Student Scheme recipient Shauna Bowers was funded to travel to Sierra Leone and report on the aftermath of a massive mudslide that hit the capital of Sierra Leone in 2017. In the first of two blog posts from her trip, Shauna sets the scene as she arrives in the Sierra Leone capital.
Stepping out of Freetown Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone is almost like stepping into a whole other world. As soon as you exit the building, you are greeted by a deluge of people; each of them vying for your attention – and business.
You are then greeted with two choices; to get on the seabird or the Sea Coach. Both are ferries that will transport you from the airport to the main city Freetown. You don’t have long too decide though because if you show too much hesitation one of the locals will bring you to the ferry that they work for.
Once seated in the reception for your boat trip, and after paying the $40 for your ticket, your bags are tagged and taken off you. There will be more locals walking in and out of the reception area, begging you to buy one of their sim cards or convert your international money for the local currency, Leone.
You then hop into a van that will drop you to the harbour. You must walk on a creaky, wooden dock to get onto the boat and at last you begin your 40-minute journey to Freetown. The boat is lovely and very comfortable, however the sea is very rough -especially during rainy season which lasts from May to September so be prepared to be sea sick by the time you dock.
I had a fixer organised to pick me up from the dock so that I could get to my hotel with absolute ease. We gathered my luggage and hopped into a taxi. The first thing you will learn about driving in Sierra Leone is that if something is in your way, then you should beep your horn. I learned this lesson in about 20 seconds after hearing 50 different horns beeping in succession.
The public transport in Sierra Leone is so very different than what we’re used to in Ireland. They use Kekehs which are three-wheeled and triangular shape. They somehow manage to fit four people into them which is honestly baffling if you saw the size of them.
Sierra Leone, or Salone as it’s affectionately known as by locals, also utilise motor bikes as a form of public transport. You just hop on the back of someone’s bike, tell them where you would like to be dropped and then pay them once you arrive.
Sierra Leone was terribly intimidating upon first arrival, but after a number of days all the things that you first found intimidating soon become the things you enjoy the most.
It’s amazing how a country so far removed from the realities of your normal life can remind you so much of home. The slapstick humour, the wreckless driving and nonstop beeping of horns all echoed some of the most beloved parts of living in Ireland.