Thursday, June 12, 2008

Our Introduction

It’s only been one short day and suddenly, we’ve been exposed to a whole new world. It’s amazing how you can get on an airplane in one environment and step off it in one that you never imagined existed. In the movies or even a TV documentary, sure, but real life?

Our flight landed at dusk in the middle of the jungle and lush landscape of Sierra Leone. We watched the green palms and mountains as we approached. The long winding river and the Atlantic Ocean that borders the country seemed like the stereotype of Africa and yet here it was, in front of us. We landed near a small airport – and finally, when we stepped off the aircraft, we believed that we were actually here in this foreign place.

It was dark by the time we got through customs. And dark in a third-world country without much electricity is a whole lot different than dark in America. I know Scott and I looked like deer caught in headlights as we emerged from customs, rolling carts full of way too much luggage with way too much photo gear, looking for someone or something familiar. In the maze of Africans and signs and taxi drivers all wanting our attention and speaking a language we could not understand (not to mention that we stuck out like a sore thumb), we found our COTN contact, Quami. The tall, buff, thirty-something African – who must have the friendliest smile in all of Sierra Leone – was an answer to some desperate prayer and a huge relief to these two tired travelers. He guided us through the crowd to the small taxi where our luggage was soon overflowing from the trunk. We stuffed ourselves and our belongings into the backseat, curious as to what would happen next.

The darkness overtook the shacks and homes and people that we passed until our eyes adjusted. But, when they did, we felt as though we were in a movie – the jungle on either side of us with homes and people standing and walking intermingled. “It feels like we’re in an Indiana Jones movie or something,” Scott said to me under his breath. The most surreal part of the entire ride was when our taxi driver set up his portable DVD player on the dashboard of the car. Not only was the movie Pearl Harbor, but it had Chinese subtitles. So, we’re shocked at the poverty out our windows as the wind whips in our faces, sweaty bodies crammed into the back of a small vehicle with our bags piled on top of us. We see, for the first time, Sierra Leone in the pitch black (which makes everything a little more eery) with a reggae rap soundtrack blaring from the car radio and then continue to catch scenes out of the corners of our eyes from this American movie.


We just hung on and tried to take it all in. It was part of the experience that I wouldn’t trade. The best was yet to come, though. The ferry ride to reach the city and then, just a small tropical storm to bid us to sleep.

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