Despite the assurances of two Sierra Leonean friends regarding the appeal of a holiday in their country and my relatively well traveled track record, I approached a twelve day spell in Sierra Leone with a certain degree of trepidation. After all, I had spent a significant bulk of my childhood & teenhood making trips to Lagos and mournfully, thereafter observed it’s swift fall from grace as a feisty but fun destination. Nigeria today remains for me, rightly or wrongly, a no go area.
Freetown, conjures up for many, yet another image of a war torn, volatile African city. In reality, based on my short time there, it certainly isn’t. Years of destruction to infrastructure and personal lives have inspired the population to collectively realize and endeavor to tap into the nations huge potential. There is a tangible positivity in the air, a resolve to attain prosperity swiftly and a tolerance for all, irrespective of tribal affiliations and religious preference. Yes, the country is essentially a poor one, in terms of bare essentials (roads, streetlighting, housing, regular power supplies, etc..) and standards of living for the majority but the people are just getting on with life in a way only West Africans know how! The energy, the vitality, the vaguely ordered chaos…
Sierra Leone is the template for what I fondly associate with this part of the world. Scaling the streets and the townships and the beaches and the interior is like walking onto an idyllic film set of African life with all it’s charm. I visited a Chimp Sanctuary (the only one in the country), Rogbonko Village (a project set up by famed author Aminatta Forna and her brother) Banana Island (with it’s fascinating/disturbing slave trade history), No. 2 River Beach (one of the most impressive beaches I have ever been to) and back in Freetown, enjoyed the vibe of Lumley Beach, the atmosphere of driving around the city, the nightlife (Afrobeat and beer into the not so early hours at Club Agals!) and the food (Sweet Potato Leaf, Cassava Leaf, Groundnut, Crain Crain…need I go on!)As I had awaited the speedboat on my first day at a quiet, little jetty just after sunrise, to take me into the nation’s capital, I hadn’t known what to expect. But as the BA flight back to London Heathrow taxied along the runway at Lungi Airport nearly two weeks later, I reflected and subsequently knew that I had just experienced something very special. The vacation in Sierra Leone had all felt like one big ‘homecoming’.