Today, I was sitting in a poda-poda on my way home from work, as usual. The mini-bus was full and so it was about 20 people in it. The poda-podas are always very crowded; on the rows of seats meant for three the caretaker (or ‘apprentice’) always makes room for at least one more, and in the aisle there are extendable benches so that each row, instead of three people, can fit five to six.

It was fairly quiet when I got on, but as time progressed, people started talking to each other. This always happens but sometimes it’s louder and more intense than usual – like today. As if out of nowhere, people were suddenly arguing like never before. Shouting, laughing, gesturing, encouraging, agreeing, disagreeing. And in the midst of it all, me, not understanding more than a couple of words of their fast-paced, complicated Krio. But what were they arguing about?!

After a while, the business-dressed man next to me explained it. The discussion was about giving and receiving in terms of men versus women in relationships. The women were of the opinion that they provide the men with way more than what they provide to them, and of course – the men were of the totally opposite opinion. Not very surprising as most people (no matter gender or cultural background) usually believe they do more for others that what others do for them. One of those lazy, self-centered traits that exists in all humans, I guess.

One thing that did struck me however was that everyone was involved in the heated discussion. Middle aged men, a young girl, an elderly man and a mother with her child. Everyone was there and wanted to contribute with their opinion, and everyone was heard.

Comparing this to public transport in Sweden (where I’m from) or Switzerland (where I live), this is anything other than usual for me. First of all, sitting on a public bus or tram full of strangers – no one talks to each other, no matter how crowded it might be in there. And if you do, you come off as either annoying or simply crazy. Even making eye contact barely happens, and if it does accidentally, both parties end up turning away as fast as possible to avoid all interaction.

So what do people do? They stare out the window, down into a book, or on the screen of their iPod flipping through downloaded music. I have to say, I prefer it the way the Sierra Leoneans do it. Social and fun rather than stale and quiet. And the best part is – that’s just how life is in Sierra Leone. Everywhere you go, no matter what you do or who you are, people are always going to be social, interesting, open and willing to talk to you. It makes everyday life so much simpler, and it’s definitely one of the many things that I appreciate the most about this amazing country.

(And not too mention, definitely something us awkward Europeans need to work on…)

/Maja Malmcrona Wrangstadh