Arriving in Freetown in a dark storm

Trip Start Oct 13, 2007
Trip End Nov 29, 2007

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Flag of Sierra Leone  ,
Friday, October 12, 2007

We arrived as part of the largest batch of volunteers that VSO in Sierra Leone have ever received, although we did'nt know this until the next morning.  What we did know was it was pitch black with torrential rain hammering down and we were in a  hovercraft, dodging the lightning as we crossed the bay ....  

However, we arrived safely in Freetown, Sierra Leone on Saturday night at around 10.30pm. This was a little later than expected because of a delay in Dakar, Senegal, apparently due to the president of Senegal deciding that he wanted to take off at the same time as us.

After arriving at Lunghi airport and passing through immigration ( an "interesting" experience it was a further 10 mins along the main airport road (dirt track) to the "Hovercraft port" i.e. a tin shack! In all there were around 13 of us arriving from the UK.  After an hour or so of waiting for the hovercraft in the middle of a massive tropical storm, we eventually boarded and, after a 30 minute flight across the bay we arrived in Freetown. After an hour or so of waiting around for the baggage (there seem to be a lot of waiting in Africa) we set off in the VSO minibus and over the next  couple of hours everyone was dropped off people off at their lodgings around town - of course we were the last to be dropped of at around 2.30 am. A long day!

There is rarely any electricity in Freetown so we saw little on the night we arrived but as we woke in the apartment we are sharing with 2 retired English accountants and a retired HR Director from BP in Holland (sometime it hard to escape work, no matter how far you wander!) we had the most amazing view of Freetown Bay. By this time it was Sunday morning and as the apartment was next door to a Pentecostal Church we had our very own Gospel music concert for most of the morning.

The first two weeks in Sierra Leone is spent on "in country training" on culture, security, politics etc. The incoming volunteers appear to be a good bunch of people from a wide range of backgrounds and countries, UK, USA, Kenya, and Philippines etc.  The training is good but it is difficult to concentrate for long as it is very hot and humid and set to get much hotter still.  Something we will have to get used to along with lighting candles at 6.30, cold showers, warm beer, dogs barking and people that seem to party at all hours of the - with no windows to speak of you can hear everything!

The people of SL are amongst the friendliest I have known, everyone says hello and wants to talk and they really seem to appreciate what the VSO and other development workers are doing.
A week later After a week or so we are beginning to get used to the heat and much of the training is very helpful if somewhat long.  The stuff on the history of Sierra Leone and their culture is very interesting especially when you realise that, whilst they have recently held democratic elections, the Chiefs and the Secret Societies still have a huge influence on what goes on (apparently it is best to keep on the right side of the Chiefs and stay the hell away from the secret societies! Generally speaking we are pretty bored with the training and just want to get on with the job.

On arrival we were give an allowance to set ourselves up with essential equipment, food etc. So we visited a load of shops and markets and were surprised to see the variety of European and Asian stuff available. Marmite from England, fish sauce from Thailand, so that is pretty much my staple diet sorted!

We have been to the beach once since we have been here and have been to several restaurants, Vietnamese, African, and Pizza and are making the most of it as things will be very different when we get to Bo.

Leaving for Moyamba
It usually takes about 8-9 hours to travel the 150 miles to Bo as the roads are so bad but we also have to drop two volunteers of in Moyamba which is about halfway there. An added concern fro the journey is that "Clive's law" has come into force and I have an attack of diarrhoea the night before the journey and spend most of the night in the bathroom before getting up at .00am.

We are supposed to leave at 6 but eventually leave Freetown at 7.00.  Thankfully, copious hits of Imodium keep the stomach problems under control for the journey but nothing to eat for the day (One of my personal objectives for this year was to lose weight and I seem to be well on track so far).

The drive through the town is something else! Considering SL, according to the UN, is the world's second poorest country, it sure has a lot of cars. After around 2 hours we leave the environs of Freetown and hit the tarmac highway which last for around 10 miles and then it is bone shaking dirt track pretty much all the way to Bo.
The trip up country takes us through some pretty amazing and varied scenery, savannah, hills, rainforest, bamboo forests, rice paddies etc. It is really sad to see the burnt out villages along the way, a remnant of the civil war. Many are now being rebuilt and it is easy to pick these out as they have straw roofs rather than the preferred corrugated iron. Most of the walls in the village house are built of mud and straw, only the wealthy can afford concrete.

As we arrive in Moyamba to drop off Victoria, a HR Consultant (I told you it was difficult to escape work!) and Dale, who is working on an HIV/AIDS project it is our first sight of a Sierra Leonean town outside to the capital. Moyamba is very spread out and it takes us some time to find the house where Victoria and Dale will be staying.  We finally find it next to stream (from where they will apparently get their water).  The place is basic to say the least, with no running water or electricity but in a nice loaction right by a stream.
Onwards to Bo  
After lunch (not something I dare risk yet) we leave for the final leg to Bo. On the way the 4x4 support vehicle has a fuel blockage and the driver Bernard, has to fix this and then drive the remainder of the way on full choke - good job he has plenty of spare fuel. We pass through lots more villages as we approach Bo and see lots of school kids walking the miles between the villages as the leave school for the day - all are waving and genuinely seem pleased to see us (or perhaps we are just a novelty).

We finally arrive in Bo around 6.00 only to find that our house is not ready for us to occupy!  Just what we need after a day like today!!!

a few days later and still no house!! More to follow.....
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