Friday, April 27, 2007

Student from Sierra Leone having a ball under the Big Sky

Mohamed Kaloko is realizing it's different playing soccer in Montana than in his home country of Sierra Leone.

He gets tired more quickly because Great Falls' elevation is higher than in his coastal city in West Africa. The game is called football over there and is the country's reigning sport.

And his "comrades" back home don't give him a hard time about the way he talks.

"He's pretty fun to play with," said Mike Forzley, Kaloko's friend and teammate on the Electric City Soccer Club Thunderbolts. "He works pretty hard, and he keeps it pretty lighthearted."

Seventeen-year-old Kaloko came to Great Falls from Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital, for a year of high school through the Program of Academic Exchange. He hoped to check out American culture and "see what it looks like."

"Mostly I want to see snow," the C.M. Russell High School junior said.

Freetown is a big city near the equator. The school days start at noon and end at 6 p.m. there, and the teachers, rather than the students, move from class to class. He ate a diet of fresh seafood and rice.

Sierra Leone still is recovering from an 11-year civil war that saw tens of thousands killed and millions more displaced. The last United Nations peacekeepers withdrew from the country in December 2005, leaving security in the hands of domestic forces, according to the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook.

Kaloko said the war, which officially ended in 2002, wasn't prevalent in his area.

English is his country's official language, but it's slightly different and much more literal. Suzie Nelsen, Kaloko's host mother, said she got the strangest look from Kaloko when her mother-in-law mentioned "turning her car upside down" looking for her keys.

Nelsen, whose kids are grown, said Kaloko's stay has reminded her and her husband, Dave, that their lives are too busy. The teenager also has taught them how to pick a good pineapple.

"We've been eating a lot of pineapple, more than ever in my entire life," said Nelsen, who lives in Sun Prairie.

Nelsen said Kaloko hates vegetables but likes milk. And he loves rice and sardines. He also digs Walt Disney movies, going to the mall with his friends and playing soccer.

Kaloko, who's been kicking a soccer ball since he was 3, played Futsal (indoor soccer) in January and played on CMR's junior varsity team.

"We chose soccer because it was important to him," Nelsen said. "He lives for this."

The Nelsens also took him to see the Great Falls Explorers and the Harlem Globetrotters. And, of course, they took him skiing so he could see a lot of snow.

"Mostly I fell a lot, but I'm happy because I know how to ski now," he said.

Link to Great Falls Tribune - www.greatfallstribune.com - Great Falls, MT