1/31/10

A long journey

Here I am making my way through Sierra Leone in a taxi. The landscape is dry but green dotted with small villages along the road. It is almost incomprehensible that this time yesterday I was biding time in a couch at Heathrow waiting for a delayed fly and watching people hectically halvrunning through the airport in search of perfumes and liqueur before bording. Now here I am with 80 km/hour through jungle, open planes, and formations of clay huts under a scorching sun.

But I’m getting ahead of my own story. It started out 5 o’clock in the morning yesterday with breakfast and a goodbye to my baby sister and mother, who had managed to spoil their dayrythm for my benefit. I was driven to the airport by my fathers and a quarter to 8 we had take-off for London. So far so good.

I didn’t get further than London before African sense of time took control of my life for the first time – and definitely not the last. The flight which was scheduled for 13.30 was delayed until 16.10. A bit of a knock for the morale, but Simon and I soon realised the potential of the situation – as both of us was keen to take a closer look at London city. Simon is the former REACT-intern, which is returning to Sierra Leone with a bunch of his grandfathers’ money to build a school in the slum of Freetown. A really cool, friendly and entertaining guy, who is really inspiring to watch in interaction with Africans. Always exchanging handshakes, smiles, and jokes as if everybody is his old close friends. That approach really inspires respect and friendliness from the locals.

So we went to the information stand to check, that is was all right to make the trip. But we didn’t get the go. The lady at the stand pointed to the possibility, that something extraordinary could happen, that suddenly would allow our plane to lift-off: “Maybe they we find an emergency plain”. This was enough to alter our plans, as Simon felt a certain responsibility, when his travel was being financed by his grandfather – understandable. But we did receive a voucher for a soft-drink each as compensation. I’d rather had been given access to the gold lounge, but the gesture was fine.

The plain was nowhere near reaching the luxuriously standards I enjoyed for my last long-length travel to China, with individual monitors, where one could make a pick from a wide selection of movies, music channels and games. Instead I was offered a minimum amount of leg space and a lot of much-talking Africans in the back of the plain. But the 6 hour flight passed by rather unproblematic and I even managed an hour of shut-eye towards the end.

Freetown airport was kind of overwhelming with a swarm of people – official as civilians – trying to get your attention to check your passport (a number of times), your vaccination-card or offering expensive helicopter trips to Freetown. The latter coursed by the fact, that Freetown airport is – ingeniously – placed well outside Freetown at a distinct peninsula. That left you with three options for your further trip. Either staying at the peninsula at one of the over expensive hotels (most starting at a price of 100 $ for a night), taking the before mentioned helicopter (also pricy) or doing it local-style and taking a worn-down ferry across (at approx. 7 DKK per person).

The last option was beyond discussion our strategy. The only problem was that the ferry normally has its latest crossing at 9 pm., at we were fast approaching 11 pm. But we took the chance, catched a taxi and made it for the ferry. The 20 minutes drive (or so) was an experience in itself. Through the darkness you could spot the small shacks functioning as local homes, being stopped ever so often by armed military officers for check-ups. The darkness suddenly felt like being caused by the shadow from the civil war.

But we made it to the ferry and before we knew of it, a man had assigned himself to the job of carrying our luggage the rest of the way to the ferry. It was still there! To our luck they had run out of tickets much earlier, so they had to print new tickets before letting people on board. Welcome to Africa I thought to myself. The crowd outside the gates was big and a bunch of locals tried making a living by selling fruits, exchange money or selling sim-cards or phone-credit. That reminds me. I know have a Sierra Leonean phone number, which you can text. It is 032 78 70 74 75.

After an hour or so we were allowed to board and made our way towards the “lounge”. A smoky and trashed room filled with locals and the loud sound of African music videos. A perfect place to sense an African atmosphere, and quietly study the locals glued to the screen. Some time into the trip we were introduced to a local live act. A crippled guy with dreadlocks carried to two crouches took the stage, dancing to a music video. When the music stopped the guy presented “a talented group of artists” – and he weren’t lying. What happened next was truly spectacular. Two black midgets (I kid you not) joined the man and the act could take its beginning. A new music video started with the crippled lip-synthing and the two midgets dancing!! And they were quite the dancers. I regret not to have taken any footage of the act, but the prospect of searching through my briefcase was a bit too much for my tired brain.

At 2 am. We finally reached Freetown. I could not help but feeling surprised with just how trashed, poor and dirty the city seemed. But we made our way to Sierra International with Simon recommended as the most luxurious of the affordable places. I was to find that luxury is a relative term – but it had beds and a toilet. With the buzz of the city Simon and I went to bed after a long day of travelling.

Thank you for reading through this all too long update. Everything is just so different and my senses are aching from all the new impressions – which just makes me want to tell you everything I’ve experienced. My next update will be about discovering Freetown the next morning and arriving at Masanga for a giant party. Stay tune

1/22/10

Welcome

Dear reader,

Welcome to this blog. I hope to be able to update it with some regularity.

At present I'm sitting in my room at Nørrebro very conscious that my departure is exactly one week away. This is the time for my last preparations. Buying malaria-pills: check, getting shots against everything from yellow fever to the-odd-chance-of-encountering-a-prehistoric-bug-with-a-killing-desease-that-killed-thousands-from-200-100-BC: check. Getting names and faces of all the stakeholders in Masanga: kindda check (difficult to remember everyone from pictures though). Preparing a strategy and timeline for our work in Masanga regarding every program: Well I'm beginning to understand every program in full and Hindauja (my co-manager) and I have a lot of ideas for what we want to get done. But I am very much aware of the potential pitfall of getting to clear ideas of how and what should be done prematurely. Afterall, I haven't encountered African reality yet, and I want to stay humble towards the job and the ability of the locals to contribute with their ideas and experience.
One thing that I really love about this project is its focus on local ownership. In itself a contradiction. How can a project, which is founded and headed by westeners ever achieve a real degree of African leadership? It cannot, but I guess you can to a higher or lesser degree include the locals in the project and trust them with more or less responsibility.
I hope to keep these thoughts in the back of my head throughout my stay. But I do think it will be a major challenge, as it can often seem the most effective to do most things yourself.

I will leave you with these few thoughts for now. In advance I apologize for the grammer and spelling in my current and future posts - but my experience in the art of writing english is somewhat poor, and have not really been trained since my collegedays. I do hope that the blog will make for a ok read in spite of these mistakes.

Thank you for visiting, I hope you to have roused your curiosity, and you will find time over the next six months to frequent this site and follow my REACTions to my experiences in Sierra Leone.
There was an error in this gadget