Driving from Freetown to Banta Mokelleh
COTN started their ministry in Sierra Leone in 1996, in the height of the war. They were able to begin housing and caring for children orphaned by the war, and had a wonderful home in the capitol city of Sierra Leone, Freetown. However, as the years went by and they established relationships with leaders of the country, there were many chiefdoms who wanted their assistance and offered land to the organization to move from the city and establish a more rural based ministry. As a result of one of these offers from a very generous Paramount Chief in the Moyamba District, a year ago, COTN moved it's children's home to Banta Mokelleh. Banta is a very needy region in a country which is already the lowest ranked country on the Human Development Index and seventh lowest on the Human Poverty Index. The Moyamba district is rated the highest in the world for infant mortality.
Banta Mokelleh is about (I'm guessing here) 200 miles from Freetown.
200 miles of undeveloped roads, the likes of which I've never seen.
Quami, our in-country host and team leader had hired two drivers to take care of all our transportation needs while our team was there. Thank goodness these men knew the roads and had experience driving in what I would consider the worst driving conditions possible.
Sierra Leone has made attempts to build roads. Unfortunately, they have been unsuccessful in creating roads that can withstand the annual rainy season which lasts from May to October. So they build them, and they wash away, leaving horrible pot-holed roads that are part pavement, part dirt and all bumpy. Where there have been no attempts to build roads, it is all dirt - rutted and ruined by months of rain. I sincerely cannot begin to describe the condition of the roads. But our driver was amazing and managed to speed up in the smooth areas and slow down for the big bumps and somehow kept us all from getting too terribly car sick on the way.
So what would have been a 3 hour trip on American roads was an 8 hour trip.
I was sitting in the back of our car between Quami and Debbie Clark, the co-founder of COTN. Both of them slept much of the way, their heads bobbing and swaying with every bump in the road. I'm not sure I could have slept in those conditions, but truth be told, I had no desire. My eyes were glued out the windows, taking in every inch and meter and kilometer of the journey. I was in Africa for heaven's sake! I wasn't going to miss a thing.
The drivers of the two vehicles were quite different, we discovered, with our driver being quite a bit faster then the other. So we had to stop occasionally to let them catch up and make sure they were still okay, since break-downs are quite common on such bumpy roads... cars generally aren't made to withstand that much jarring and jolting. Our first stop was at a little village whose name I cannot remember... but I remember the faces there... and the bathroom.
Anytime you stop your car in an inhabited area in Sierra Leone, within seconds, your car is surrounded by people wanting to sell you something. This beautiful girl was the first I experienced. She had oranges for sale, and was thrilled to pose for her picture, giggling when I showed her on my display and said "Look how beautiful you are!" She giggled and repeated my comment to her friends who were standing back a bit, too shy to approach. Her friend in the background had the best laugh, and posed for his own picture...Debbie and I both needed to go to the bathroom so Quami asked one of the villagers where we could go... one of them led us past a row of sod houses, a pile of trash and a grove of banana trees to this 'restroom.' Not the building, mind you. The dirt behind the building. Fortunately the railroad tracks are defunct. And we had our own tissue, thank goodness.
The other car caught up to us and we were on our way. Our next stop was at a fairly major thoroughfare - Moyamba Junction. Here instead of being asked by a few people if we wanted to buy something, there were at least 15 different people who approached us as soon as we got out of the car.Peanuts (called groundnuts), bananas, packaged crackers or cookies, limes and oranges, it was a veritable feast for the eyes and for your stomach if you had the right currency. I was mesmerized by the people and activity in this center of trade. Quite different from my local Albertsons...Of course, the women needed to use the loo again... curses on our feminine bladders! Again, Quami asked around and found this lovely public restroom. Can you tell how excited I am to use the facilities? We actually had to pay for the privilege this time. I vowed after that to not drink anything else until we got to Banta.The school children in Sierra Leone all wear uniforms. It was so sweet to see children walking to and from school in almost every village we drove through... After we left Moyamba Junction, we drove a few miles and then pulled over on a stretch of deserted road so we could eat lunch. Quami had gotten sandwiches from the hotel restaurant in Lungi. Delicious chicken sandwiches on the best white bread I've ever tasted. I hadn't noticed my hunger, but remember thinking that sandwich would rank high on my list of favorite things I've ever eaten... mostly because my brain was so full of taking in the experience, I think my body was starved for sustenance without even having the luxury of being able to send the message to my brain... I was completely on sensory overload.We drove and drove and drove, and all the while I kept my inner mantra going... "I am in Africa, I am in Africa, I am in Africa!" There were times when I was literally breathless from the beauty. Sierra Leone is so beautiful. Having just come out of the rainy season, everything was green and lush, with the grasses high and the vegetation everywhere the most vibrant, verdant chartreuses, jades, mosses and olive tones you can imagine.
It began to rain when we made our final approach to the COTN compound... not just a little rain, but a torrential downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. We had stopped to wait for the other car, waited while they repaired a minor breakdown, toured a newly built satellite church and nursery school COTN recently added so that the littlest children would no longer have to walk 8 miles to get to school each morning, and then we were on our way... finally!
After a full day of bouncing in the back of the SUV - we were only 8 miles from Banta...
8 miles from Tejan...