By: Abass Wisdom Kamara
When you hear the word hustler (especially in Sierra Leone) does it bring negative connotations to mind? You might picture a guy in a casino pretending to be a novice to win a large bet, suddenly flaunting his talent to hustle his opponents. There are a number of negative images of hustling like drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, rigged carnival games, and street vendors selling illegal goods.
Yes, these are all perfect examples of hustling in line with the Cambridge Dictionary, which defines a hustler as “someone who tries to deceive people into giving them money.” However, like many words over the years, hustling has become slang or modernised to mean something else in addition to its traditional meaning. Hence, the Oxford dictionary defines a hustler as “A person adept at aggressive selling or illicit dealing.”
In Sierra Leone, hardworking people are considered hustlers, and in this context, hustling depends on your means and motivation, and does not necessary mean “by all means necessary”, such as athletes sacrificing their bodies to make the tough play or putting in endless hours into training to improve their game. Hustlers in Sierra Leone are known as aggressive hardworking individuals who are problem solvers; they know-someone-who-knows-someone that will solve your problems. Hustlers are persons that go all out every day, pushing past their breaking point. Even when they are exhausted, hustlers never quit doing the hard work, putting in the long hours others won’t. Persons hustling always work hard to better themselves, and the hustle is what separates the champions from the losers.
In the community I grew up in Sierra Leone, criminals and prostitutes are referred to as hustlers. In the same vein, you can find hustlers in big offices, such as government offices, radio stations, banks, and down the street; controlling and holding important positions. Most of those that have made it in life were in the hustling game before, and some are still hustling. Remember the three principles in life, your time has come (make use of it), your time will come one day (work towards it), and your time has passed (accept and move on). HUSTLING IS NOT FOR THE STRONG, BUT FOR THOSE THAT CAN ENDURE.
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Mary is a victim of the Levirate marriage tradition still practiced in some parts of Sierra Leone that unfairly penalises women when their husband dies. This practice forces the biological brother of the late husband to marry the widow. Originally from Kailahun, Mary now resides in Bo, south of Sierra Leone after losing her husband. After trying to get an education, Mary found she was not cut out for school, and her parents married her off at 16 years to a man aged 30 years from Jembeh Village near Bo.
During her 15 years of marriage she gave birth to 8 children but only 4 survived. However, this tradition has not only left her struggling but fractured the rest of her surviving family. Two of the children dropped out of school, one of them have left home and his whereabouts unknown, and the other does odd jobs, such as carrying cargo on his head for others. Because after the death of her husband, a diamond miner, in 2003, Mary was urged to marry her late husband’s younger brother immediately after the fortieth day ceremony. When she refused, Mary and her children were kicked out of their home, because of another bigoted tradition were the husband’s relatives deprives widows of their inheritance.
Mary fled back to her parents’ house with the children where she embarked on small scale gardening for survival. Even at that, she has to supplement her income with renting the room her parents allocated her, and now sleeps in the living room. At 47, Mary is full of faith that God will one day change her situation as she struggles on without her or her children’s inheritance.
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Poverty is like punishment for a crime you did not commit ~ Eli Khamarov
Through the Kabala coordinator for the Jamil and Nyanga Jaward Foundation Mohamed Kakay, Hidden Voices came across Saia Mansaray, a woman in Kabala whose hands have been destroyed from years of breaking stones to support her children. Abandoned by her husband 3 years ago with 8 children, Saia had to find work breaking stones, which resulted in the destroying her palms making her unable to do the very work that was her only means of survival. This brings me to another quote:
Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor ~ James Baldwin
Hidden Voices will continue to bring these stories to light to inspire change and compassion to help the less privileged. Join the Jamil and Nyanga Jaward Foundation group to be a part of this change. Contact email@example.com for more on this story or firstname.lastname@example.org to support this project
"I am a Fitness Trainer and I have a school where I train people. I was the Assistant Close Protection Officer at the Special Court and was sent to work in The Hague for 2 months. As an experienced and qualified close protection officer, I only get work on contract basis these days because we live in country that does not value talents. On several occasions I have offered my services to both the police and military to train their officers because of the many flaws I have seen in their training, but my request has always been turned down. "
Mr Thamo Kamara popularly known as Mr Leigh shared his story with us when we met him during our outreach program to communities. He approached us when he realised it was the HIDDEN VOICES team, he pleaded to tell his story and invited us to visit his school at Lumley. Like many of these stories; hidden, unheard, unspoken or uncovered by mainstream media, now have a home at Hidden Voices.
Stay with us for more of his story in the Hidden Voices Salone Magazine.