Sunday, September 13, 2009

Arrival in Sierra Leone – September 9

Leaving home is always hard. I will miss all my friends and family back home immensely, especially my husband. I know the time will go by quickly, and the experience will be well worth it, but it’s still hard to say good bye. In the days leading up to my departure, and even in London and on the flight to Freetown, I kept thinking to myself “wow, I can’t believe I’ll be in Africa on Tuesday night.” I found it kind of surreal and impossible to really understand until I arrived.

After an uneventful journey from Canada (which is what all good journeys should be!), I arrived in Sierra Leone at about 10 pm on Tuesday, September 8. Luckily for me, I was met at the airport by three people: Harold (Thomas’s cousin), Amadou (Saidu’s cousin), and Heidi, a cdpeace volunteer here in Sierra Leone. Both Amadou and Harold work at the airport and helped me get my bags and go through customs, which was nice. Then Heidi helped me change some money and took me to the guesthouse in Lungi where we stayed that night.

(An aside about the international airport in Freetown – it’s not actually in Freetown, it’s in Lungi. In order to get into Freetown proper from the airport you have several choices: take a helicopter or hovercraft (each takes about 20 minutes I think and costs around $60), drive around the bay (which takes about 5 hours) or take the ferry, which is what the locals do. We took the ferry in the next day – more on that later.)

Arriving in Sierra Leone was kind of overwhelming. Even though I feel that I did a lot of preparation before coming here in terms of finding out what to expect and reading about the country, actually experiencing it was totally different. You can only mentally prepare for something so much. Anyways, realising that I was actually in Sierra Leone and was going to be here for the next few months was initially somewhat of a shock. The first night was quite hard as I felt sad and homesick. It took me a day or two to get over that feeling of shock properly, and although I am still homesick at times, I feel much more adjusted and acclimatized at this point.

The first night in Lungi we stayed in a Guesthouse called the Gateway. It wasn’t bad – they had electricity and running water. Well, the water was kind of running when we arrived, and not at all the next day, but at least in theory they had running water. I “flushed” my first toilet by pouring water in from a bucket :-)

The following day, two of Heidi’s friends met us in Lungi (KK and Rabia, both ex-pats working for NGOs in Makeni). After dropping KK’s sister off at the airport, we headed for Freetown. We took the ferry over. It cost us 5,000 Leones (LE) for a first class ticket (equivalent to about $1.25 CDN). I certainly wouldn’t have done this by myself on my first day in Sierra Leone, but KK and Rabia speak excellent Krio and know their way around quite well, so I felt very well taken care of. As a first class passenger on the ferry (about a 40 minute ride), we got to sit on hard benches and were treated to a Sierra Leonean comedy routine. I’m afraid that most of it was lost on me as my Krio is so far pretty non-existent, but other people were laughing!

We arrived in Freetown around 10 pm and found a cab to take us to the guesthouse that Heidi had arranged for us. I can see already that it is always important to haggle on the price in Sierra Leone, and even more so if you are white. The cab driver started at 30,000 LE, but got talked down to 12,000.

The taxi ride itself was an adventure. Firstly there was both a driver and his assistant, as well as the 4 of us as passengers, so we were a little squished in. Then, the car stopped 4 times while we were in it, twice in the middle of the road. Apparently there was a problem with the fuel line (although I really doubt that is all that was wrong with the car). Finally we made it to the gas station where the taxi refuelled and managed to get to our destination without any more stops. When the cab stopped for the fourth time before hitting the station, the assistant who was sitting beside me and who was from Guinea so spoke French turned to me apologetically and said “African cars sont comme ca. L’Afrique, c’est difficile” (translation: African cars are like that. Africa is hard).

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