After a half empty flight from Boston to London and seven hours getting well acquainted with BMI’s terminal at Heathrow, I boarded the flight to Freetown. Before boarding, I found Ryan in the lobby area and we chatted. This flight was also half filled and had an astounding selection of bad movies. My favorite selection was called Tomorrow, When the War Began, which was a pretty fantastic Australian takeoff of Red Dawn, where Chinese Communists invaded a small town and a ragtag bunch of kids become guerilla rebels. The flight stopped in Malaga, Spain to be refilled of fuel and water. It was the first time that I’d taken a flight that had to stop for fueling. It wasn’t the length of the flight that required it, but the availability of fuel here in Freetown. I found Ryan during the stop and we chatted about phones with a fellow passenger.
Sierra Leone was the darkest country I’ve ever flown into. It’s one of the ways that I judge how developed a country is the amount of light coming up from below. Right before landing, we could see the many twinkling lights of Freetown shining below.
Lungi is a tiny airport. One entrance hall, four lines to have your passport processed, two tracks for luggage. Ryan and I were assisted by an employee of the airport. We hesitated to receive his help, but led us outside through the throng and got us to the Pelican Water Taxi booth. He helped us buy tickets and got us into the van. We were taken to a covered waiting area with other passengers waiting for the boat to Aberdeen.
My mum talked about coming to visit me in Freetown while I’m here, but when I saw the process of getting onto the boat, I deemed it impossible. The stable wooden pier led to rocking ramp, then a drifting platform, and finally to the boat. It was wet and slippery and the platform rose and fell over two foot swells. An older woman was physically carried to the boat. With a little leap, I got a board and found seats at the front of the boat.
A boat ride is the best introduction to a country, even at night. You get to view it from afar, but also get the sense that you’re there. I watched Freetown in the dark. Small lights climbing up hills and a stretch along the shore. It reminded me of seeing Santa Barbara from the sea. It was very beautiful.
The boat ride took about half an hour. Ryan and I fear briefly that we’d taken the wrong boat, but then we saw Rebecca, Ali, and Ben and felt considerably more secure. There is nothing so great as seeing friendly faces after a long trip.