 24 June 2018
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San Francisco restaurants open kitchens to refugee chefs

  • The Refugee Food Festival started in Paris in 2016 and came to the US for the first time this year
  • The program lets refugees aspiring to be chefs work in professional kitchens

SAN FRANCISCO: At San Francisco’s Tawla restaurant, Muna Anaee powdered her hands with flour and gently broke off a piece of golden dough to prepare bread eaten in Iraq, the country she fled with her family.
Anaee was preparing more than 100 loaves for diners Wednesday night as part of a program that lets refugees aspiring to be chefs work in professional kitchens.
The Refugee Food Festival — a joint initiative of the United Nations Refugee Agency and a French nonprofit, Food Sweet Food — started in Paris in 2016 and came to the US for the first time this year, with restaurants in New York participating as well. The establishments’ owners turn over their kitchens to refugee chefs for an evening, allowing them to prepare sampling platters of their country’s cuisine and share a taste of their home.
Restaurants in 12 cities outside the US are taking part in the program this month.
“It’s been a big dream to open a restaurant,” said Anaee, 45, who now has a green card.
Anaee was among five refugees chosen to showcase their food in San Francisco — each at a different restaurant and on a different night, from Tuesday through Saturday. Organizers say the goal is to help the refugees succeed as chefs and raise awareness about the plight of refugees worldwide.
It’s important to “really get to know these refugees and their personal stories,” said Sara Shah, who brought the event to California after seeing it in Belgium.
Anaee and her husband and two children left Baghdad in 2013 over concerns about terrorism and violence. She worked as a kindergarten teacher in Iraq, not a chef, but was urged to pursue cooking as a career by peers in an English class she took in California after they tasted some of her food.
Azhar Hashem, Tawla’s owner, said hosting Anaee was part of the restaurant’s mission to broaden diners’ understanding of the Middle East — a region that inspires some of its dishes.
“Food is the best — and most humanizing — catalyst for having harder conservations,” she said.
The four other aspiring chefs serving food in San Francisco are from Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Senegal.
Karen Ferguson, executive director of the Northern California offices of the International Rescue Committee, said San Francisco was a good city for the food festival.
“We have so much diversity, and we see the evidence of that in the culinary expertise in the area,” she said.
The Bay Area has a high concentration of refugees from Afghanistan, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Eritrea and Burma, though exact numbers are unclear, according to the rescue committee. Its Oakland office settled more than 400 refugees in the Bay Area last year, but the number of refugees settling in the region has fallen dramatically since the Trump administration this year placed a cap on arrivals, Ferguson said.
Pa Wah, a 41-year-old refugee from Myanmar, presented dishes at San Francisco’s Hog Island Oyster Co. on Tuesday. She said she didn’t consider a career in cooking until she moved to California in 2011 and got her green card.
Cooking was a means of survival at the Thailand refugee camp where she lived after escaping civil conflict in Myanmar as a child. Participating in the food festival showed her the challenges of running a restaurant, but also helped her realize she was capable of opening her own, she said.