The organization that I’m working with here in Sierra Leone is called Health For All Coalition, and they have their headquarters located in Freetown. Hence, this is also where I spend most of my time. A couple of weeks ago, however, I got to accompany them on a small excursion to some of the provinces and thus experience Sierra Leone’s smaller cities and beautiful nature.
We started our journey early Monday evening, expecting to arrive in Kenema (which was our first stop) before midnight the same night. Before we could leave Freetown however, we experienced some difficulties regarding the fuel. Our trip happened to coincide with a fuel crisis happening the same week (no fuel was brought into the country, imagine the chaos of poda-podas and okadas around every gas station!) but after some running around, some negotiations, some frustration and several “this is Africa” experiences – we were on our way. After a bumpy, 5 hour drive, a heavy rainfall and some Vimto at a gas station, we finally arrived at the motel in Kenema. And after a (although short) good night’s sleep, I experienced my first day in the provinces.
Kenema is quiet. (Well, as quiet as a smaller African city can be, I guess.) It’s much calmer than Freetown, and most of all it’s cleaner, less chaotic and somehow, the city structure seems to make more sense. Whether that is because it actually does or because the population is less dense, I’m not sure, but no matter, this was my first impression.
During my time in both Kenema and Bo, most of it was spent at workshops organized by HFAC. The one in Kenema was spent at a large school, and both the principal as well as the staff were very happy and keen on showing me around the premises during the time I was not working. The second (and last) day in Kenema was especially interesting; due to the school’s 61st anniversary, they held a big sports event where they had invited teams from other nearby schools to participate in football, running, cycling and long-jump competitions (among several others) and after it was completed a large party was thrown at the school premises for anyone interested. Unfortunately I couldn’t partake as we were going to Bo that same evening, but no matter – Sierra Leoneans know how to enjoy themselves!
The following two days were spent in Bo. Bo is the second largest city in Sierra Leone, and like Kenema, it is tidy and organized. During my time in Bo, when not spent at the HFAC workshops, I also got to visit the Bo Government Hospital for interviews with the head nurse and some other officials there for a video documentary I’m creating. Just like anything else here in Sierra Leone has affected me in one way or another, so did this short visit at the hospital, with its extremely friendly, caring atmosphere, welcoming officials and helping hands. The hospitality and helpfulness of Sierra Leoneans really is a kind of its own, and it hits me every time.
Four days later, my trip had come to an end and it was time to go home. Fortunately this time, the return journey was carried out in broad daylight – meaning being able to look out the car window at the beautiful surroundings! I can’t count the numerous, tiny villages we passed, all with the most (for me at least) unpronounceable names and meanings. Rivers, forest, hills, fields; Sierra Leone has it all. And when you think you’ve seen most of it, you pass a man with a chimpanzee on his head, holding his hand out with a sign saying FOR SALE. “Do you keep them as pets?” I asked my co-workers in the car. “No, we eat them! You should try it, it’s really good. Very sweet!”.
And with that, my trip to the provinces was over. Until next time!
/Maja Malmcrona Wrangstadh