From Sierra Leone with Love

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to a taste test for a new range of ginger beer being brewed up for one of our pro bono clients, Global Sisters. For those of you who are yet to discover this remarkable organisation, do yourself a favour and check it out at www.globalsisters.org

Yarrie was the name of our brewer, and from the second I walked into the room, her infectious presence was an undeniable force. Being around her felt like plugging into an energy source.

A poet, a dancer, a young woman alive with a beauty that emanated from deep within her.

She was a gifted raconteur with a story that would have been utterly heartbreaking had it not been shared by someone whose eyes were alive with pathos and wisdom, and who served it all up with an amazing circumspect humour.

Let’s just say that brewing ginger beer was at the tail end of one almighty tale.

Yarrie was born and raised in Sierra Leone, to a privileged family. Her mother was a dealmaker, a trader, a businesswoman on a mission. She raised her children strong and determined, attributes that came in handy when their country erupted into a vicious civil war.

She shared with us how aged 10, she was taken off to market with her brothers and sisters and instructed by her mother to “Sell….Sell anything. Sell everything we have. We need this money to eat”. She told us she was scared and tired and unused to such exertions, but she did as her mother said, and thus had her first experience of being a ‘business woman’. She didn’t like it much.

Over a decade later, after spending time as refugees in Guinea and finally finding their way to Australia, Yarrie found herself in a curious position.

Suddenly, at the tender age of 22 it fell to her become the beacon for her family. Her mother, now weary and finding it difficult to settle in a strange land, had bred in Yarrie the instinct to stand tall on her own two feet, and yet the world had dealt her the cruellest blow. Yarrie had youth and optimism on her side. And so the idea of bringing ginger beer made from her aunty’s recipe to the trendy cafes of Sydney was born.

I’m African too originally, although it’s been a long time since I lived on that restless and untameable continent. And yet one sip of Yarrie’s ginger beer – brutal yet gentle, raw yet beckoning, filled with tears and laughter, much like its maker, took me straight back there.

I love that here in Australia, someone as magnificent as Yarrie has a chance at luck again. I hope the Bondi hipsters and Rozelle foodies pay a small fortune for their own little taste of Sierra Leone. Perhaps they’ll turn Yarrie into a small businesswoman of the year one day?

Because it’s so easy to forget how unbelievably privileged we are to live in this lucky country of ours. A place where for those willing to reach out and grab it, opportunity is endless and possibility is a fact of life.

And yet with such boundless riches right on our doorstep, the modern condition sees us lonely and isolated, and perhaps a little lost.

Yarrie reminded me that all that good luck is a privilege, not a given.