I landed back in Accra last night after a 6 day trip to my Freetown in Sierra Leone. Every time I go back home I go with the spirit of a settler, assessing conditions of life and living. Are there note worthy changes for good or for bad, do people seem more content than the last time, and lastly are there signs of what’s to come. This post is about my travel experience from Accra to Freetown and back. It will be followed by other posts about my trip to Sierra Leone.
At the Airport
The Kenya Airways flight from Accra via Monrovia landed at Lungi ahead of schedule. Before landing in Sierra Leone we were handed white health forms. I remembered I had left my Yellow Fever Card back in Accra so I mentally prepared to pay for one upon entering the airport. We exit the plane, proceed towards the welcome to Lungi plethora of signs. First we wash our hands then we enter the building.
Although this part of the Airport has been renovated in the last year I still feel a bit thrown off by how close to the entrance the immigration desks are. Because of this proximity to the door you feel you almost have no time to fill out the forms and are automatically in a rushed mental state. It is amazing how the layout of a space can affect your spirit. I guess that’s why people Feng Shui.
I proceeded to the Yellow Fever corner and asked to pay for two cards. I explained I had already had the injections many moons ago but that neither I nor my assistant Christine had it on our person. We were charged SLL 70,000 ($12) per card.
We made it through Immigration, then to the Health Check, and then we collected our luggage and proceeded to customs. A guy managed to hustle us enough to sell us tickets to Sea Coach even before we exited the airport. I could tell that he had found a way to bypass the policy that they shouldn’t sell those tickets inside of the airport. As we exited the rest of those who had followed the rule were waiting outside trying to persuade us to purchase tickets. The guy who also doubles as a money changing agent and by agent I mean that he doesn’t change money himself but finds customers for those who change so that both the agent and the customer tip him. I guess the apt word for him is hustler.
At SeaCoach our bags are tagged. We enter the bus. I feel if people are in there waiting as we were for $40 each and over a dozen of us left there to wait for at least 20 minutes that the bus should be on with the AC to give us some respite from the heat. Every time I enter SeaCoach I have that same thought and Lord knows I’ve been taking it for over 5 years. The driver finally enters, we are at capacity. We drive out of the airport where we are greeted by what I thought was a political rally or an outing for a social club, instead it was a convoy for my friend the rapper Kao Denero out to promote a concert in Port Loko I’m sure.
We arrive at the Sea Coach Mahera Beach Terminal. We exit the bus and they pack the bags on the boat. As I’m sitting there I think man this place could be way more comfortable considering we are about to spend 30 minutes waiting out here. I look out into the horizon towards Freetown and I think man this place is beautiful. I take a selfie. The 30 minutes go by quick and we board the boat. It seemed like we were all onboard but 10 minutes later we hadn’t left.
“What is the hold up? ”
“Wan passenger go na toilet!”
We wait another 5 minutes and a man boards. I laugh to myself wondering if he knew that we all knew that he had just been pooping. Boat starts, we take off. It was my assistant Christine’s first visit to Sierra Leone, when we hit rough waters she looks at me with a bewildered “is it supposed to be like this look”. I reassure that this is actually relatively calmer than what it is say around the rain season. Half way into our journey we stop in the middle of the River Sierra Leone, the propeller had hit plastic. I knew this but the newbies on SeaCoach all raised their heads. The Captain reassured them that it was just the City’s trash piled up and we would be out of it shortly, and we were. We made it to the Aberdeen Terminal, collected luggage, my Papa was there waiting as usual to take us home.
A week later I was back at SeaCoach for the return leg of my journey. Again waiting for the boat to depart I thought about Air Conditioning. It is amazing who important AC has become to my idea of things being correct. Some might say oh but the terminal is by a body of water surely there is breeze. No to all tem breeze dey blow, lek 1 o’clock afternoon di tem way me din dey dey breeze noh bin dey blow.
As we are waiting I see the newly appointed Minister of State to Foreign Affairs. We will travel on the same flight. We discuss pleasantries, the abortion bill now back in parliament (Thank you Mr. President) which she introduced but can no longer chase up because she is no longer a parliamentarian and exchange news. I hadn’t seen her since the last inauguration.
We board the boat for Lungi and we get to sit next to each other. The ride from Aberdeen to Lungi was calm. I think I might have even napped a little. We get off at Mahera Beach and there was almost no wait at all once our bags were loaded on the bus. The bus driver pulls off, I expected the AC to be turned on as it was when we pulled off upon arrival but this time that was not to be.
When we got to the entrance to the airport’s drive way we were told to exit the bus. We got out, and it was a post to wash hands and check temperatures before departure. A reminder that the threat of ebola was still very much real, though I thought it rather odd to have to get off right there only to walk a couple feet to get back on the bus. We get to the luggage collection point where hagglers worry us about giving money for a cart, what they don’t tell you is that they will not be helping you into the airport. They load the stuff on the cart you walk the not so convenient route to the Lungi Airport Departures entrance where even before you enter the the building the bag helpers are shoo’ed off. They hassle us for a tip and we give it. Now we have to carry our own bags and the cart while also managing to wash our hands again. But wait I just washed my hands less than 5 minutes ago before I entered the airport, I swear. I’m carrying a 5 month old so bending over to wash hands while holding on to diaper bag and camera equipment bag is no small feat. Anyway we survived the hand washing. Wait why are the tables for hand washing so low?
We enter the airport and are handed the same white forms we filled out upon arrival. There are tables that have been made for our use to fill out these forms but just like the hand washing posts they are usually low for an average heigh human being. We finish that, submit forms, our temperatures are taken and we get the green light to travel.
We then proceed to what for years I have considered the most unusual thing at Lungi. The person who validates your travel documents as in, makes sure your passport, and visa are legit, is either a White or a Lebanese person. What I have not ever and still do not understand is why is it that a Sierra Leonean person can not be trained to do this. Why is it that only non-nationals can do this in Sierra Leone when in every other country in fact one wouldn’t leave this to foreigners. I know there is somebody somewhere who gave out a contract, to the company that these people represent but I refuse to believe that while Kelvin Doe can make generator from garbage that one small Princewalean boy can not even come and sit there and validate travel documents. Let them keep their contract but train a black face to do it.
That reminds me of a trip I made to a building that people are calling Freetown Mall on Wilkinson Road. It is a new establishment. I was to get to the cash register and find that at each post where you see a black person waiting to price out your purchase they are being guarded by a Lebanese person. Yes I know people steal, but it just does not look right and it isn’t right at all. And in this establishment on the day in question it was all black Sierra Leonean women being guarded by their Lebanese masters. You see what I mean, eh hen, it don’t look right. So I am asking Jesus to please fix it because these are the things that our Nigerian brothers, who have set the bar for how foreign merchants should behave when they are living of off us in our country will never tolerate.
Anyway make I take you back to the airport. Where was I? Oh yes document validation. We pass that one and proceed to customs where we have to lift each bag on to a table and open our bags to questions of what is this and what is that. I guess they are searching for drugs? Must be because I have no idea why I had to open my bag and have someone go through my personal effects. Lady was side eyeing me like if you give me small thing I no go open, but I gave her full eye oh please go ahead do your job.
From there we proceeded to check in, yes this whole time, at least an hour since we entered the gates of Lungi we had not reached the check in desk for the Kenya Airways flight. All of the previous were just departure formalities, show me. Check in at KQ was wahala free but by this time I am already exhausted. I think back to when this section of the airport wasn’t even opened to the public and I was hired to come and take photos to showcase who the DePa had worked before the 2012 elections.
At immigration I meet old fans of the Vickie Remoe Show who had the usual questions of when it will be back on SLBC. We then make it to the security scan, the equivalent of TSA in America. Right after we get passed this point thinking we were home free an old gentleman standing at the end of the security post asked for our passports. I handed them over and he asks which one of you is Gabonese? I’m like no that’s a visa to Gabon. Someone then assists him with the right page on the passport because I couldn’t be asked.
We finally finish the formalities and make our way to our branded seats. At this point I am spent. An hour into the wait the PA comes on and we are asked to board for KQ. We form a line and the same people who already checked our bags appear again including the White or Lebanese guy who verified our passports and traveling docs. We repeat the same checks and we finally exit Lungi. A bus is there waiting to carry us to the plane. Does it have Air Conditioning? No of course not and the small fans weren’t even on. Its like they just want you to suffer so you leave feeling beaten.
We board KQ, yes AC, finally! Thank you Lord!. Two hours later we land in Accra and as we make the easy stress free procession through Kotoka I thank the ancestors that as an ECOWAS citizen Ghana too can be my home.
I send an sms to a group chat I share with my Ghanaian friends. I tell them that if any of them complains again about Mahama’s Ghana I are deporting them to Salone.
The lesson from my recent trip to Sierra Leone is this; no matter who much money we spend on nice buildings, technology, and infrastructure, it is all a waste if we don’t train the people managing them. No matter how nice Lungi might look to some people it is still a major hassle to travel there, the modalities are really just not properly in place. We need to invest in our people.