Travelling day dawned on Wednesday and after a lazy morning stroll on the beach at Lumley we packed up and headed off in our minibuses and cars to head back to the Seacoach jetty at Aberdeen bridge at 1pm.
We unloaded our luggage and sorted our tickets with the seacoach. It was then time for our goodbyes to Abs, Maybel, Edmund (one of our drivers) and Pastor Tannie. After Tannie prayed for us we sang them a chorus of the Krio song “Tell em tenke” which goes something like this:
Tell em tanke, tell em (tell him thank you, tell him) Tell papa God, tenke (tell Father God, thank you) For wot he done for we, tell papa God, tenke (for what he has done for us, tell Father God thank you) Tell em tanke, tell em Tell papa God, tenke
After our emotional goodbye, we got on the seacoach speedboat for the trip across the estuary to the airport. Seeing Freetown disappearing into the distance is always very sad.
Then it was into a minibus to travel the 10 minutes down dirt roads to the airport where we collected our luggage and checked in to our flight. The plane took off at 6pm and headed to Monrovia in Liberia for a stop and refueling. Then it was back to Brussels where we landed at around 5am (Brussels time, 3am in Freetown). Everyone was shattered and we had a four and a half hour layover. We all crashed out on the floor and seats in the airport. Finally we boarded our flight to Heathrow and landed at 10.30am (London time, 11.30am in Brussels and 9.30am in Freetown). We collected our luggage and had one final team photo and said our goodbyes as we made our different ways home. We finally got home at 1pm, 23 hours after we had left the hotel in Freetown.
What a week we have had. It has been joyful and heartbreaking in equal measure. Sierra Leone has this way of getting to you, you can’t help it. It is colourful, vibrant, exciting, noisy, dusty, dirty, chaotic, beautiful, hot, humid and utterly, utterly wonderful. I know it is a cliche but the people are what makes it. Most of the people are very poor and have very little and are struggling just to get food for each day, but they are the most beautiful people I have ever met. Their spirit, passion and determination is infectious. Abs, Maybel, Tannie, the students, the teachers that we met, Heather, Ian, the children, the pastors, the villagers, house mothers, market sellers, and drivers are inspirational. I have never felt unsafe in all my visits to Sierra Leone and I love that you can chat to total strangers as if you were best friends. It is my favourite country in the world and I feel a love for the place that I can’t adequately explain.
Part of the joy of this trip has been to see the progress that is being made in places like the Freetown Cheshire Home, Tombo and Morcombay as Abs, DST, Regent Road Baptist Church, Heather and Ian all work so hard and it is a privilege just to be a small part of it and to help in some way. Things really can change and people can be helped and supported in a sustainable way. Just a couple of examples: last time I was in Sierra Leone was 18 months ago and we met two children - Abdulai and Natalia who were in a terrible state. They are ebola orphans who had been dumped at the Freetown Cheshire Home because no one wanted them or knew who they were. They didn’t even know their names or their ages. Now 18 months on with the care from the FCH team and some financial help and support from lots of lovely people in the UK they are completely different. They still have lots of issues but they are happy, cared for and loved and you can see the joy in their faces. Secondly it was lovely to meet Sylvester again. I first met Sylvester 6 years ago when we first went to Sierra Leone - he was in the first batch of students in the DST training programme. He completed the training and got a job with a government ministry - virtually unheard of for a young man with a disability. Now he is providing for his family and extended family and doing really well.
Finally I want to say a massive thank you to Abs and Pastor Tannie who hosted us so well and who organised our trip from the Sierra Leone end. I also want to say a massive thank you to our team from the UK who were amazing. They threw themselves in to every experience and ‘embraced the chaos’. They were fantastic with the children and teachers and everyone they met. Our teaching group were brilliant and had some great workshops with the teachers in the schools that we visited. The young people in our team were brilliant with the children that we met and threw themselves into everything with gusto - I hope that this has been a life changing experience for them. Spirits in the team were always high and I know that Sierra Leone has worked its magic on all of them.
Thanks for this Chris! Of course, there are many stories that Chris didn't record, but "some of what happens in Sierra Leone stays in Sierra Leone". However, I could be persuaded to tell you ..........