Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Another trip through Freetown

I’m back in Mapaki now after my second trip to Freetown in a week. I’m almost getting used to the city now :-) Chris arrived safely late Sunday night (2 am on Monday really). Meeting him at the airport at that time was interesting. At around midnight both the cafes in the airport closed. It was very quiet and most people who were around were lying on whatever surface was available sleeping. MO (Chief’s driver) and I just sat around waiting. I read a lot! Luckily the flight came in on time and by 2:30 am we were headed back to our Guesthouse in Lungi. It’s not a bad place and I’ve stayed there before, but this time there were quite a few mosquitoes in our room and we also got temporarily locked in the room due to a broken lock, so I think next time I might look for somewhere else to stay.

I actually like taking the ferry from Freetown to Lungi. Although it’s long (you have to arrive about an hour before to get on with a vehicle, then the crossing takes about an hour), I find the people watching very interesting. Watching people and vehicles disembark from the ferry is also quite a sight. Everyone crowds the gangway, and generally people start jumping off the end of the boat and onto the landing area even before the ferry is properly docked. When people get off, they usually run off in order to get a place in a taxi or on a bus. Watching the cars try to come off is also pretty funny. There is only one gate on the ferry, so all the cars that drive on have to turn around in order to drive off forwards again (it’s very difficult to back off because your wheels have to be properly placed, otherwise your vehicle goes into the water). Usually every car is trying to turn around first without waiting for the other cars to get out of the way. Often there are 4 or 5 men “helping” the cars turn around but without watching what any of the others are doing. Even when told to wait for someone else, cars will just start trying to turn around. It’s incredibly chaotic. Chris got a good video of it I think. I doubt we’ll be able to post it while here because it will take too long to upload, but I’ll be sure to put a few videos online when we get home.

In the harbour where the ferry docks in Freetown, there are several old metal wrecks of ships (comforting, isn’t it?). I had noticed people in the water swimming out to these wrecks but wasn’t sure why they were out there. On the ferry trip from Freetown to Lungi someone told me that they swim out to break off metal parts of the ship. They do this by hand, with hammers or some other hand tools. Then they swim the pieces of metal back to shore to sell as scrap. Pretty incredible.

I also had an interesting experience at the immigration office in Freetown on Monday. I had to go there to renew my entry stamp. I have a visa for 6 months which allows me to enter and leave the country, but when you come in to the country you only get a one month visit permit (this is what allows you to stay in the country). I had no idea this date would be different than the six month visa I already had. Various other people I talked to here also had this same problem. Anyways, by the time someone told me about this and I actually looked at my stamp, it was already expired. Luckily, Chief has a nephew who works in the immigration office. His nephew advised Chief to write a letter explaining that I was staying here as his guest and requesting that the permit to stay be extended, and he also talked to his boss in Freetown (head of the foreign nationals section) to tell him I was coming to get this issue resolved.

So on Monday morning, I took this letter and my passport to the immigration office when we arrived in Freetown. We went there around 10:30 am, after breakfast at Crown Bakery (delicious!). When we got upstairs to the office, there were about 10 staff there. Most of them were sitting around, appearing to do nothing. One person was sleeping. The TV was on and a few were watching football. I spoke to one of the immigration officers, explained the issue and showed him the letter. He told me I’d have to come back tomorrow since the boss who needed to approve the extension was away at a meeting. I explained that I couldn’t come back tomorrow since we were headed back to Mapaki, so he advised me to try later in the afternoon.

This gave us a couple of hours to kill in Freetown. While it was a pain to have to hang around, we decided to go to the beach (Lumley beach), so at least we enjoyed ourselves! The beach was beautiful and almost deserted. We put our feet in the water and sat in the shade on the sand for a while. Then we walked down the beach and met a guy who asked us to bring some gold dust back to Canada with us to sell for him. Interesting. We decided to stay on the safe side and politely declined :-)

Finally we were able to pick up my passport around 2:30 with the extension granted and headed back to Freetown. It was around 6:30 by the time we got back to Mapaki. Chris is getting adjusted to life here and settling in. We hope to do a couple of small side trips over the next week or so, but will be staying based in Mapaki so I can continue to work.

1 comment:

ChildOfTheRainbow said...

hi clare,
your blog is magnificent source of information! and it's so nice to read. thank you!
i will be coming to mekeni this december as a volunteer but i still have a few questions regarding the place. can you be so kind and get back to me at
thank you!! :)