My First Day in Sierra Leone: Lawrence
It all started when…
Starting at London-Heathrow with a full English breakfast and a pint of beer with communications volunteer Chris - my journey with Street Child begins as we board a crowded flight to Morocco. There is then a three hour stop-over from 8pm in a quiet Casablanca airport, and at 11pm, we board the half empty flight to Freetown where both Chris and I have a whole row to ourselves to lie in. We arrive at 4am into Freetown Lungi, the smallest and most basic airport I have ever been in, where we are met by a very welcoming Street Child of Sierra Leone local employee - Alusine, and a tall friendly driver with a moustache and a beanie hat.
The car journey from the airport to Makeni is 3 hours long and mostly dark, so I attempt to nap again. However, I am stirred to life when the sun rises just after 6am and I am able to see Sierra Leone’s landscape for the first time. Beautiful vast lush green forest and jungle fills up either side of the potholed tarmac road with two to three metre high green grass pushing its way into the road as far as the cars allow it. Huge palm trees soar above the road and off in both directions into the distance, silhouetting against the low orange-pink glow of sunrise that is slowly forming. Small hills covered in a carpet of green life pop up here and there in the distance.
Once we make it to the city perimeter, with a huge sign above the road declaring that we are welcome in Makeni, the sun has fully risen. The variety of housing, buildings and daily life, buzzing and flowing off the main road heading through Makeni is truly remarkable and exciting to experience for the first time. The thick moist humidity begins to increase with the sun, and with that, a new and unique stimulation of senses hit me. The moment I have thought a lot about over the past few weeks has finally arrived – despite my grogginess, the feeling of being in Sierra Leone is now very much real.
As we hit the city centre, another level of energy, chaos, traffic, chickens, dogs, school kids and locals appeared, and it feels as though the intensity of Makeni has been dialled up to 100%. My eyes, ears and nose are constantly feasting on new experiences. Alusine wakes from his nap and points out a couple of main parts of Makeni to me, including the central market and high street that we are on. We then bump our way down a rocky and muddy side road, and pull into the compound, greeted at the gate by a nod and wave from the security guard.
Alusine walks me to the building which is home to the international volunteers, and introduces me to volunteer co-ordinator – Sophie, and a second volunteer - Hope, at around 7am, having woken them up a bit early! My nerves slowly start to settle as both of them make me feel welcome, and the three of us chat with a cup of tea.
To help settle my nerves of the city itself, I decide to go on a run with Hope. I am genuinely shocked by the warm welcome we receive from the locals, with many saying hello and asking how we are as we trot past, genuine smiles and greetings coming across. Children run alongside us shouting ‘apotto’ (local word for foreigner), shake our hands, and wave and giggle as we go by. A group of boys point us in the right direction when we come to a dead end of the field, and we then find ourselves back at the compound drenched in sweat from the morning sun. My feeling toward the people of Makeni is now beginning to form.
After a cold bucket wash and some porridge and bananas, I set off back into town with Sophie and Hope so they can show me around. I get a local SIM card and we buy some supplies, check out the local market and have lunch at the Street Child ‘clubhouse’, where I meet Papay, the clubhouse manager and one of the local employees that I would be working with. Papay has a good reputation since becoming a local SCC manager last year. He jokes with a cheeky grin about working me hard, but tells me to relax for the first couple of days, so we order a cold Star Beer over lunch.
The thick heat rises with the sun, and we wander back through town to the compound. The walk is a great experience for my first day; seeing Makeni in full daily swing - bikes beeping and whizzing past in all directions and African dance and hip hop tunes pumping out through speakers around every corner, giving such a fun and carefree feel to the city. The colours of clothing and market stall items are a wonder, with the lush green Wusum hill as a backdrop in the distance. Many of the locals acknowledge us as Street Child and seem happy for us to be here. With this, my initial opinion of Makeni has formed into something more positive than I ever could have expected - there is a real feeling that Street Child is genuinely respected and established locally.
An immersive, hospitable and unforgettable experience for my first day, I already feel like I have experienced so much and am excited to explore and learn more tomorrow!