So here I was, Friday evening, the night before the Yoga Fest at Tacugama, asking myself “Why again did I sign up; I have so much on my plate already.” There was the car, that just couldn’t seem to get fixed, an inbox full of emails and work assignments yet to be finalised and delivered, and then life, in general, in a big city in Africa. However, my guardianship for one of the chimps and the support to the sanctuary, my wish to practice yoga and love for nature convinced me otherwise. I went and not once did I regret my choice.

The moment I walked towards the lodge, which I shared with other participants for the night, I felt a known tingling inside. Christo lodge was inviting, it was cosy, comfortable and tucked away in the forest. I went around the tiny house, explored each corner and felt joyful and excited. It reminded me of the times when I was a child, finally arriving at our holiday house after a long and strenuous ride in the car – just that Tacugama is located only thirty minutes away from town.

Thirty minutes I thought – thirty minutes away from two of the greatest things on earth for me: a tree house and an outdoor shower. For this weekend, and even though there was much on offer on the program, I decided to spend time in the lodge, tucked away in between the trees in a hammock, doing nothing. Soon I was unwinding, reconnecting with myself and found a sense of relaxation and peace.

While I backed out on forest hikes and massages, a visit to the chimpanzees together with the Shivananda and Yin yoga sessions made a well-rounded weekend. Upon my visit to the chimpanzees, I finally could see to whom I could associate the ‘hoo’ with, that I noticed during day and night. Chimpanzees are fascinating and it was encouraging to see and hear about the great work that the staff at the sanctuary was doing. Even though not quite as flexible as the chimps, we all gave it a good try at the yoga sessions. Mariama, a work colleague and from the Sierra Leonean diaspora, opened the space with a beginner class. Her class felt gentle and encouraging, inviting openness and acceptance towards oneself and others. Madhu, an expatriate from India, taught the early morning session. The pace picked up and postures were more challenging, yet the time filled me with energy and self-confidence. Julia, a mindfulness and yin teacher, closed the weekend with an unwinding session, prepping us well for the week to come and to return well-nourished to the bustling city life in Freetown.

The group was international, of all ages, open and kind. We enjoyed the delicious meals together and agreed we had all been inspired by the variety of dishes offered. Some of them were local, like the potato leaves and groundnut soup – which were for once just about right in their level of spice – while others were a fusion of what was available and possible – a fresh cabbage mango salad with peanuts, pumpkin stew or shakshuka were served. Yogi teas made my heart sing and the banana bread that was on offer throughout the day was a pleasant surprise.

At this weekend, Tacugama not only became a sanctuary for the chimpanzees, but also for us, the participants. I remembered my deep appreciation for nature’s wonders and their restorative powers and reminded myself of the importance to honour my boundaries in a world which was just thirty minutes away, but yet couldn’t feel more different.

– Vicky Gonsior