Second day of Sierra Leone Immigration Officers Course - August 29th 2013

Second day of the course is brilliant. Occasional power cuts while Hotel Mariam turns their generator off for refueling (without this there would only be electricity at night). We tackle some important issues, lots of expertise is shared and also we laugh a lot. Alfred persuades me to go for a walk after dinner – I am not encouraged by the fact that he fell into a big hole at the side of the road in the pitch-blackness last night – but I go anyway. I bring my torch. We walk to a beach bar, the wind blowing gently in from the ocean feels fresh and the sand feels nice to walk through (ok I can’t feel it on my toes as am wearing heavy duty Timberland boots but nice all the same). We have some drinks (I worry I am getting addicted to Diet Coke) and walk back. Arrived safely at hotel, Alfred has avoided the hole this time. I am delighted we went.  

Alfred and the hole he fell into (daylight view)

Alfred and the hole he fell into (daylight view)

Sierra Leone TV arrives - August 28th 2013

Sierra Leone TV come to film the opening of the course for the news and Chief Immigration Officer Alpha Kholifa Koroma introduces me as the most knowledgeable and celebrated leadership trainer worldwide (No, I didn’t write it myself). He, Alfred and Tom Ashwanden (Head of Governance, EU Delegation to Sierra Leone) talk about the work of the EU and ICMPD and the MIEUX Action programmes in Sierra Leone (this is one of them) and we go outside for the official photograph. The 14 delegates are all very formally dressed – I secretly thank my Mum for persuading me to put a very formal suit in my case at the last minute, even though it was wool. (Wool!!! Make a mental note, next time I come to Africa on business- buy lightweight formal suits!) Day 1 goes well, we achieve a lot. Afterwards Alfred and I walk along Aberdeen Beach (Tony Blair famously photographed here) we turn back after reaching the Chinese casino and visiting the roundabout where everyone gathers after dark to chat (all sitting on the roundabout itself!) All the hotel staff gather to watch the news with us after dinner (fish and chips again). Alfred and Tom on a lot – I appear briefly (Mr. Koroma’s introduction of me makes the edit).

Chief Immigration Officer Alpha Kholifa Koroma,Sierra Leone's senior immigration officers, EU Officials Tom Ashwanden and Alfred Woeger and me.

Chief Immigration Officer Alpha Kholifa Koroma,Sierra Leone's senior immigration officers, EU Officials Tom Ashwanden and Alfred Woeger and me.

 

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. 

Leaving for West Africa - August 26th 2013

It’s arrived. Today I am heading to Sierra Leone to run Leadership & Management course for the country’s senior immigration officers, an ICMPD programme where experts are sent by the EU to build capacity in other countries. I am going in spite of the Foreign Office safety warnings that have been keeping me awake at night. The fact that I have had travel, health and repatriation insurance (the latter in case of death or kidnapping I presume) and a Foreign Office hotline number to call in case of emergencies (I have compiled an extensive list of possibilities) is all making me feel worse not better. I have been immunised against Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Hepatitis A and Diptheria, have started to take the malaria tablets – but found nothing to cure cowardice.  My BA flight leaves at 10.40pm and arrives in Freetown at 4am tomorrow. Except it doesn’t arrive in Freetown, rather like London Luton being nowhere near London the Freetown airport is in Lungi and the capital is across the bay. As most of the safety warnings are about travelling to Freetown,particualry at night, this was my biggest fear. I had rejected the original plan that I would travel alone to the hotel – either across the bay in a speedboat or in around the bay in a 4 hour drive. The boat was out because of the combination of ‘no sea rescue’, the journey would be in the pitch black and the fact that I don’t like boats much. (I did try a trip around Paxos last year and, despite the sunny day, turquoise water and English speaking captain, had a panic attack the moment we left the harbour and had to be put ashore). I also rejected the 4 hour drive around the bay in a government vehicle, pitch black again, rainforest this time – even the news that there are hardly ever hold ups at night now wouldn’t convince me. So – ICMPD Project Officer Alfred Woeger is meeting me at the airport. My friend Maureen comes with me to the airport and my friends at Aspire Leadership, who recommended me for the work, phone to wish me well. I don’t sleep on the plane.