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Sierra Leone News: Goodbye Freetown

On a small wooden speedboat motoring from Lungi to town yesterday, I couldn’t help but think back to my first trip across the harbour three months ago. Stepping out of the airport last June, I, of course, was swept up with the other foreigners. Overly insistent porters quickly funneled us into their water taxi office, hurrying us away from other companies boasting lower prices. Porters passed our bags around in what seemed to be circles, demanding a tip each time they did. Having no frame of reference for what things cost here and being so road-weary, I obliged. The sun fell from view as we motored across the harbor until Freetown was no more than a collection of blinking lights.
But yesterday, returning from a trip to Kenya and Uganda to visit my sister, I decided to opt for the much cheaper and more exhilarating speedboats. The city looked incredible as we bounced across the waves; the bright green hilltops bathed in sunlight contrasted the dense communities that hummed below. The beautiful view was a painful reminder that my time here is almost up.
There’s no way for me to fully articulate the impact Freetown has had on me; no doubt I won’t fully realize it until I’m back in America. I won’t even try to capture the dazzling array of people I’ve met, the foods I’ve tried, the places I’ve been or the experiences I’ve had because I’d surely fail. Sadly, I know I won’t be able to say goodbye to all the wonderful people I’ve come to know here or the readers that know me through the column, so here is my sorry attempt at a goodbye.
I truly believe that cities, towns, villages, and communities are defined by the people who live in them. The heart of a city lies not in the architecture or the land or the food, it lies with the people. In that regard, Freetown is one of the best cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of living in. Nowhere else have I been so comfortable approaching strangers or felt so at home so quickly. The people here welcomed me into their lives and into their homes, not because I’m special or had anything to give in return, but because their generosity extended to complete strangers.
When I first came here, I would go to this bar on Bathurst Street after work and read. I’d brought a whole stack of books meant to last me three months, but I burned through them in less than three weeks. One night around the start of July while reading on the patio of The Bar, a man sitting one table over asked me where I was from. We talked for hours like we were old friends. He told me of the times in lived in England, of the discrimination he faced there, of his daughter studying to become a doctor here in Freetown, and the history of the Temne tribe he belongs to. From that point on, I left my books at home. The people all around me were much more interesting.
Life in Freetown feels all at once completely similar and wildly different from my life at home. Drinking Bita Cola in a friend’s barbershop while we dance to Kao Dinero isn’t too far off from a night out in Seattle. The pickup football games at Aberdeen Beach ending with a refreshing swim in the waves felt almost identical to the ones I played on the beaches of Chicago. But other things were completely new to me, like the time I stumbled upon a massive youth prayer march around the Cotton Tree at 4:00 a.m. The lead pastor screeched through the speakers like a caged hyena as over 200 young Christians danced, shook, and flailed in an effort to “confront the evil powers residing in this tree.” I’d never seen anything like it and I’m not sure I ever will again.
More than anything, I think these last three months have taught me that people share more similarities than differences. People in Freetown greet each other like old friends. They call each other brother, sister, auntie, uncle, father, and mother even though they’re not related. Fiery arguments almost always end in laughter. Your generosity continuously astounds me. You’ve made me a better journalist, a better friend, and a better person. The world has so much to learn from Sierra Leone. Thank you so much for giving me the chance to learn.
Timothy’s Take
Thursday September 07, 2017.

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