Finding David

By Leslie-Ann Boctor

It was New Year’s Eve, 1990 and Freetown, like every night, was under black out. Crossroader David Roe remembers looking out into the darkness, making out street activity by the light of vendors’ kerosene lamps, feeling “gob smacked.”

Fifteen years later, he returned to the still dimly lit Freetown with different feelings in his heart. He was anxious to find his friend David Tholley. This was Roe’s second trip to West Africa to try and locate his friend. “I was optimistic, but at the same time I didn’t think anything was going to come of my search.”

David Roe and David Tholley met in Freetown in 1991, the former a Canadian, and the latter a native of Sierra Leone. Tholley had been a To-Canada Crossroader on placement in the Yukon in 1987 and was eager to connect with a Canadian in Freetown, while Roe felt grateful to meet a Crossroader familiar with Canada and who understood what it was like to be away from home.

“The few things we had in common really galvanized our relationship and our understanding of one another… I was in a foreign country and he understood how I felt. That empathy really made a difference in our relationship, and our trust in one another,” says Roe.

Before returning to Canada, David and David took a road trip together to the country’s national parks in an old Volkswagen van that Roe jokingly remembers as held together by “twine and hangars.” The trip cemented their friendship.

Tholley decided to leave Sierra Leone in the mid nineties because of the violent civil war that was paralyzing the country. Meanwhile Roe was anxious to hear of his friend’s whereabouts and safety, but was unable to reach him by telephone. Roe knew that Tholley’s mother had relocated to Ghana to escape the growing violence in Sierra Leone. In 1998 Roe traveled to Ghana to try and locate her. He made inquiries with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees – no luck.

“It was always nibbling at me, where David was and what had happened to him,” says Roe. “I had to try and put my mind at rest somehow.”

In 2006, Roe decided to go to Sierra Leone and try and track down David himself. “In Africa, you just need to ask around and you’ll find who you are looking, that’s how connected people are. I knew if I went, I would find some news of David, whatever it was,” says Roe.

The morning after his flight arrived from Calgary, together with his wife and her brother, David Roe started knocking on doors on the street where David lived last. By the third house, they found someone who knew the Tholley family and pointed them further down the street.

Roe climbed the steps of the porch, and in amazement, found David’s wife standing in the living room, looking back at him, also dumbfounded. A few moments later David Tholley received a call from his wife, telling him someone was looking for him. “My wife called and said ‘David Roe is at home.’ I said WHAT?” says Tholley, still sounding incredulous at the news as he recounts it. “I never expected I would see David Roe at my house! I told her I am coming right now. It was really a sweet surprise. Something that was lost was found.”

This story is part of a special series, 50 stories for 50 years that will appear on the new CCI website to be launched later this spring. Visit www.cciorg.ca to learn more.

 

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