Sierra Leone: First Impressions


My visit to Sierra Leone in December was my first trip to Africa (if I don’t count a short visit to Morocco when we lived in Spain). I started the day in Germany, and ended the day late at night in Mattru, far up-country. Here are my memories and impressions of that first day.

The Freetown airport lies on an island. After the plane landed, a tractor pulled up to the plane with a wagon to collect our luggage.Inside the terminal, I encountered a sea of people (which I’ve seen in other countries). Everybody wants to carry your bag. Some guys offered to fly us to the city via helicopter, but I’d heard too many stories about these helicopters. Instead, Billy Simbo and I headed to the car ferry (itself a 20-minute drive). We were jammed in like sardines, standing up the whole way. I didn’t see any lifejackets, and there were no safety drills. We did go to the First Class room, which included some air conditioning and guys selling pirated CDs and DVDs (including some nice Christian CDs).

Freetown featured crowded streets, a lot of commercial businesses, and much hustle and bustle. We found ourselves on Kissy Road stuck in parked traffic for a couple hours. You can do your shopping on Kissy Road while you’re stopped, because vendors come by with fresh eggs, bluejeans–anything you want. They carry everything on their heads. I saw one guy carrying a Honda generator on his head. That was the most impressive thing I saw in Sierra Leone.

Amidst the crowds, I carried my suitcase on my head, too. If you try pulling it behind you, you’ll never make it through the crowds. Plus, it’s more secure on your head. Of course, don’t keep anything valuable in your pockets, or you’ll never see it again.

Billy Simbo and I headed into the interior, taking dusty red dirt roads. It was a 250-km trip to Mattru. We arrived around midnight. With no air conditioning in the van, we kept the windows open the whole way. In the dark, we couldn’t see anything, except for an occasional big farm truck.

When we reached Mattru and opened the car doors, the vehicle light came on. Only then did we realize we were completely covered with red dust. Mattru has no electricity, and the guest house had no generator. We used palm oil lamps, and bathed from a bucket of water. It was a little interesting getting cleaned up for bed, but I was comfortable.

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