Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Back from Sierra Leone

I'm back... I've been in Freetown, Sierra Leone for the past week, for a project at work. (This is the same trip I wrote about right after I started blogging, which didn't happen. I didn't want to write much about it this time, in case it didn't happen again. But it did.)

And Kevin's reminded me that I did a terrible job blogging about the trip to Peru, so I'm going to do better this time. Really.

So, I left last Tuesday, about 20 hours after we got back from Florida. Those 20 hours were spent scurrying around trying to get ready: all the normal packing stuff, plus the heath center had recommended that I treat all my clothes with insect repellent (or buy clothes that were already repellent--I mean, treated with repellent), to reduce the possibility of contracting malaria via mosquito bite (yes, I also took anti-malarial medicine, but it's not 100% effective, so it's better not to get bitten!).

So, that was already an adventure: the repellent is highly toxic and very smelly, and you're supposed to let it air-dry (outside), and I didn't really have enough time for that. So we let my treated clothes dry as much as possible, then I put them in the drier (on no heat), and stared at the drier in case it burst into flames. It didn't, and I was able to finish packing.

Sierra Leone is just coming out of the rainy season, but it's still very hot. Nonetheless, the health center also recommended that I cover as much skin as possible (to avoid mosquito bites), so I packed only long-sleeved shirts and pants--the other Americans I met there were mostly wearing less covering clothes, so maybe I would have been ok in capri pants (or skirts... skirts would have been nice), and 3/4 sleeve shirts. But I'm mosquito-bite prone, so it's probably better that I was extra careful.

Anyway. The flight to SL (from NYC via London and Dakar, Senegal--where I didn't actually get off the plane), takes about 20 hours. The flight itself was fine--I knit and napped and read. Unfortunately, the airport is across a large body of water from the city. IF the roads around the water were passable, it would be about a 150 mile drive, but the road around the bay is terrible to non-existent, so the three choices are hovercraft, ferry, or helicopter.

The ferry isn't recommended (I've forgotten exactly why, but whatever it was was bad enough that none of the other travelers I talked to had taken it, ever), but neither the helicopter or the hovercraft is perfect either. The helicopters are Soviet-made, are decades old, badly repaired, and prone to crashing. The hovercraft is slower, decades old, also in bad repair, and prone to sinking. On the grounds that I can swim but not fly, I picked the hovercraft.

When I made my hotel reservations (which I actually made online, though a London-based company that billed me via Paypal--which was important because none of the hotels in SL take credit cards, but I didn't want to carry that much extra cash), I made arrangements for someone to meet me at the airport and help me buy a ticket to the hovercraft. That was helpful, since there weren't any signs. So I bought my ticket, then took a bus to the hovercraft terminal.

I arrived after dark, and there's very little electricity in SL (the power grid was damaged by the war, but was doing ok till this summer, when a vital piece of equipment broke. Since then, there's just been power for a couple of hours each month. People and businesses that can afford it have generators.), so the bus ride was through pitch blackness--every so often I caught a glimpse of bushes or tall grasses by the side of the road, from the lights inside the bus, or from the headlights of oncoming traffic.

Then onto the hovercraft--which was old and noisy, but which did not sink. I was relieved, because I'd devoted all my worrying to the possibility of catching bloodworms when the hovercraft sank and dumped us into the water (no idea what bloodworms are, but they sound awful, and the health center was very sterm about not submerging myself in fresh water, because there might be bloodworms). It turns out though, that that that worry was unnecessary, because the hovercraft crosses salt water, which can't give you bloodworms. Hurray!

So, I made it across in about 30 minutes, then went to the hotel in a car that the travel agency sent. I got checked in, and went to my room. It was basic, and a little run down, but very clean. There was a small air conditioning unit in the room which meant that mosquitoes weren't really a worry, and I didn't need to sleep under a mosquito met. I did fend off a gigantic cricket-like insect--caught him under a glass (which I did not use again), and threw him in the toilet. I didn't want to squish him because the squished bugs I'd seen on way to my room were covered in millions of ants, and I didn't want to attract any ants! I flushed, but when I checked the next morning, he was still there, wiggling his legs! Flushing again got rid of him at last.

Ok... I think this is long enough for one entry--and probably kind of boring, without any pictures! I don't have may pictures of the city (I feel rude taking pictures of people's normal lives and surroundings... like I'm basically telling them I think their lives are weird), but I do have a picture of my sock in progress admiring the view from my hotel window, plus exciting stories about the flicker-y power supply, the difficulty of sending an email, buying a cell phone, and my adventures on the way home (now with more piggy-back rides and sinking hovercrafts!).


Baby Beth said...

I'm glad you're home safe. Sounds like you had quite the adventure just getting to your hotel. Can't wait to hear the rest.

Anonymous said...

There has to be at least a book and mabe a movie coming from this trip. We can hardly wait for the next installment. F-I-L (Father-In-Law)

Anonymous said...

Wow! Can't wait to hear how the rest of the trip was. When will chapter 2 be out?

Anna said...

I hope you managed to not attract malaria! I was in East Africa for a summer about ten years ago and even though I took my anti-malaria drugs on the clock just like I was supposed to, wore long sleeves and pants at night (when the mosquitos are the mosta ctive), used repellent om my skin and only got 7 mosquito bites in 7 weeks, I ended up with malaria. Got treated for it when I got home and the treatment seems to have worked as I'm still around! :)

Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your story! Thanks for sharing!

Karen said...

"On the grounds that I can swim but not fly, I picked the hovercraft."

Too funny!