A much needed vacation

Trip Start Dec 01, 2007
Trip End Mar 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
River No. 2 Bungalow
Cockle Bay
Charm's Beach Hotel

Flag of Sierra Leone  ,
Monday, May 4, 2009

I'm sitting on the porch of a bungalow at River No. 2 outside of Freetown, Sierra Leone. It's a Monday so my 3 friends and I are the only ones here. The sand is white and the ocean is dark blue, not the crystal blue of the Caribbean but a much darker color that promises deep water right off shore. The sun is about to set behind a palm covered point that juts into the water. It is absolute bliss save for the most extreme sunburn that never quite stops hurting. A small price to pay for this sort of vacation, a vacation of complete freedom.
Brienne, Astride, Kim and I decided to visit Sierra Leone for Astride's birthday. I also just really needed to get away from the village for awhile. I'd been there since Senegal in February and was suffering from "hut fever". Astride's birthday isn't until June but we wanted to take the free World Food Program flight which might be ending soon :( and rainy season will be in full swing in June, not the ideal time to lay on the beach which was our entire plan. So we flew from Conakry to Lungi, the airport town then took a 30 minute taxi to a ferry that took an hour and half until we reached Freetown and got in another crowded cab for an hour and a half to reach our hotel, Cockle Bay. My first impressions of the city were that its a lot like Conakry: dirty, crowded, smelly, too much traffic, bad drivers yelling at each other. But they were yelling in English or more probably in creole which is a mix of English, French and Portuguese and sounds like a made up child's language, no offense. I wonder if the French feel the same way about Guinean french as I felt about Sierra Leonian English? To greet they say "Ow da body?" and the response is "Da body fine" or "Da body shinin'". We saw a sign in the park that read "Nor Pis Yah" translated as "Don't Piss Here".
We've had to watch what we say. We're so used to not having anyone understand us when we're all together and speaking in English so we say whatever we want. Here when we've needed to speak in private it's had to be done in French.
It's been a really relaxing and enjoyable vacation and much needed. We've spent our days on the beach being pestered by men with nothing better to do and our nights at dinner and then dancing. Since it's just us four girls its also been too easy to find men to show us around. We went dancing with Egyptians, to dinner with Lebanese, the beach with British educated Sierra Leonians, River No. 2 with Canadians and pool swimming at the "5 star" hotel with an American. It's no work at all! We just have to walk outside the hotel and we get free rides, meals, drinks, bracelets, etc. I really never thought I'd be so popular.
The clubs, bars and restaurants we've hit up have been awesome. We've spent several nights at Paddy's which is the same bar from "Blood Diamond". I almost had a stiletto heel go through the top of my flip-flop clad foot at "The Office" dancing on Friday night. The food is amazing. Barracuda is the specialty fish. Superb. Plus they have fried chicken on the side of the street. They sell fried chicken with ketchup the way women in my village sell bush rat, in a bucket on the top of their heads. I prefer the chicken, honestly. Hot dogs are a normal occurrence. Hamburgers are everywhere and I didn't eat at one place that was stingy with the cheese.
As far as safety, we were staying in Aberdeen and I felt pretty safe there. There was one incident when I was leaving "The Office" carrying my camera case slung over my shoulder and a kid ran by and yanked it off my arm. He broke the strap but I held onto the camera and he ran off. But for the most part the people seem honest and genuinely friendly. I didn't feel cheated by the arts and crafts prices like a did in Mali and people were much more willing to bargain. There was no problem getting change like Senegal; if someone didn't have the change they went and found it instead of pocketing the remainder.
Walking through the streets and riding in the taxis there was Christian music everywhere. I did see a mosque and a few people praying but for the most part Freetown is Christian and it really permeates the atmosphere. While shopping downtown I found myself singing along to a song I knew from church in America. In Guinea speech is often punctuated with "Inshallah" (if God wills it), "Grâce à Dieu"(Thank God), etc. The same thing is true in Sierra Leone except it's done in English which for me, at least, makes it more obvious. West Africans are so fatalistic so they see God's hand in everything which is also a reason, in my opinion, that it's hard to get any kind of commitment to anything because who knows what God has in store next.
But I like Sierra Leone. I think it has some great potential. After 10 years of brutal civil war, in just 8 years they've already surpassed Guinea's development. From the people I spoke with they seem to think the government is trying hard to bring Sierra Leone into the modern world. Tourism is getting more and more popular. I think in a few more years all of you who are scared to come visit me could easily find Sierra Leone an enjoyable vacation.
Now for a small update on my Guinean life. April 25th was World Malaria Day and with UNICEF's help my village and I planned a a huge ceremony with a training for 37 community agents (7 of which are my peer educators), mosquito net dipping, music, dancing, speeches, a visit from the governor, prefet, Regional and Prefectoral Directors of Health and a soccer match. It was a huge headache to put together and the day of was full of frustration, especially when the governor showed up 4 hours late and then wanted to cut the ceremony short, right in the middle of a song prepared by the elementary school students, because he was hungry. Regardless, everything that was supposed to happen, happened and I am just glad it's over. I go back to my village on the 11th. I'm looking into doing a project that teaches Health Center directors or employees how to detect malaria in a microscope. So look for updates on that; I might need help from home.
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