Monday, 10 May 2010

Sierra Leone....first impressions..

On the 15th of April we were all packed up and ready to go when we heard the news flash about the eruption in Iceland, our hearts sank as we were due to fly out on 19th, as the days went by we were beginning to think that we were never going to board the plain for Sierra Leone....Daily we listend to reports about the ash in the air, when we left the house we looked up at the sky and willed the ash to go away. Finally on Wednes 21st April we heard that the airspace had been opened over the UK and that flights were getting back to normal...a week later we were on the plane!

The plane journey went without a hitch no delays or incodents. Touch down at Lunghi airport was smooth prompting great cheers from passengers returning home. We entered the airport building were immediately confronted by a whirlwind, the airport was just a hustle and bustle of bodies, arms and voices from the crowd. We were met by the "BHC fixer" (the term used for the little man who 'does' for you) who shuffled us through passport control and out to the baggage carousel. After what seemed like absolute ages our bags were identified and dragged from the carousel unserimoniously, thank goodness we did not spend a lot of money when we bought suitcases. We drifted passed the customs officials with our fixer who waved them off as if they were nagging flies. He then ushered us into a large room empty but for the square barlike desk in the middle. This bar was crowded by fixers both men and women; the women were the most interesting, looking like ladies of the night in all their finery and with the sharpest of tongues. They seemd to get the most attention from the "officials" behind the bar. It soon became evident that this was the booking office for the helicopter. We were told to sit on the raggerty chairs just to the right of the entrance. We did as we were told, David paid the $160 dollars demamded by the fixer; soon we were handed two tickets and told that we would be on the next helicopter.....we waited and when we saw our bags leaving with a porter we knew that we might be leaving soon and sure enough not a minute later we were bundled into a waiting "taxi van" which transported us to the helicopter. Once aboard the helicopter we were shown a brief vidoe on safety aboard the helicopter, all I could catch was that the journey was going to 7minutes. As soon as we were in the air I took my camera out of the bag to take pictures, but because of the heat the lens fogged up and my pictures look like they were taken in the mist.

In the Helicopter

First glimpseof Freetown from the Helicopter

View from our house

Seven minutes later we landed in Freetown where we were greeted by the Deputy High Commissioner. The heat was wonderful, both dave and I were drenched, but it felt wonderful, but I digress, the drive to the compound from the helicopter pad took about an hour and that was not because it was far it was because the roads were bad and heavily congested with people, taxies, motorbike and more people and dogs who believe they have right of way no matter what! I have to say that Malawi is almost first world compared to SL, but there is business happening everywhere.

We arrived on the compound at about 7pm which according to the DHC was a record. (Usually the whole process takes some hours like nearly 5. We were just very lucky.) We were then taken to our house, which I have to say is enormous, the kitchen could house two caterham flats, we have two lounges (why? but we are not complaining) a dining room three bedrooms two on suite. The rooms are comfortable but not as big as the rooms in Malawi, but I am not complaining. The furniture in the house is very tired but we have been given a small budget to get new curtains and to have the sofas recovered. I went today to one of the many Lebanese fabric shops to choose some fabrics, fortunately I was able to find something very plain. The next hurdle is to get the tailor to come and give a quote and then to cover everything. I am told that this will be done very soon.....mmmmm....I can hear the African mantra "hurry up and wait!" Anyway that is all part of living in a new place and I keep reminding myself that this is a country trying to pick up pieces.

Everything on the compound looks hot and tired, the ground looks good but is as hard as a rock. In the skies outside our house kites glide on the theremals looking out for the careless chicken or unsuspecting rainbow lizard. There is a wonderful pool on compound which we have made use of everyday since we have been here, there is also a gym not sure we will use this too much but we will see.

At the moment we have two resident rainbow lizards (Agama agama) and copious females viaing for positions in various places on the verandah. The males are quite cheeky and run at you but a quick stamp of the foot soon sees them off. Also in our garden is Henriette with her three chicks, a black one, a tan one and a white one. Henriette is very careful to keep her small brood under thick foliage cover away from the hawk eyes hovering overhead. Everyday I check to see that the little family is still intact.

On Sunday we went to no2 beach, which begs the question, where is no1 beach? Fantastic beach, for less that a £1 we hired 4 chairs a table and umbrella and for £2 we had Baracuda kebabs and rice with relish for lunch. We got quite burnt after having told everyone there to keep themselves well covered with suntan protection cream. We have to make what we can of the sunshine now because when the rains come we will be house and compound bound.

Shopping here, as in Malawi, is quite a challenge and again I have to look on Freetown as a huge shopping mall accessing shops by car rather than by foot. There are various Lebanese shops selling a variety of gawdy products at a large sum of money. Wine is in very limited supply and really very expensive for plonk! So guess we wont be having much wine while we are here. The local beer is Star, Dave has tried it but is yet to accquire the taste for it; they do sell a mild cider called Savannah, I remember this from South Africa and it is not too bad.

Vegetable shopping is a real challenge as this has to be done at roadside vendors. I am sure that every time we go to one we pay way more than we should and the reason for this is because items are placed into plastic bags one on top of the other making it very difficult to keep track of the running tab. Eventually after some haggling the purchaser and the seller come to an agreement on price with the purchaser taking the raw end of the is all good fun....

Freetown is very broken down but behind the battered facade business is booming, little restaurants are everywhere crowded with people. While In the fabric shop, shopping for curtains, I noticed a steady stream of patrons spending money. When we were at the beach it was comfortably crowded and people were spending money there it is all good.

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