Friends from Freetown had warned me about the brown seaweed the Atlantic Ocean spits out onto the beaches of this capital city during the rainy season.
“Don’t worry about it!” they’d continue. “It doesn’t stop life from continuing.”
So it was with no surprise that I encountered a group of a dozen Sierra Leonean boys clad in somewhat coordinated soccer jerseys, stretching on the brown, sulfurous algae on the beach in the Lumley neighborhood.
“Black Lives Matter!” one of them said to me with a smile as I approached, my film camera slung over my shoulder.
“Black Lives Matter,” I responded, used to the greeting after almost six months of having moved to Freetown with my partner and children. It has become my nickname when I walk the streets of the bustling town alone, especially with my curl ‘fro out, like today.
Black Lives Matter.
“Where are you from?” the captain of the team asked.
“From Congo.” My answer left him pleasantly surprised.
“And where else?” another player inquired, undoubtedly expecting me to be from another country as well. My brown skin and style—his gaze asked what he did not. The captain of the other team asked his teammates to finish stretching while they waited for an answer.
“Iran.” I knew I would surprise them.
The captain’s eyebrows: a V. His eyes: wide. A smile crossed his face.
“Am I no longer Black Lives Matter?” I asked, amused.
Some of the players burst into laughter.
“What’s the name of the team?” The boys parted into two teams.
The whistle announced the start of the game and the green ball flew off the brown beach and up into the air.
“We’re Oxford FC. We train every week. At four or five,” the captain said while pointing at my camera. “You can take photos now and anytime.”
“Oxford FC, eh? I thought this is Sierra Leone, not England.” I joked as my eye narrowed in the lens.
“But you are on Lumley Beach here and that is Aberdeen, and my name is James.” He laughed. “As you can see, we love the British and the Americans here!” His eyes scanned the game, the green ball up against an overcast sky before falling into the backdrop of the Atlantic waters.
Priscillia Kounkou-Hoveyda is a Congolese Iranian French human rights jurist, writer, documentary filmmaker, and the founder of the Collective for Black Iranians. She lives in Freetown, Sierra Leone.