Moses Kamara is gathering a collection of soccer balls.
Not simply because he’s passionate about playing the beautiful game, but because he knows what having a soccer ball means to young people in his former home, Sierra Leone.
Kamara grew up in the town of Lungi, where as a boy he collected wood to sell to help support his family. His father died when he was young, leaving behind Kamara’s mother and three siblings. In keeping with tradition, his mother had to move in with her husband’s brother, who did little to support the family but produced four more children. Because of their poverty, Kamara was not able to go to school. Instead, he learned English by listening to people.
“If you don’t work hard, you don’t eat.”
His mother, who he describes “as the most lovely mom,” taught him how to cook, a skill he still loves.
He joined the army, working as an assistant chaplain. It was there he met his future spouse, Debra, a Salmon Arm resident, who was volunteering in the war-torn country. Kamara assisted the team, cooking for them, changing money, providing security.
He and Debra became friends and worked together on several projects, eventually marrying in 2003.
Wearing his characteristic broad grin, Kamara’s demeanour doesn’t give a hint of all the human hardship and turmoil he’s witnessed.
On the heels of 11 years of civil war, his country was struck by the deadly ebola virus.
When he and Debra flew to Canada in November 2014, they voluntarily declared they’d been in an area inhabited by the virus.
Kamara’s treatment by immigration officials was a precursor to how life in Canada would be. He and his spouse were treated kindly and with respect, he says, thanked for volunteering the information. They were examined and found to be fine, but were told to refrain from making close bodily contact with other people. This was not easy, given that Kamara was to meet his new inlaws who were eager to give him welcoming hugs and handshakes.
Finally, after what seemed an unbearably long time, the quarantine ended.
Although Kamara was afraid he might experience racism in Canada, he hasn’t. People are always friendly, he says.
“Everywhere you have the bad one; I have never had that happen to me.”
The only trouble he’s had involves a driver’s licence. In Sierra Leone he was a professional driver, a driver supervisor, for the army and the international airport. (He once drove actor Sean Penn for 29 hours across the country.) Once in Canada, he was allowed to drive for three months on his existing licence. Then his licence was taken away – he does not know where it is – and he had to take the exam. However, he is still learning to read English. Although he understands the signs, he says as he points to a ‘no parking’ sign nearby, he had trouble reading the exam – and failed. He wishes someone had been allowed to read the questions to him. So he rides his bicycle, and is worried what he will do when he visits Sierra Leone without a licence.
In December 2014, in order to find him a job, he and Debra went to WorkBC. Although people had stressed the need to go to high school, one woman there told him, “It’s not your education, it’s your attitude.”
She was right. He was hired by Okanagan Timber Frame to do wood varnishing, staining and sanding.
“I have never seen an electric sander in my life. A planing machine, I saw it but don’t know how to operate it.”
Nonetheless, his boss took the time to teach him. Kamara likes to work hard and sometimes he dances as he works – another passion for him. He is grateful to his boss and still works there today.
Gratitude, in fact, seems to be evident in most everything he does. He has been taking English as a Second Language and values the opportunity tremendously.
“It’s like a raw egg. If you don’t hold it properly, it will fall down and you will destroy it.”
This view is reflected in his collecting of second-hand soccer balls. When he was growing up, he and his friends used a ‘ball’ made of bits of plastic tied together.
“Soccer is like a magnet in Africa. You see a ball and you want to run and get it,” he says, noting that a child who has a soccer ball will wash it off after each outing and then hide it. Kamara plans to visit Sierra Leone sometime and take the soccer balls.
Here, his passion for soccer has not diminished. He plays on two teams, as a striker. He speaks proudly of his 19-year-old son who still lives in Sierre Leone, who plays soccer better than he does and who will get the education Kamara didn’t have.
“He’s a striker like me.”
Kamara also expresses gratitude to be working at Churches Thrift Shop, but he was shocked when he first went.
“The first time, I went to the bathroom and cried,” he says of his reaction to all the stuff people were discarding.
“To me, everything is valuable, everything is good to me. I don’t have anything to destroy. When I cook, I take exactly what I’m going to finish… Life over there is different from here,” he says of Sierra Leone. “If people get there, they will know the value of things here.”