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Sierra Leone News: Getting out of town

I’ve written about some of the issues and challenges we uncovered on my trip to Port Loko but I ignored all the amazing and surprising things I saw along the way. In fact, I haven’t done all that many columns about my experiences traveling around the city. It’s embarrassing, but I’ve been here almost seven weeks and I had still yet to leave Freetown before this weekend. Over that time I’ve fallen in love with this busy, bustling, beautiful city and the hundreds of people I’ve met here. The countryside of Port Loko and Kambia was completely different from anything I’d experienced in the city and now that I’m back in Freetown I’m itching to get back on the road to see what life is like in the rest of the country.
Taking the ferry to Lungi reminded me a lot of the ferries back in my home. We take ferries across the icy cold Puget Sound to get to the peninsula and islands of the coast of Washington. The ferry Lungi might have been slow, loud, and smelled like engine exhaust, but it was pretty amazing feeling to get out on the water again. I kept having flashbacks to my first trip across the harbour 7-weeks ago on the Seabird; back when I was a wide-eyed, newbie taking in the streets of Freetown for the first time. Once we hit the shores of Lungi, I turned right back into wide-eyed newbie, incessantly staring out the window and snapping blurry pictures from the car.
I was lucky enough to stray off the main roads deep into the countryside where small villages popped up out of the dense forests. The people we met there were some of the most friendly and curious I’d ever met; genuinely interested in helping us learn more about maternal health. Every person we met had been touched by this topic in some way so they wanted us to know the true struggles families go through, especially deep in the rural areas. I learned that it is customary for journalists to greet the local chief before starting to interview people in the area. I think we must have met at least 5 different chiefs over the trip, all of who warmly welcomed us into their chiefdoms.
Our arrival in these villages always attracted lots of attention. Easily one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had in Sierra Leone happened when we arrived a small village in Kambia where we were to interview a bereaved husband and the late mother’s older sister. Curious people nearby the husband’s house came over to investigate. By the time we sat down on a pair of wooden benches outside his house for the interview, every single man, woman, and child had circled around us to get a closer look. There must have been at least 150 people surrounding us; silently but curiously watching us interviewing the husband and sister about the events leading up to the mother’s unfortunate death. At first it was a bit intimidating having hundreds of eyes and ears trained on you as you discussed a delicate and emotional topic like maternal mortality, but everyone was so respectful and engaged that I almost forgot about them.
I was also amazed by the meticulously constructed mud-brick houses, built on platforms to avoid the worst of the rainy season flooding. I saw one of the houses being constructed with tall stacks of perfectly rectangular mud bricks. The amount of technical knowledge into building a sturdy brick house out of nothing but mud and sticks astounds me. Someday I’ll have to return and learn how to build one from the masters in Kambia villages.
Life can be hard in the rural countryside but the people I met didn’t seem resentful; quite the opposite actually. These small, tight-knit communities truly trust and rely on their communities; a frame of mind I’ve seen in communities all over Freetown. More than anything this trip made me realize it’s time to get off my butt, get out of the office, and go see the rest of the country.
Timothy’s Take
Friday August 04, 2017

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