One of the most amazing luxuries we have in this day and age is the ability to catapult ourselves into totally different worlds in a matter of days.
I just arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the capital city fighting it’s way back after a devastating 11 year civil war.
This is not my average random adventure… but rather from the heart. I’m here to help shoot a documentary for Hands for Africa, a non-profit organization who’s trying to bring attention to their home country.
Our goal here is to try to give aid to the thousands of residents who were victims of gruesome rebels. Their trademark during the war was to cut people’s arms and legs off for no other reason than to terrorize.
No that’s not all they did, they raped, pillaged, burned, bombed and almost brought down the entire country.
Thankfully the UN stepped in and managed to bring about peace. It’s been 8 years since the end of that war and the people here still need a helping hand – I’m hoping we can be part of the desperately needed solution.
I’m here with Alton (the founder), his brother Siaka, and friend and videographer Hamjat. For us, our journey here was a long one.
Damn it’s been a while since I took that long of a flight. We left LAX on a Thursday afternoon, arrived in London for a 5 hour layover, then hopped another 6 hour flight to the capital city arriving somewhere around 11pm Friday night.
Oh no, not done yet. Then we had to actually get from the airport into downtown, no easy feat.
There are 3 choices to get across the bay: Ferry.. which could take all night because they won’t leave unless it is full, water taxi – which is a wet ride or helicopter.
Fortunately we had already set up a helicopter ride, although that means nothing. Absolute chaos met us when we landed. People everywhere, everyone trying to make deals and get to the city as soon as possible.
My biggest job was to make sure to keep my eyes on my luggage to make sure they didn’t accidentally disappear. Alton and Siaka’s grandfather used to be president of the country so they are extremely well connected.
Still – we found ourselves waiting and waiting for a ride. Patience is absolutely necessary here I’m realizing. Once on the chopper it was a very quick and easy ride across the bay, almost comical for the amount of time we waited.
We finally got to Alton’s friends place around 1 or 2 in the morning.
Man did I want a shower and some air conditioning. Unfortunately we were told the air was on the fritz and something was wrong with the water pressure.
You have to be ready for let downs when traveling in a third world country, but it still doesn’t make it any easier.
We ran some quick errands trying to get SIM cards to work in our phones. I say quick with sarcasm. You see the roads here are absolutely horrible – and traffic is horrific even at 2 in the morning.
It is all compounded by the numerous military checkpoints. Apparently they’ve had a problem with armed robbery over the past few months. The police and military have teamed up to keep it under control.
Thankfully I never felt scared because my 3 teammates all speak the national language of Creo, sort of a pigeon talk which even with focus can be extremely hard to understand. Our driver also knows what he is doing. This is the team you want to be with while in Sierra Leone.
The boys all went out to a club with our host. I chose to stay home and try to take a “jungle bath” with a tub of water – it was the relief I needed. Now it was time to make a hard decision – to suffer through the hot room and try to sleep, or open the windows and tempt fate with possibly malaria ridden mosquitos.
Now I normally don’t take any type of prescription medicine and absolutely hate vaccinations of any sort.. but just couldn’t chance this one, knowing we are going to be out in villages during our stay – so yep, I’m on the drug malarone which should keep me from contracting the nasty disease.
I’m not sure why I even picked up the remote control to the air conditioner… but I did, only to realize it was out of batteries. Being the good prepared adventure girl I am, I happened to have an extra set of triple A’s with me. To my surprise, the damn thing worked.
I thanked my guardian angel over and over for the cool air.. which led to a deep sleep.Today we slept in till who knows when. I managed to get some yoga in, downed a bunch of bottled water and unfortunately had to kill two gigantic spiders who wouldn’t allow me to sit down on my toilet.
This afternoon we met with the head of the National Amputee Association and two members of the Amputee Sports Club to map out our plan for the week.
Now, if you are going to have a meeting, you have to have it at the beach in Sierra Leone. For as much tragedy as the people here have experienced, they are blessed with a country filled with beautiful scenery and stunning natural resources.
The beaches here are clean, untouched and similar to what you would find on a remote Hawaii Island. Who knew?
These men were absolutely amazing. Jusu had both of his arms chopped off by rebels. He was one of the lucky ones who received prosthetics from an American almost 10 years ago.
It made me smile to see how well he had adapted to the new way of life, just a regular guy – using his cell phone, eating and celebrating life. It reassured me that we are here to hopefully raise money so that others can do the same.
It was a great meeting and a good meal although I’m finding it hard to be a vegetarian here but I’m doing my best – and this is in the capital. Everyone tells me I have no hope when we go to the Provinces – sure glad I packed a whole bunch of packaged raw snacks
It’s now 2 in the morning and I’m still up – you gotta hate jet lag. The men are out again. I guess I’m getting old because I chose to stay home, watching some mindless tv and catch up on computer work – I’m also a fan of no hang overs and good sleep – I have to be in front of the camera after all. I guess I’ve learned something in my old age and hundreds of miles of travel!
Tomorrow we go into the downtown area and meet with 4 amputees to hear their story. Monday we leave for the provinces or villages. Our first stop is Makenie, 2 1/2 hours north of Freetown. I’ve been warned the roads are rough and slow going.. and the visuals may be hard to take. The rebels left deep rooted scars everywhere you look. I’m here to give love, compassion and hope… and I’m filled with it at the moment… ready.