On the re-opening of SLPP Office … “We would never encourage violence” John Benjamin...

Sierra Leone News:CHETANYA’s View

CHETANYAI saw my first rainfall in Freetown this morning while I was sipping tea in the dining area of my hostel. It soon became intense, hammering on the tin roofed houses just outside. Before too long that morning, I was running through it to and from the car, naively trying not to get too wet as it poured from the sky. Today I met the wonderful staff at Awoko and got an introduction to what I’ll be doing for the two and a half months while I’m here. And I’m writing this in the Awoko office, having just come back from walking around the block. It was the first time I actually set foot in Freetown and saw it from the ground. So, a few important firsts today.
Ever since my plane touched down in Lungi Airport the day before yesterday, and I stepped outside into sub-Saharan Africa for the first time, there’s been a lot for my body, my senses, and my mind to process. Whatever country I travel to, it’s the scenes I encounter during the first few hours that really stick with me. For Sierra Leone, I’ll remember walking outside the airport and seeing the striking red soil of the road. Washed with rain, it turned the potholes in the road into pools of pigment. I’ll remember the bustling commerce just outside the airport as I was shown by an airport worker to some unofficial money-changers, the sight of nearby palm trees and tin-roofed houses, and the sounding of the Islamic call to prayer. I’ll remember the bus ride to the boat dock, past more bare-bones houses, a young girl standing outside on the porch pouring water, and then, while waiting for the boat to take me across the water to Freetown, a golden sunset on the dark beach.
I’ve been in Sierra Leone for a day and a half, plus one night. I’m already feeling more comfortable being here, thanks to the kind and helpful people I’ve encountered every step of the way. But I haven’t felt that way the whole time. The shock of trying to process Freetown still hasn’t worn off. I’ve been to other places that were hard to adjust to. The polluted air, crazy traffic and constant attention from touts in Cairo, for instance. Or wandering through the streets of Tunis during Ramadan — ghostly silent and empty after dark, with almost nowhere to get food, let alone anything vegetarian. But Freetown seems harder to adjust to.
I saw Freetown in the daylight for the first time yesterday, as Michelle (Awoko Driver) drove me around. I was immediately overwhelmed. The things I was seeing seemed almost unreal  so different that I couldn’t quite process them. We stopped outside a dilapidated white building  a hospital, Michelle told me. Just judging by the exterior, it was a shock to see the impoverished state of health care facilities here.
The unpaved dirt roads, the huts and make-shift structures covered in tin roofs, the endless unfinished buildings and others that seem in disrepair, reminded me that I was in one of the poorest countries in the world. In Seattle, the city in the United States where I’m from, the skyline is covered in cranes busily constructing ever more tall buildings, and scaffolding putting the finishing touches on yet another shiny apartment complex. The tin roofed shacks I see everywhere in Freetown remind me of an encampment for the homeless in Seattle that was called Nickelsville, before it closed down. The kind of housing Seattle’s homeless population live in, by necessity, looks like a typical house for many here.
I realize the self-centeredness in talking about my struggles adjusting here when I’m the lucky one. Unlike most of the people who call Freetown home, I’ll be leaving by the end of the summer. And of course, by the standards of probably most Freetown residents, I’m living in comfort, even luxury.
But as we drove around, I realized this was just too much for me to handle for now. I retreated to my room that evening and read about Sierra Leone from a safe distance, not even trying to think through everything I’d seen. Not for the first time, some part of me desperately wanted to fly home again.
I’ve walked around the city twice today. There are so many things that are new here. If you walk in the street, you’re sharing it with cars that zip past a razor’s edge away.
There’s a sort of sidewalk, but it’s more like a covering over a deep gutter, which you have to be careful not to fall into. If you walk along it, you might get in the way of basking dogs, kids, makeshift storefronts selling cucumbers, or possibly the entrance to someone’s house. My first time walking around the city, I can’t say I understood much of what I was seeing. But it started to feel less dizzying. In the coming weeks, I’m looking forward to understanding more and more.
Friday July 08, 2016

Comments are closed.