Kushay, my friends.
So, updates. A lot going on here, and possibly nothing too exciting, so I do apologize.
I arrived at SeaTac airport at 3:45AM (PST) on Wednesday February 10th. Somehow, and it what feels like a dream-like, warped state of time (I forgot how strange it is to take multiple flights in a row and literally not know what day it is at each particular airport), I arrived at Lungi Airport at 8:35PM (Sierra Leone time? What acronym is there for that?) Thursday February 11th.
In between this, I met up with Kim Kargbo at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. She is the president of Women of Hope International, who—lucky for me—is taking short trip to Sierra Leone on her way to Ghana and let me tag along for the Leone part of her journey. I had never met her before, but I found her sleeping at our departure gate, and spent a not inconsiderable amount of time deciding whether to wake her up or wait creepily until she woke up. I chose the former. She is wonderful and delightful and inspiring. (Not just saying this because she might read this.)
Quick humorous side-note about my final flight to Lungi from Paris. As I was boarding, I was informed that my ticket had been changed (I somehow had been first assigned an aisle seat close to the front in economy plus and was just loving life). A family has asked to sit together, so they gave me “a much better seat,” and then thanked me for my compassion. This much better seat was actually in the middle row much farther back in the plane, and I seriously laughed out loud (as did Kim, before she was seated and they pulled the curtain to separate me and the other peasants from everyone else; I lost track of her after that). I got seated in the middle of a bunch of Guineans who all knew each other and spoke French (the flight was only stopping over in Freetown before continuing on to Conakry). They tried to include me in the conversation, but I, sadly, was the dumb American and just smiled a lot. I did become definite friends with my seat-mate (even with the language barrier) as we both were exceedingly bemused and occasionally horrified by the antics of the passenger seated in front of us. Thanks Guinean man with cool Jamaica hat. We are forever friends.
Next, I landed at Lungi. I walked down the stairs of the plane and was actually delighted to see that I would be boarding the shuttle bus to the arrivals doors. You have to understand something about Lungi International Airport. There is typically only one plane landed at any given time, and the most that could possibly be there are three. The plane lands a very short walk from the doors of the airport. In the past, one would just walk off the plane and to the airport. But, a few years ago (I remember it being there in 2012), a shuttle bus appeared at the airport. It loads everyone up and then drives 50 feet and then drops everyone off. #myfavorite
I went through immigration included a high-tech thermometer (I actually don’t know what I was doing, but I think that was it) to fight Ebola. I was also complimented by an immigration officer, who said, “I like your flat-top.” Sadly, I do not have a flat-top. My hair is merely shaved on the sides and back. I was complimented nonetheless.
After, immigration, I was off to the baggage claim. Wonderfully, Ruth Search (of Mariatu’s Hope—a wonderful organization) and her daughter Mariatu had come to the airport from their home (in the area), and had pulled all of Kim’s and my bags. I was able to hand off supplies that I had brought for Ruth (plus one Bernie 2016 sticker special for actual Bernie friend and supporter Ruth who vowed to place it on her vehicle ;-D). I could not believe how old Mariatu is now (who I have not seen in person in a few years), and when I informed her that she was very tall, she responded, “Yes. It’s because I eat so much.” Mariatu will be leading the world sooner rather than later, so get to know her name. Also, because, literally everyone in Salone knows and loves Ruth, we were able to get through bag-check security kinda fast.
After saying goodbye to Ruth and Mariatu, Kim and I jumped into the Women of Hope vehicle driven by Sidi—who is the greatest (more on him later). In the past, to leave Lungi and get to Makeni. One would need to catch a ferry to Freetown, and drive through Freetown to get to the road to Makeni. This was a considerable (but adventuresome task), and one really couldn’t take a ferry and get to Makeni in the same night. However, now, there is a new road that Sidi said was completed a little over a year ago. This bypasses Freetown, and got us down to Makeni in a record-breaking 2 ½ hours (no more long ferry rides topped by 5 hour drives). The night drive was peaceful, and very welcoming. So many sensory memories of Sierra Leone came washing over me. So much was utterly recognizable, while so much else has changed and progressed.
I arrived to the Women of Hope guesthouse, where I will be staying in Makeni, and it is actually quite glorious. Because, I have my own room with a bed and A FAN THAT RUNS ALL NIGHT. Unprecedented and unexpected luxury. I am staying with Les and Diane (Kim’s parents), and they are honestly so kind and welcoming. Also, WOH is currently constructing new buildings to serve as offices, cooperative work space (for the women in the program who create free trade items to sell), and also a fine guest house (ready to rent out in a few months) that I got to walk around and examine (I just walked around really) in its under-construction state. If anyone is planning on making a trip to Makeni—with a team, or perhaps alone—I definitely recommend staying with them.
I woke up this morning, and ate eggs, bread, fruit, and some tea. In the U.S., I usually don’t eat breakfast. I say it’s because I don’t want it (and after years of not eating it, I think that might be partially true), but it’s also because I always wake up (at the earliest) 15 minutes before I have to leave every morning (no matter the time)—and never have time for breakfast. It was great to sit and eat. (Yes, I just spent a paragraph updating you about my eating.)
The rest of today was a lot of getting to know a bit more of what my internship will entail. Kim is only in Makeni for a few days, so following her around was imperative (this is how I ended up at a construction site). I saw some of the jobs waiting for me at the WOH offices (I may be doing a touch of organizing at some point during this time *stop laughing previous roommate, you know that I am extremely organized at heart—just not in my own personal space*). I also got to meet the women running the program, and some of the women working in the fair trade cooperative. I also got to meet a daughter running about named Adamsay who is in class 3 (3rd grade) and informed me that I was nearly bald. (So many hair compliments.)
I also met Memunatu. Tomorrow, I will be shadowing her all day as she lives life. She has been instructed to treat me as her worker for the day. Anything she does, washing, cooking, marketing, etc—I must do as well (as she teaches me). It is for things like this that I love WOH. They recognize the importance of everyone being a learner and a teacher. Instead of an imbalanced relationship. This can often occur especially with white Westerners who show up and think that they both know everything and are saving the poor Africans. Gross. And, harmful. And, simply, untrue.
So, I am excited and a bit anxious for tomorrow. BECAUSE I AM OFTEN QUITE DUMB AND DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. (So, exactly what this exchange is for.)
Also, today, I ventured into Makeni market area to exchange money, get a SIM card for my international phone, and some “top-up” (units which transfer to phone calls, texts, and data). Sidi was my companion for this adventure, as he took me to the most credible places, and made sure I didn’t like walk in front of a truck or anything. My SIM card cost $1,000le ( less than 25 cents), and I also bought $40,000le of units (about $8). Knowing my usage, I will be topping-up too often.
Aside from the phone procuring, site visiting, people meeting, office working (including helping to fix a printer; if you ever knew me during my time as tech services librarian assistant at Hurst Library, you might find this amusing), I spent a good amount of time chilling and talking with a few of the fair trade women (and twin babies: Amy and Rich). Aka good times.
I also got a helmet today for my soon-to-be motorbike-taxi adventures. (There is no way any of this ends with me not looking stupid.)
Hopefully, more tomorrow.
Thank you for all your support (tangible and intangible), everyone. I continue to appreciate it! Tomorrow’s update will be a sponsored update, so stay tuned (for hopeful internet access).
P.S. The tattoo on my arm is causing a bit of a stir/questions/a lot staring (although to be fair, blindingly white skin also causes occasionally staring). My favorite response, however, was the man at the Africell top-up. He read it out loud (“Let justice roll on like a river”), nodded his head, and said very authoritatively, “Ah, you are a human rights activist?” That sounded way too cool to deny. So, I didn’t. One person down (in recognizing my deepest hopes and dreams of glory), rest of the world/Nobel Peace Prize to go.