Journey to Freetown

Hi folks and very warm greetings from Freetown Sierra Leone! In lieu of a pretty design picture, today I'm going to do something I haven't done on the blog in a long long time....write more than just a few words, by telling you a bit about my journey to Freetown.....

My trip to Freetown, and essentially back to West Africa (a part of the continent I haven't been to in over 20 years), really started in London's Heathrow Airport. By the time I got to the boarding gate, there were a ton of Sierra Leoneans already queued up to begin boarding (the fact that boarding happens by zones hadn't really hit some of those in the crowd). Many in the crowd, clearly lived in the UK (from their conversations), but were going home for the holidays. (This little migration home for the holidays was already something I was well aware of having had some challenges trying to book my ticket here.) Once the flight got off, the orchestra of sounds really started. In addition to the obligatory 2-3 babies crying, folks (Sierra Leoneans since the foreign passengers sat solemnly in their seats, with headphones on the whole time) were just standing in the aisles chit chatting to each other - note that "chit chatting" here means in full volume with tons of laughter!

As I near the exist of the plane, I finally start getting giddy with excitement. The night air, sticky and humid rushes at me giving a "welcome back to Africa" bear hug! I breeze through passport control without hassle and go to the luggage carousel where a whole new comedy show is waiting for me. Suitcases are thrown on the carousel, one on top of the other sometimes up to 3 suitcases high. With every turn around the carousel, one or more of these suitcases topple over, knocking out the innocent bystander just trying to get their luggage. As the minutes tick by, more passengers arrive to claim their belonging. Those coming to Sierra Leone to bring multiple versions of "salvation" be it of souls, jobs, or as one guy's shirt states "Save the Orphans!" mix easily with those just coming home. Together we all add our sweat to the aforementioned humid air to create a fragrance that I have dearly missed!

Luggage in hand, I make my way out, not sure where the driver picking me up will be. The airport is in a coastal town of Lungi to the north of Freetown. While one could make the 5+ hour journey by road, there are ferries, water taxis, and helicopters to provide a faster journey between locations. Other staff members had described the helicopter option so I depart thinking that is the way I'll go. That, of course, was before a guy steps out of the waiting crowd calling for Brendon. Having been called basically any name that starts with B while previously on the continent, I know he is referring to me so I don't object as he grabs my suitcase and guides me outside telling me that the driver is on the other side and with a little greasing of his palm, he is going to put me on the first water taxi to the Freetown.

I'm shoved into a expat-only van and via some good ol bumpy roads arrive at the dock. One of the things I immediately notice is just how black the nights are, something else I realize I have missed without even knowing it. With zero street lights and buildings not glowing with the hum of good electricity, this little town is pretty dark. On the dock as I wait for the taxi I can only see the shadows of tall palm trees lit by the moon; the night lights of Freetown too dim to be seen on the horizon.

An hour after landing, I finally meet the driver who takes me to one of the "best" hotels in Freetown, complete with the "best" bar and restaurant! I check in and I'm guided to my nondescript room, where the hotel guy starts fiddling with the aircon and tv (because why would they work with just the "on" button). As he leaves, I ask about Internet and he just casually tells me to "just plug it into the wire connection in the wall." It is only after his departure that I realize that they is NO wire connection in the wall and that the wireless requires a password, obviously not something he would just give up freely! Exhausted, I make my way to the bathroom, squeeze through the shower door that slams right into the sink and stand there while the luke-warm water drools down my back (good water pressure clearly being a luxury the "best" hotel can't provide). Needless to say, it feels great to be back in Africa!!!

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