Well what can I say…I’m here and it’s definitely an experience already!
I guess it started at Heathrow. I’d heard that the sensible thing to do was ensure I didn’t make it easy to become a victim of ‘opportunistic crime’ so I dutifully approached a serious looking employee of the airport to ask where the baggage wrap desk was. His first response was ‘you don’t need that, it’s really expensive’! He then proceeded to question me on my destination, promptly followed up with ‘oh right. It’s over there, two desks on the left’. Hmm, not the best response but at least I knew where I stood!
Arrival at Lungi airport was every bit as crazy as I expected. A flurry of porters and offers of assistance and transportation but all done with a smile.
Having collected my bags I was pulled aside and quizzed temporarily by the customs official on my reason for being in Freetown. On explaining my assignment briefly his initial scepticism was replaced by a genuine heartfelt thank you and I went on my way. The first of my many feelings so far that I was about to really contribute something really meaningful and it was touching.
Having booked ahead I met Tanco, the tourist board website representative and he greeted me with a massive hug and smile. What a welcome to Sierra Leone! He then proceeded to lead me through what seemed like thousands of volunteers and locals alike to the ticket desk where my bags were loaded onto a separate bus and I was squeezed into a seat on a mini bus.
The view at the ‘ferry port’ (a small 25 minute sea crossing in an old speedboat) was stunning with happy, carefree kids playing cricket on the beach. Three flights had arrived in at the same time so my slot was number 137 so I knew it would be a while given only 20 people go across at a time. Unfortunately it was pitch black by the time I boarded with only a little light no bigger than a head torch on top on the boat but I got across fine, despite the guidebook declaring ‘there are many ways you get to Freetown from the airport; none of which are considered safe’. Thanks for that heads up guidebook.
And then arrival into Freetown. Big smiles again, slightly chaotic but ruthlessly organised and structured at the same time in terms of baggage checks and security.
A nice dinner out with my NGO boss and moved into my cute little house in the centre of Freetown.
First impressions of Freetown…I deliberately held off writing this blog until now as I genuinely have been a little shell shocked up until this morning, which is very unusual for me. I think I’m going to soon love it here. There feels like there is a lot of depth, both within the people and also the town and culture. It is an extremely religiously tolerant place where people seem to not only embrace each other’s differences but also celebrate them. I heard a lovely story the other evening about a couple of mixed religions getting married and since then attending both the mosque on Fridays and then the church on Sundays. They do this together which I think sums up what I’m trying to say.
In terms of stretching my thinking personally I already feel that things are changing and my perspective broadening. This is a very enriching feeling.
So before getting too deep and reflective I am going to leave it there. The job starts officially on Monday and I cannot wait.
One last word of advice, don’t come here if you’re scared of bugs. I can’t even begin to describe how big they are. Thank goodness for the pop up mosquito net…