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Sierra Leone News: CHETANYA’s View:Looking forward to my trip upcountry

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

As you read this, I’m either in a bus on the way to Bo, or already there. It’s my second-to-last week here in Sierra Leone, and I’ve been given the opportunity to travel upcountry for only the second time, to do some reporting for Awoko. I’ll return with material for more stories and columns. I’m sure I’ll also return with plenty of memories and a better understanding of Sierra Leone.
At the beginning of my internship here, I spent a few days in Lunsar. Those days were some of my most days in Sierra Leone, maybe because everything was new. After a year in the United States, followed by just a few days in vast, traffic-choked Freetown, I was suddenly swept into a world unlike any I’d ever seen. For the first time, I was seeing what life in rural sub-Saharan Africa is really like.
That trip gave me a better understanding of Sierra Leone, but in truth it wasn’t the intellectual understanding that made the trip unforgettable. In fact, much of what I saw I can’t claim to understand. It was just experiencing this part of the world  the sights, sounds, smells  that made such a huge impression on me.
In the eight weeks I’ve spent in Freetown several people have told me I should try to go upcountry again before I leave, to see the “real” Sierra Leone. I sometimes forget that although Freetown is an important part of Sierra Leone, and a good window into many aspects of the country, it doesn’t necessarily resemble much of the rest of the country. Flying over Sierra Leone (or was it Guinea as well?) on my flight over here, I was struck by how much green forest and rivers dominated on the landscape below. There were occasional settlements and patches of farmland, but the forest was king. Yet living in Freetown, I rarely see much of the country’s natural beauty. There are the increasingly less green hills overlooking the city, and glimpses of the ocean from afar. And the Cotton Tree stands defiantly in the middle of downtown Freetown, a remnant of a time when massive trees covered the country up to just a short distance from the beach.
But Freetown is a city first and foremost. As different as it is from my home city of Seattle, it’s similar in many ways to other large cities I’ve visited in North Africa and the Middle East. It has the hallmarks of a crowded destination where people from all over the country flock to seek their fortune: crazy traffic, ubiquitous street hawkers, generally too many people for the city to handle, and everything that crops up to support them: restaurants, bars and clubs, open air markets, mosques and churches….
I’m curious to see the culture and way of life in another part of the country, that’s perhaps more uniquely Sierra Leonean and African than Freetown. So much of Sierra Leone’s history and influences lie outside Freetown. So many Freetown residents, including the President, grew up somewhere upcountry, and were shaped by it, rather than Freetown. And while Freetown represents Sierra Leone’s colonial history, It’s the villages and cities upcountry that where modern events like the civil war and Ebola epidemic originated.
Whether or not upcountry is the “real” Sierra Leone, I’m excited for the opportunity to see something new.
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Thursday September 01, 2016

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