“Aporto, Aporto” Sierra Leone - August 31st 2013

First thing I go to visit the Grandfather of my son’s primary school friend Imaani who lives in Freetown and we chat about Imaani and his daughter Barbara (also my friend who gave me lots of advice prior to my trip – thanks Barbara!) Then we say goodbye to the staff at Hotel Mariam, everyone has been so lovely I find it quite emotional. I give everyone tips – small to me but, Alfred tells me, probably half a week’s wages to each of them. Wow. I also visit Alsuine’s family again, chat to the staff in his hairdressing business and he oversees me buying African shirts at Victoria Market (adjacent to Victoria Park – very different from our London one despite being named after the same Queen). Alusine rejects one design I like because it is Nigerian – it’s important I get authentic Sierra Leone designs he feels, I agree of course and am glad he is there to show me the difference.  Later I buy some fabric from a man in the street carrying assorted reams on his head (definitely from SL).

I am not sure how I feel about the fact that, African fabrics aside, the only clothes shops and stalls I see all sell second hand European clothes. Nobody wears anything new. It makes our life full of endless stores and shopping malls seem so very selfish. Alsuine tells me he is going to drive us around the bay so I get to see some of the Sierra Leone countryside. I do. There are lots of small villages along the way, I notice some signs to the mining areas (very emotive discussions in the car), we get to see the President passing in a big cavalcade and stop to buy bananas and roasted cassava root (I love breaking pieces off and eating the warm floury inside). We stop at Alsuine’s home town and everyone except me eats meat on skewers. On the road again I tell everyone in the car I am pleased I have learnt one word in the Sierra Leone language - ‘Aporto’ the word for hello I say. I know this because all week people have been waving at me in the car and shouting “Aporto, Aporto”. I have been waving and shouting “Aporto” back. I wonder why everyone in the car is laughing. It’s because ‘Aporto’ is actually the word for white person…

6pm – we arrive at Lungi airport to drop off Alfred and the wooden crocodile off for the flight to Brussels. I am sorry to see Alfred go, I really enjoyed working with him and admire his joyful nature and his calm way of working – his insight really added something to the course.  It has been a very full on African day – I feel as if my head will explode. The driver returns me to the guesthouse for my last night (first time I am alone – I am a little nervous). Alusine promises someone from the Immigration service will arrive to take me to the airport promptly at 8am. I tell him I will be calling both him and the Head of the Airport Mr. Bassie (he was also on my course) at 8.01 if nobody arrives! I remember this hotel. I don’t shower.

Buying Sierra Leone fabric in Freetown

Buying Sierra Leone fabric in Freetown


The last day of the Sierra Leone Leadership course - August 30th 2013

The delegates surprise me by coming less formally dressed, a Friday workplace tradition there as well as here. Some are wearing traditional African clothes and this prompts a discussion on where I should go to get the best African shirts for my husband and son. Alsuine (Immigration number 2) tells me he will take me to Victoria Park in the morning. The final day is packed and very successful, we have covered a lot of ground, worked at a sufficiently high level and everyone has a clear action plan for their next steps.  I give everyone a copy of The Gherkin Guide and they all say they will think of me when they see the building on the TV (I tell them to think of Norman Foster too!) The feedback is great and I let the group know they have given me as much as I have given them. Alfred takes a quick photo on my phone before Mr. Koroma arrives for the official closing and presentation – looking at it later I realise he has captured a very relaxed moment (Albert is even holding a cup of tea!) and I’m glad to have it to remember everyone by.

We hire the Hotel Mariam car and driver to give us a tour around Freetown after dark, navigating the numerous holes in the roads is very different in a regular car to travelling in a 4 by 4 government vehicle and I’m sure we do lots of extra miles just avoiding the holes! The capital is absolutely overflowing with happy, colourful, noisy life and I’m so glad I got to see it at night – the biggest crowds are at bars showing European football matches, football is massive here – they even show it at the cinema. They don’t show anything else.

A relaxed moment captured – nice to have this as a contrast to the formal photo taken shortly afterwards (nobody smiles in the formal photos).

A relaxed moment captured – nice to have this as a contrast to the formal photo taken shortly afterwards (nobody smiles in the formal photos).

 


First Day in Sierra Leone - August 27th 2013

4am – I have been sitting next to a miner on the plane – he kept me awake with tales of how awful the country will be, but does offer to escort me through the airport in case of problems. I accept. My official status stamped in my visa means I am whisked through all the checks though and Alfred Woeger is there to meet me.  We go to a nearby small hotel. I am so tired and so relieved to meet Alfred that I don’t mind that it isn’t The Four Seasons (well not much, actually it is a bit of a shock). Realise I don’t have a bottle of water to clean my teeth, use Diet Coke instead. Go to sleep – wake up two hours later to the sound of African rain.

8pm – finally am in bed. Have walked around Lungi (bought bananas), marveled at curtain-like rainfall, met immigration officer no.2 (Alusine Joaque) and driver – both lovely. Been on ferry across the bay – seen huge fish for sale and got startled several times by people carrying live chickens – impressed by people carrying all sorts on their head – fruit, bread, fish, cleaning materials, logs (!!) a huge pile of assorted biscuits and eggs (no, not even one broken) – driven though various areas of Freetown – affluent (colonial architecture, large verandahs) to slums (saw children and grey hairy pigs swarming over a rubbish dump). Driving through the centre like driving down Columbia Road on market day – right through the middle of all the densely packed people! Visited several street sellers, the no 2 immigration officer’s family and the immigration offices where we were welcomed by Chief Immigration officer (No.1), arrived at Hotel Mariam – been to beach, beautiful from a distance but full of rubbish and hospital waste close up – went to craft market where I brought a mini elephant and the project officer brought a 3ft wooden crocodile. Had fish (barracuda) and chips for tea – left the salad (thanks David Halford). Much clearer on what’s needed for the course. WiFi ostensibly working but in reality not.

Woman selling biscuits on Lungi to Freetown Ferry. I  bought some biscuits. 

Woman selling biscuits on Lungi to Freetown Ferry. I  bought some biscuits.