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Reflecting on how building connections with others is necessary for humanity’s survival

Table of contents

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Witchbird
Chapter 2: Folds
Chapter 3: Chief’s Decision
Chapter 4: Do You Want a Box
Chapter 5: School
Chapter 6: Swimming Lessons
Chapter 7: Bawbee(s)
Chapter 8: Beauty Season
Chapter 9: Those Who Were Not Loyal
Chapter 10: Fishpond
Chapter 11: Directions of Wonder
Chapter 12: Felt-Tipped
Chapter 13: Good Morning America
Chapter 14: Strident Cry of the Weaver Birds
Chapter 15: Be All and End All
Chapter 16: Perception


Sierra Leone is often sensationalized as a place of extreme violence and suffering—of blood diamonds, child soldiers, war amputations, and Ebola and now the highly addictive drug Kush. Before Before captures daily life in a different country, one Betsy Small first encountered as a Peace Corps worker between 1984–87, and then rediscovered when she returned decades later with her daughter. Living in Tokpombu, a remote community of forty rice-farming families, the author faced struggles that changed her forever and witnessed the growing tensions in this rainforest village—between the young and old, between the traditions of oral history and honoring the ancestors valued by the elders and the siren call of the illicit diamond mines faced by the youth. 
Before Before offers a rare portrait of everyday people, with particular focus on the lives of women and girls, before the brutal war of 1991 tore the country apart. Through Small’s account of immersion in another world as she witnessed injustice and was welcomed as a friend, readers are invited to explore the shared ground of our humanity.

Betsy Small is the Executive Director at Creating Friendships for Peace.

“In Sierra Leone, we have many sayings—Wan an bangul noh bah shake (It takes many bracelets on a wrist to make a beautiful sound) is an example. The stories and memories invoked in Before Before are illustrative of this core belief—that it takes many voices to tell a story. These chapters not only tell stories of Sierra Leone from a whole new perspective, but they weave an intersection between what people want to hear and what they may not yet understand.”

- Adeyinka M. Akinsulure-Smith, Ph.D., ABPP, City College of New York

Before Before: A Story of Discovery and Loss in Sierra Leone offers a rich and compelling ethnographic account of life in a Kono village in eastern Sierra Leone in the 1980s before the onset of the Sierra Leone civil war in 1991. It represents one of the best recollections of life in pre-war Sierra Leone and it should be preserved to help future generations appreciate what life was like in Sierra Leone before the war.”

- Fodei J. Batty, Quinnipiac University

“Riveting, revealing, and brimming with stopping beauty and cruelty, Before Before is not just a great book, but an essential one for these times. It's a model of compassion and of humility, and of brilliant story-telling that both honors and chastens humanity.”

- Sy Montgomery, NY Times Bestselling Author of How To Be a Good Creature