Sunday, May 25th, 2014
You see the towns in pictures and documentaries, and you always know you’re lacking something because it’s second hand. Driving through the outskirts of Lungi and seeing how many buildings are crumbling or were never completely built is an overwhelming sight after the clean streets of Schilde. Scraggly chickens and stray dogs run around the brush piles and cooking fires as our car speeds past. The people in torn t-shirts with their bare feet do a double take upon noticing our skin color. The air is thick with the smoke of agricultural fires burning along the side of the road.
The first thing I noticed about the men who helped us to our car from the airport was the state of their shoes. Their clothes were old and their jeans tattered, but their shoes were shinning and spotless.
The car slowed to a stop behind a line of trucks and motorcycles. We were waiting for the ferry boat to take us across the river to Freetown and then to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
We were already covered in sweat from the stifling heat and humidity. Were were in a line behind several cars surrounded by people who were socializing and selling things from baskets on top of their heads. Baskets full of mangoes, dried fish, some white powder I assume to be powdered milk or sugar and some unknown meat of a skewer, which upon reflection was probably cane rat.
I was surprised by the large number of people in wheel chairs. My surprise did not come from the fact that so many people were so severely affected by what looked like rickets, but that this number of people had shiny, brand new wheel chairs. There were as many as 15 people rolling around the small group of homes and shops that bordered the port. There were no more than 50 people in total wandering around the streets, which was mostly composed of children and young women with baskets on their heads or sitting in front of piles of bananas.
Our driver from the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (here on out it will be referred to as CSSL), Hassan, got out of the car and we began to socialize. After a few minutes of introductory questions and answers with Brielle and Ryan, friends from the University of Wisconsin, Ben came from the other car to tell us that we were waiting for a ferry that was leaving at 9 p.m. It was 7 p.m.
We sighed. It had been a long flight, and we had already been sweating in a locked car for 45 minutes. The windows were rolled down, but there was no breeze. The only thing coming in through the windows were mosquitoes and the unreasonably loud music from a shop just behind us. It was loud enough to interfere with conversation.
After spending a significant amount of time telling the children that, no, we would not hand them money, we had Hassan buy us mangoes and bananas to snack on while we waited. As I had no Leones yet I handed Hassan $5. He gave me a strange look and handed me back three $1 bills. When Hassan returned with about a dozen bananas and a mango for each of us, Brielle, Ryan and I exchanged a look. All that food for $2. And it was probably organic. I smiled to myself. The amount of money people in America would spend on an organic mango already seemed ridiculous.
As we commented on how different the bananas tasted, the children returned. This time they seemed more interested in entertaining themselves than asking for money. I started a game of making faces with a young boy, I would stick out my tongue and cross my eyes and he would burst out laughing and attempt to copy the face. Quickly a small group of children gathered around my window to see the strange white girl who made weird faces. Even the adults were pointing and laughing.
Finally we were told that we would not fit on the ferry and we began to make arrangements to stay in Lungi. After several phone calls with Dr. Andrew Halloran, who we were supposed to meet at Tacugama, where I assured him that no one was ‘freaking out’ and that we would all be just fine and we would see him tomorrow morning, we decided on a hotel.
The hotel was surrounded by a high concrete wall lined with broken beer bottles and barbed wire. On the outside of the wall that made our hotel look more like a military compound were homes made of broken bamboo and palm fronds. Our air-conditioned structure seemed very out of place.
We were told to choose chicken or fish for dinner. I was excited for my first Africa meal and remembered the West Africa restaurant I frequented in Dallas. When I opened my tin I was told contained fish I was expecting a whole fish, some spicy greens and maybe some fufu. I was not expecting the burst of color that greeted me.
We immediately all burst out laughing. In our dishes was a whole fish, or several chicken legs buried under a pile of french fries, chopped hot dog, boiled egg, cucumbers, tomatoes, ketchup, mayonnaise, and hot sauce.
“For the Americans!” Our hosts told us excitedly as they took their traditional African meals back to their room.
It was surprisingly alright, though that may be because we had eaten nothing but a few bananas and a mango all day. Ryan ate every bite.
After a few games of cards in the living room of our little bungalow and some confusing trips to our bathroom with its non-functioning toilet and shower we turned in for the night, splitting off between the three rooms. I chose to sleep on the couch because I was not ready to share a hay mattress with someone in a deadly hot room, that and there was a fan in the living room.