Pumui in Salone: Return to the 'Dark Continent'

The Sahara - Somewhere over Mauritania
Kusheh from sweet mama Salone!

I arrived all safely and with all the luggage I left with, which I deem a success. From Chicago to Brussels I spoke with a man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who spoke highly of his country and nearly made me want to book an additional ticket to Kinshasa. When I asked him about his thoughts on the election about to occur in DRC, he said he doubts that Kabila will be defeated and all he hopes for is that the violence and corruption remain at a minimum. However, he remains skeptical.

The plane ride from Brussels to the Gambia was simply stunning. For 8 hours we flew over the coastline of the vast Sahara. Flying over Dakar, Senegal and into Banjul, the Gambia proved to me that Sierra Leone is significantly more undeveloped than its other West African counterparts. However, after landing at Banjul and seeing the various crashed and/or broken down planes, I became a bit skeptical as to how developed the airport itself was. After an hour layover, we take off again to reach our final destination: Freetown.

18:00: The coastline of the Atlantic led to the Lungi peninsula near Freetown. The deep blue swirling rivers that penetrate to inland Sierra Leone came into view as the plane lowered and as the sun began to set.We touched down at Freetown International Airport (which I swear has got to have more take-offs than landings!). Things are different: there is no longer a sign indicating it is the airport. All the airport is is just a brown building with scaffolding. Some people up ahead of me doing mission work say, “This is the airport? It looks more like a warehouse!” And it does. 

Lungi, Sierra Leone: The heat hits me like a brick wall when I exit the plane, which was welcome compared to the cool Chicago air I came from. I walk across the tarmak from the plane to the airport in sweltering heat. Welcome home.

18:20: Customs was fast and so relaxed that I nearly walked through without getting my visa checked and passport stamped. After being stopped by immigration and a man with a 6 inch syringe asking to see my proof of a yellow fever vaccine, I grabbed my luggage and head out to see if there is someone to pick me up. Before leaving I found a currency exchange and exchanged my American dollars for a 4 inch stack of Leones. The money I get in return made it look as if I either robbed a bank or like I'm working as a prostitute as my side job. I grab my cash and make my way to the lobby. I see a man with a sign that says "Karen" on it. Thank God, someone is here for me. 

18:40: The man who picked me up, Fred, helped me purchase the ferry boat tickets and we waited for the van to fill up to take us to the Sierra Leone River. I asked Fred about the airport and its current condition. He explained to me that they, the Sierra Leoneans and not the Chinese, are remodeling it. It's a good thing because the airport is in desperate need of a remodel. But it seems as if instead of improving it they are just further destroying it. The Chinese, however, are planning on building an entirely new airport in Freetown proper. When I asked Fred about this, he knew nothing about it.

Coastline of Lungi, Sierra Leone
The drive to the ferry consisted of a 10-seater van crammed with 23 people and their luggage. This is how you ride in Sierra Leone. The little boy next to me was crying his eyes out, but when I looked at him he would crack up laughing. I think it was my red hair, blue eyes, and freckles that were making him laugh, but no matter what it was, at least he was no longer screaming. 

The driver flashes on and off his lights during the 30 minute drive to the Sierra Leone River. Flash on – people selling food. Flash off – darkness. Flash on- straw and mud huts with people cooking outside. Flash off – darkness. 

Ferry: We arrive in ‘first class’ – a room with two TVs and an empty bar. The boy and his father that were in the van with me get in as well. The boy falls on his face and starts crying again, but one look from me and he starts to laugh. 45 minutes later and I begin to wonder if we are even moving yet. We are. The flat screen TVs played scenes of African wildlife as if mocking the Sierra Leoneans of being void of such animals.

Suddenly darkness. Power out. What a first-class surprise. I start laughing – this is what I love about Sierra Leone. You never quite know what to expect. 15 minutes later and we have lights once again. When the ferry docks, the smell of fish fills the deck. We get off and wait for our van to pull off the ferry. Someone from Mercy Ships thinks I’m with them. Nope, sorry. 20 minutes later, our van disembarks with our luggage being held hostage inside. Instead of opening the trunk for us to retrieve our luggage, the driver chooses to open a window and pass out our luggage one-by-one. There was a group of 20 young boys with nothing better to do than stand around trying to manage the crowd and repeating everything that the driver says. It is boys like this – the unemployed, uneducated youth – that make me think if war ever were to break out again, they would fight because it would fill their time. If I had to guess, I would assume that these boys were former rebels.

After finally getting our bags we head to the car that will take us to our guesthouse. When I arrive at the car I see a familiar face - Tony, my driver from two years ago greets me with a big hug and even bigger smile. Seeing familiar faces reminds me that I have roots here in Salone. 

Freetown International "Airport"
Fitting all of the luggage into the tiny car is like a puzzle game. Our bags go in and out for nearly 15 minutes and I watch as a praying mantis rests on the windshield. Once we fit it all in, we drove for 15 minutes before reaching 'home'. It’s dark outside, and when I say dark, I mean really dark. I don't think Africa is called the Dark Continent for religious or development reasons, but because it is literally the darkest place on Earth. Freetown is strange - much has changed but much remains the same. People are still lined on the streets selling whatever they have by candlelight. Our car drives from darkness to candlelight and back to darkness again. We pull into a gas station so we can back our car onto the narrow street that our guesthouse is on. Tony informs me that the road we were just on was expanded by two lanes. Guess who did it…the Chinese. A girl that is traveling with me for the first few weeks asks me why the Chinese would be doing development work in Sierra Leone. I take a wild guess: resources.

The Guesthouse: We enter the compound walls lined with broken glass and climb the stairs to the inside. The smell of African food fills my nose and I begin to realize how hungry I am. I hear someone ask, “Who is the vegetarian?” “ME!” I’m surprised they remembered! White rice, stir-fried vegetables and a spicy sauce with fried plantains on the side. I’m in heaven. I got a few questions on what being a vegetarian means - I guess it is a foreign concept. Here you eat what you can and you don't have the opportunity to pick and choose what you get. Here it is take what you can, when you can.

After the late night dinner  I get ready for sleep. Between the heat and the 20+ hour flight, I am exhausted. I lay down on the mattress and listen to the commotion outside my window. I hear the chattering voices of vendors, the hum of the generator, and the buzz of mosquitoes. Before long my heavy eyelids close for the night and I'm in darkness once again. 

1 comment:

  1. Please never stop blogging...love love love reading it!


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