When I told my family I had gotten an internship in Sierra Leone and intended to stay for four months, they were, to say the least, not very satisfied. Starting that moment, from practically every one of my family members I got an at least ten minute speech on their opinion of it. “If you are going to get kidnapped, no one will be able to help you.” “Don’t wear any jewellery, ever. They will take any means necessary to get hold of it.” “Always wear a hat or a scarf covering your head. You are blonde and you are a woman, you will be their first target.”
Not knowing much about the country, obviously these statements scared me. On the other hand, the people actually in Freetown at the moment told me it was one of the most amazing places they had ever visited, and that I had nothing to worry about. There was only one way to find out, and that was to experience it myself. So I went.
I arrived in Freetown in the evening of the first of March. The sun had set and it was pitch dark. “Don’t ever walk around anywhere after dark” was another phrase I had heard so many a times from my people at home. Walking out of the airport, it was repeated once, but then never again. Why? I felt safe. My first impression of Sierra Leone consists of friendly people smiling and waving to me, helping me with my bags and welcoming me to their country. I have visited quite a few different countries in my life, but I had never experienced such hospitality like this. I was stunned.
The days following I started my intern chores, which also includes travelling by myself to and from work with public transport. This scared me at first; sitting in a jam-packed taxi full of strangers isn’t even something I would consider back home in Switzerland. But even here, my worries were as if taken completely out of the blue. People are friendly, helpful, smiling, and they take any excuse to start talking to you. If you seem like you are lost, they gladly help you out, even if you don’t even ask for it.
It might really sound too good to be true, but anywhere I have been in this city I have never felt anything but safe. I have found myself in situations where I think to myself “This should feel somewhat sketchy, and I really should be a little worried right now, but I’m not”. Obviously a portion of common sense is always required, but that’s the case with anywhere you go. I have lived my whole life divided between Sweden and Switzerland – by many considered some of the safest countries in the world, but even in these places I sometimes feel a little worried. If I get lost in Switzerland (a place in which I do not speak any of the official languages) I often have a hard time finding my way home, with people unwilling to help me out as they do not understand me. In Freetown, no matter they understand what I’m talking about or not – everyone always do their best to help.
Overall – if you are considering coming to Sierra Leone, there is no reason to worry about the safety the way I (or my family members) did.
Sierra Leone is a beautiful country with people trusting each other and a crime rate that is extremely low. While the civil war is famous for being extremely brutal and horrifying, the past is the past, and there is no need to dwell on a historic event no longer apparent in the country.
Welcome to Sierra Leone!
Maja Malmcrona Wrangstadh is a Media intern for the Health For All Coalition in Freetown, Sierra Leone. She will be blogging regularly about her experiences here!