Saturday, February 23, 2013 (Day 45)
Sierra Leone - England - Albania
Like I said, I feel so spaced out by the time our flight leaves Freetown that I have no sense of leaving Africa. But, something changes over the course of the next couple of hours...
... Blurry eyed, I stare ahead of me at the computer-animated flight route map. Within minutes of our departure we have long since left Sierra Leonean airspace and have already crossed much of neighbouring Guinea. As we begin to overfly Senegal I grab my pen and write down the first individual words that come into my tired head:
Humbling; uplifting; inspiring; upsetting; frustrating; rewarding; enlightening; infuriating;
These are some of the words; a few of the emotions that I felt during my seven weeks in Sierra Leone volunteering with the Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation.
Suddenly, I feel like crying when I remember much of the poverty, and the amputees, and some of those little boys working in the streets. I can say I feel proud of myself for having done this. I am definitely ready to go home but I did 'enjoy' my Salone experience, if 'enjoy' is the correct word to use.
We begin to overfly Mauritania. Gambia Bird is a joke. They are offering me a single bread roll for dinner because, despite assurances from my travel agent and at check in, they don't have any vegetarian meals. The seats don't recline and there is also practically no legroom at all making it very difficult to sleep even if you feel exhausted. Yes, I know my moaning sounds a little out of context after the previous paragraph talked of poverty and despair. But I have written this blog to record my thoughts and emotions; my highs and lows. I hope by telling things the way they really were it has given those who are interested a better sense of what it might be like to volunteer in Africa. I hope also that I have provided a balanced picture of life in Sierra Leone: yes, the country is currently one of the least developed countries in the world but it also has a hell of a lot going for it and, at times, you might end up feeling happier when you are living there, in West Africa, than when you are cocooned in your comfortable life back home in Europe or North America.
We are greeted by the sight of a spectacularly bright red sun as we begin our descent to Gatwick Airport. I think I might have managed to get one hour's sleep.
In London it is flaking with snow and so cold after Africa that I wonder what the shock must be like for an African stepping foot on this continent for the first time. It is only minus three but after seven weeks of sweating all day and all night, England has never ever felt so cold when stepping off a plane.
I cannot remember if I mentioned it before but I am straight off on holiday today. Having arrived at 7am, I check in with British Airways an hour later, a full six hours ahead of my flight to Albania, where I will meet my girlfriend this evening. It means that my journey from Charlie's house in Freetown to the Hotel Nobel in Tirana will have lasted approximately 30 hours.
A holiday in Albania? Well, after living in Sierra Leone for the best part of two months I am not quite ready for the glitz and consumerism of Western Europe. In some senses, Albania is Europe's Sierra leone: underdeveloped and largely unloved by the outside world...but full of beauty and potential.
One picture postcard from Albania perhaps....
Thursday, February 21, 2013 (Day 43)
Murraytown & Lumley Beach
It is a carefree day on Lumley Beach for me. I walk all the way down from Murray Town, crossing the bridge to Aberdeen and then stroll a further half hour by foot passing a selection of basic bars, restaurants and shops hoping to entice the handful of tourists who travel to Salone as well as the local expats and richer elements of the local population. It is a little reminiscent of the back streets of a Thai resort such as Ko Samui. A Chinese diplomatic car flashes by with an entourage of security vehicles. Its number plate simply reads: CHINA.
Lumley Beach is beautiful and much more upmarket than I had expected. imagine living in a capital city where this is your local beach! I am content to grab a beach-side table under the shade at Family Kingdom Resort and enjoy a 10am cold beer.
Much of the morning is spent chatting to Nads, a British Sierra Leonean, who has returned to the country of his birth to work on agriculture projects that will hopefully help take the country forward. Currently only around 10% of the 30% arable land here is cultivated so you can see the potential the country has in this respect. Nads is very excited about what can be achieved and, having spent a very enjoyable morning chatting to this intelligent and down-to-earth man, I have no doubt he will achieve great things for himself and Salone in the coming years.
I don't budge from my picturesque beach-side spot for the entire day; forever admiring the almost deserted beach, looming mountains, crashing waves and azure sky; huge vultures occasionally swooping down to dine on some treat they have managed to bag.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a two-month voluntary placement in January 2013.