Thursday, January 08, 2009

Diary of Sierra Leone - the return home

We were on our way back to the airport. We left Banta around 8:30 am. Our flight wasn't until 10:00 that night, but we wanted to get back early for a couple of reasons... First, I needed to get to the airport to retrieve my luggage. Someone had received a call the night before that it had arrived on a flight from London and was being held for me in the airline's office. We also planned to get a 'day room' at the hotel where we stayed the first night so we could all get showered and freshen up before our long flights home. And, because the airport in Lungi is completely non-computerized, the lines can be hours long - it's best to arrive early. The city of Freetown is built on a peninsula, as you can see on the map. The airport sits on the mainland, north of the peninsula, in Lungi. When we drove to Banta, (which is southeast of Freetown, unmarked on this map somewhere between Moyamba and Bo) the decision was made to drive around the inlets and avoid Freetown altogether, eliminating the need to wait for the ferry and (in theory) saving time. However, the roads were so bad, and the trip ended up taking so long that for the return trip, it was decided that we would drive to Freetown and ferry across to Lungi. The only problem with this plan is that there is only one afternoon ferry - at 2:00 pm - and if you miss it, you're stuck.

We drove for about four hours, back through Moyamba junction, (where we stopped to buy some crackers and cokes) and then we found ourselves in the outskirts of Freetown. The traffic became heavier on the road. There were many more people walking, and the villages were becoming much closer together...

Once we were in the city, it was a veritable feast for the eyes. Roadside vendors EVERYWHERE, people walking, cars going every which way, garbage everywhere and run down 'houses' made of every kind of scrap material you can imagine... The villages I had seen were obviously full of poverty - but this was a new kind of poverty - an abject display of hardship and impoverishment the likes of which I've never seen. Where our cities are about abundance and luxury - this city had survival and struggle etched deeply on it's inhabitant's faces.
Set upon a beautiful mountain range, Freetown is home to 800,00 people. Eight hundred thousand people living with little to no infrastructure - no garbage pick up, no reliable electricity, no crosswalks or sidewalks, no Target or Safeway or McDonalds or Starbucks. And yet they survive. They've survived a tragic and pointless war, and slowly, they're rebuilding their lives. I was blown away by our brief time driving through Freetown. It was an entirely different picture of Sierra Leone than I experienced in Banta... and I was more than just a little intimidated by it. It felt scary and daunting.

We made it on time to the ferry landing. Here we were able to get out of the car and stretch our legs as we waited to board. I had to tease Quami, asking if he really believed the ferry would get us across the water... it was SO rusted and old looking. I knew Quami had ridden the ferries across Puget Sound when he was in the States. They are so shiny and clean comparatively. He assured me we would be safe.After an uneventful, 45 minute ferry ride, we were back in Lungi. We drove straight to the hotel, where we rented a day room. Quami and I drove to the airport after everyone got settled, hoping to pick up my suitcase. Unfortunately, the airline office was closed, and scheduled to open several hours later... so close and yet so far. We went back to the hotel, where I showered and put on my same outfit until I could get back to the airport. One more trip back and I had it - my suitcase full of clean, cute skirts and shoes - fresh underwear and lovely colorful t-shirts. I quickly changed before we all ate dinner in the hotel restaurant where we had eaten the first night.

Going through the process of getting out of the Lungi airport was quite a bit more complicated than coming in... let's just say that the combination of intimidating porters, long, disorganized lines, no air conditioning and exhaustion made for a very interesting couple of hours as we worked our way through security, (where full body frisking is the norm) ticketing and baggage check (all hand written) and finally, the waiting area for our flight. I had been given an upgrade from British Midland International, the airline that lost my luggage, so I was able to get our whole team into the first class lounge, where we were able to wait out the hours before our flight. We were all completely rummy by this time, so there were lots of laughs as we drank diet Food Lion colas imported from North Carolina (seriously) and watched BBC on the flat screen tv. It was a long wait, as our flight was delayed, but eventually, we made it out onto the tarmac, where we were frisked one last time before boarding the bus that would drive us a distance less than half a city block to our plane.

First class is lovely. I spent the six hour flight to London sprawled out on my reclined seat with a real blanket and a real, full sized pillow. I slept for about five hours, then woke to a spinach and cheese omelet, freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and danishes. I even got my own little baggy of toiletries, including warm little socks for my tootsies and a sleeping mask.

When we deplaned, it was time to say goodbye to Chris and Debbie and Jim and Becky. We all had different flights from that point. I am so glad I got to experience this trip with these amazing people. We gave quick hugs and promised to be in touch.

Other than more delayed flights, more airline food, a return to coach, and a missed connection that was easily remedied in Seattle, my flights home were fairly uneventful. I was beyond exhaustion when I finally landed in Spokane - where I was greeted by my whole family and a huge banner handmade by the kids saying "Welcome Home, Mom!"

It was two days before Thanksgiving.

And I was thankful.

Thankful in ways I'm still processing.
Thankful for the opportunity to realize a dream.
And for seeing Tejan's home.
Thankful for God's faithfulness to reveal his vision for my heart.
And for my warm shower and my flushing toilet and my closet full of clothes.

I am a changed woman, for sure. I cannot sum up all that is happening in my heart as I adjust my new eyes to the world... it's a journey.

A journey that began with an inkling to pray and continued with the chance to take care of a sweet little boy, then took me all the way across the world and back again.

I can't wait to see where it takes us next...

Thanks for sharing it with me, friends.



  1. Hey!
    I finally got caught up on your blogs . . . Hard to digest, must be even harder to get it all out! Thanks for sharing. Very touching.
    Love ya,

  2. Just finished reading all your journal entries about your trip. It made me miss Africa even more than I usually do. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I want to say more about it, but feel a little speechless right now.

    Love you,

    ♥ Melissa~
    Pink Paper Peppermints


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