Sierra Leone

In January 2006, I was given the opportunity to visit Sierra Leone.  I had always wanted to travel to Africa, but it had never materialized.  When I arrived in to Lungi International Airport, my customs experience was surprising.  Many of the airport officials requested some form of pay-off to gain access to my bags or to leave the airport.  The airport is situated on an island, so you must take a ferry to the main land.  Once on the main land there were hundreds of people around offering to take you wherever you need to go.  There was no bus, taxi or transit system, so I was told the best way to travel was to make sure you had someone there to pick you up. 

One of the most striking things about my experience was the order to life.  When the sun came up, people were working; when the sun went down, people were relaxing and spending time with their families and friends.  During my stay, there was not consistent electricity.  This actually was truly a blessing.  I ate fresh food every day.     Without a refrigerator and microwave eating fresh food everyday was a remarkable experience.  I felt like a king eating at an exclusive restaurant. 

Without electricity, families spent time together outside playing, or at the beach or at a local spot.   Seeing families together at the beach, interacting with each other was the norm.  In the U.S. for many there is less of a family experience, but of an individual experience that centers around television, technology and commerce.  While in Sierra Leone, the modest accommodations seemed natural.  Whether staying in homes that resembled huts or taking outside bathes, the experience was authentic and made sense.

While there is a focus in the United States on health and fitness, the people in Sierra Leone were the most beautiful I had ever seen. The majority of people “worked” every day.  Whether men creating and carrying bricks for construction projects or women carrying large jugs of water from the river on their head back to their home, physical activity appeared to be a part of most people’s lives.  The natural muscular form and stunning natural beauty was not dependent on cosmetic or clothing, but exhibited through poise and presence.   

The most enjoyable part of my trip was my experience with the children.  Their natural curiosity and willingness to engage was most memorable.  They had informed opinions on local and international politics, new and events.  They were also skilled football players and seemed to enjoy taking advantage of “the old man”.