I’ve officially been in Freetown for a full day (it’s now noon on day 2), and it feels good.
My flight from Brussels was uneventful but bloody LONG – I slept for most of it because of my general physical and emotional exhaustion. I was no longer feeling like I was marching into certain death, but I also wasn’t feeling particularly chipper, so I dozed for the full 8 hours. I got to see Dakar from the tarmac when we landed to let some passengers off (and take a few on), and seeing the beach as we took off was a salve for the soul. I was ready for what came next.
Coming from the glossy airports like Toronto and Brussels, airports in Africa are the first triggers of culture shock. The airport is a two-story building which would fit inside a hangar of a North American airport… and it is extremely hectic. I got through immigration and picked up my bag, and a porter helped me get on one of the early choppers into the city. It was a more expensive way to get in to Freetown, but the view made up for it… now I have a bit of a mental image of the city from above (since maps are hard to come by).
Stephen (my contact here) met me at the helicopter drop off with a big wave as the chopper came in, and quickly ferried me away in a taxi driven by Freetown’s only female cab driver, Rosalie. We met up with Adam, a law intern who is staying at our house until Friday, and then went to dinner on the beach. My appetite hadn’t really returned after my bout with the “travel-terror” and I hadn’t eaten since the flight from Toronto about 24 hours earlier… but I managed half a hamburger, topped with coleslaw and French fries. I guess they figure, why put the sides on the side, just pile ‘em on the patty!
Then, we came back here to bed. When I opened my backpack a rush of cold air came out, left over from the airplane baggage hold and insulated by my clothes – probably the last cold air I’ll feel for a month. The house is guarded 24/7 by 3 guards (one of whom is stationed outside my bedroom window) and 3 very bark-y but also friendly doggies. You have to be careful on the stairs into the house so that you don’t cut yourself on the broken glass and razor wire along the top of the concrete fence around the compound. I have a giant bed with no blankets (not that I’d need them, did I mention it’s like 40 degrees here?) or pillow (I’m making do with the one I stole from Jet Airways), draped with a massive mosquito net that will hopefully keep malaria at bay. I have a private bathroom with a tub and flush-with-a-bucket-o-water toilet – pretty nice digs for one of the least-developed countries in the world. We have (intermittent) electricity, usually 3-5 nights a week, I hear. Even when it is on, the lights get brighter or dimmer every few minutes, which is sort of an interesting mood effect.
Today Adam got me up around 9 and we hit the town – a bunch of other legal interns from Timap (his organization) arrived last night and we all needed downtown-type things. On the way to meet the interns we started with a breakfast of Fanta and ice cream (eaten out of a small, tightly-tied plastic bag and sold out of a baby carriage pushed down the street – with lots of blankets on top for insulation). One of Adam’s local friends (and a friend of his) took us around downtown to help us get good prices prices on what we needed. I intended to get a pillow, but at almost CDN$20 I decided to wait until Alex arrives with one (or two, maybe, babe?) – especially since they didn’t have pillow cases. Lunch was cassava leaves (in a paste with a bit of chicken, fried in lots of palm oil) and rice, and dinner was sandwiches off the street near our place… I had banana and egg in mine.
Best part of the day? The beach. We didn’t go to the
popular-with-ex-pats Beach No. 2 – instead we headed to Lumley beach, where the surroundings aren’t quite as picturesque… garbage and broken glass in the sand. We met some locals and had fun swimming – playing Co-co (the Salone version of Marco Polo), tag, teaching the kids how to float on their backs and tread water. The water is extremely warm but still refreshing, and a couple waves were so huge I was taken off my feet. We watched the sun set over the Atlantic and then headed home for dinner. Jealous?
Sierra Leoneans are lovely people. I expected it to a degree, but they really are some of the nicest people I have ever met. They smile, and offer their hand, and ask how you are and what your name is… but don’t follow it up with a request for money, they just want to be nice. This evening on the way to dinner Adam used me to buy some social capital – a few guys he knew in the neighbourhood wanted to meet a white woman. One man introduced himself by name (which I forget), then said “But you can call me President.” A woman also stopped us on the street today, but not to ask for money – she wanted us to take a picture of her kids, so they could look at themselves in the digital camera screen.
The city is humid and dusty. The roads are treacherous – if you’re walking, best to just put one foot in front of the other – don’t try to carry on a conversation… stones and concrete stick up at odd angles from the red earth, and there are open storm drains everywhere. Knock wood, it hasn’t rained yet. I imagine the rain must cool things a little, but I’m not looking forward to navigating the roads when they’re slippery AND rocky.
Today (Thursday) I’m venturing out on my own for the first time – first to the Internet cafe to send this entry, and then downtown to meet Stephen and get started on my research.
My poor computer fan is losing its MIND it’s so hot in here, so that’s all for now.