Sierra Leone

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Your contemporary shoe fervently feels the comfort of the bumpy uneven street ground establishing an intimate connection that you hope will
be everlasting. You are stood on top of the ground – a ground reflecting that of it’s people, a ground so sturdy it resembles its state, a ground so mighty it hints its experiences, a ground so grand it is Sierra Leone. As it determinedly makes its way down your trachea to the station of lung expansion the warm, kind air offers you a feeling of contentment, anticipation, and interest. By the time your diaphragm has relaxed and the oxygen has been converted into carbon dioxide  – that of which your surrounding palm trees and beguiling flowers will benefit from – you are more than ready to begin your exploration of the persisting west African country.

   Remember that the multimillion-dollar Hollywood portrayals are out of sight hence, out of mind. The tales that come from the eager mouths of those who are trapped inside their treacherous comfort zones must not be believed as they will do anything but feed your desire to explore. You are a discoverer.

  As your thin fingers tightly grasp the worn out handle of your red and cultured suitcase your mind can only focus on two things. Your occupied mind is trying to concentrate on the life around you as you bravely walk through the crowded streets, your mind is also allowing your spinal chord to send the rapid nerve impulses to your hands as a reminder to not let go of the suitcase, do not let go of the suitcase. Around you there is a human library containing literature of common Sierra Leonean lives, poetry of lovely local music, history textbooks based on the rich past of a former British colony, newspapers updated with the latest stories of the ebola crisis, and a numerous amount of hopeful tour guides who are willing to fulfil your wishes for a humble Le 10,000.

   The fear of standing out does not overcome as you realise you are not the only foreigner, you are not the only ‘white woman’. There are others, more of you; more just like you in the province all here for a specific reason. There are those who are here as brave medical experts offering aid to the victims of the disastrous outbreak, there are those who are here voluntarily as part of a non-profit organisation, there are those here on business ready to lead wealthy lives from the findings in the mines, there are many blending in with the environment.

   The unfamiliar faces are welcoming, wives and children prepared to bargain suitable prices in order to buy the evening’s supper, young boys avoiding the flock as they kick around a football through the legs of by passers, amputees sat on the side of the road hoping for change before they play their game of football, blaring horns of large four by fours stuck in customary traffic as smiling policemen knock on windows anticipating a bribe. There are countless stories to be heard and you are overwhelmed with what the country has to offer. You suddenly remember do not let go of the suitcase.

   The vibrant atmosphere reminds you of the free spirit of a young child, the soul that urbanisation lacks or has perhaps lost in its artificiality and materialism. The peculiar aroma of the marketplace your nose has lead you to as your feet obediently followed, creates a new entry way in your cerebrum. The sultry sun is getting to your sweat glands as they dilate and allow the release of the toxins that were trapped inside your body. Boy, are you in Africa.

   Your inner investigator is prepared to get to business; you are not simply an observer. Reaching inside your khaki trouser pocket searching for the Sierra Leonean money you will need to satisfy your thirst you immediately remember that due to your excitement, the experienced traveller you are has made the ridiculous mistake of not converting your worthy British pounds into the local Leones – £500 that will be of no use, unless you find a bank.

   Fearfully but calmly you show no sign of unsureness as you make your way through the mass of engaged people. Your attentive eyes meet those of the homeland, your sweaty arms make contact with arms covered in distinct fabric made up of attractive colours and patterns as well as other sweaty arms, your nose inspires the scents of fish, fruit, and flies. You are aware that you are being watched, you know that you are seen as a superior – would you imagine that, you are a superior -, you understand that unless you speak to someone you are a lost wanderer. Finding your way towards a tiny hut where a plump woman is sat you reach out your left hand as the other is busy holding onto your possessions and introduce yourself, Linda Spane, ambitious adventurer.

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Life at Massanga Hospital

Life at Massanga HospitalIt was late in the evening when the plane touched down and the doors opened; that was it…………my first smell of Africa; a warm and comforting scent of spices and soil.

In March 2011 I travelled to Sierra Leone with the maternal health charity ‘Life for African Mothers’. All I knew of Sierra Leone was what comes to mind for most people, the dreadful civil war that destroyed the country over a decade, but I was keen to learn more.

I had the most incredible time. For any visitor to West Africa you will be blown away by how wonderful, warm and welcoming the people are. I never felt unsafe. It is so exciting to visit a country where they are excited to have visitors. I travel as much as I can, but I have honestly never felt like I have been ‘off the beaten track’ until I visited Sierra Leone.

The first half of my trip was spent visiting hospitals and health centres. You could imagine some of the things I saw, however I always felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel. I met incredible doctors and nurses determined to help rebuild healthcare in the country. I felt inspired by their passion and saddened by what they had to deal with everyday.

Next to the University of Freetown is a slum area called Kroo Bay. They never get foreigners visit as people think it is dangerous, which it is (but not because of crime). The level of disease and infection is rife, the terrible unsanitary conditions were appalling, but the children were gorgeous, 4 on each arm we had friends for life; it was heartbreaking to leave them behind. However we think they left us with something to take away from our visit- my hubby caught the mumps, which I’m almost certain came from there! Thankfully no lasting damage! 

If I had to pick my favourite thing about Sierra Leone it would have to be the children. The sheer joy and happiness you see on their faces is incredible. Many children hadn’t seen white people before and they would shout ‘Oporto, Oporto’ and they would run up and stroke your white skin; they were amazed by it! I had a packet of balloons which I would often blow up for the kids, it turned out to be hard work as there are A LOT of kids in Sierra Leone! Not to mention how hot it was trying to blow up balloon after balloon, but who couldn’t resist those gorgeous faces? ‘Oporto give me balloon!’

Children at Lumley Hospital

Sierra Leone has some 300 miles of coastline and it is almost untouched and deserted, the sands are white and the fish is plentiful. We spent some time at the eco tourism project Tribewanted in John Obey on the Freetown Peninsula. It is primarily a fishing village and we made friends with the fishermen there who cooked lobster for us and true to Sierra Leone hospitality wouldn’t take any money for it! We would spend the afternoons with them after they had finished fishing for the day and they would teach us Creole. It is such a fun language a mixture of pigeon English, French and other influences; dinner time is called ‘chop’ and once you have finished your dinner you say ‘chop done done!’

On a number of occasions I found myself visiting schools and teaching lessons on the spontaneous request of people, no chance to even prepare. So I found myself teaching an anatomy lesson to the boys at the Craig Bellamy Academy in Tombo! I think I did OK as I am a nurse, but they were more interested in Football (unsurprisingly) and finding out if my husband and I were indeed married and had children (there was even applause!)

Sierra Leone was quite probably the most enlightening trip of my life. I didn’t want to leave, but with hardly any running water anywhere, no mains electricity, poor roads, a life expectancy of about 38 years and 1 in 8 women dying in childbirth, I decided the best thing I could do for Sierra Leone is to tell everyone about its wonderful people, panoramic landscape and fundraise to help Salone rebuild itself.

About the Author: Sarah Gev is a nurse, traveller, foodie and kindred spirit. Sarah is a big advocate for maternal health in the developing world and supporter of the maternal health charity Life for African Mothers.

Christine Maxfield and African Children

“Wanderlust is a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about,” as defined by Traveling is a requirement for George and I and right now we are in Hawaii. Lucky for you, Christine Maxfield offered to share about her recent year of volunteerism around the globe. I know you will be inspired by her awesome journey, here is her post:

Christine Maxfield and African Children

I blame my wanderlust on my first love—my grandfather. He was the one that got me hooked on National Geographic by having a full magazine collection in his basement that I’d pour over every summer vacation, launching a full-blown childhood dream of becoming a travel writer. And then my parents clinched it by allowing me to tag along with them to Europe when I was an impressionable ten years old, and I’ve never been the same since…nor have I wanted to be.

For the next two decades after that first taste of international travel, I’d aimlessly create lists of countries that I just knew I’d visit as soon as I became a jet setting grown up. But I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that this list sadly gathered dust in my drawer as life’s realities—college, career, relationships—took first priority. Sure, there was that brief study-abroad stint in Buenos Aires, and the occasional tropical vacation. But when it came to becoming a bestselling travel writer, I filed that dream away on a shelf.

I did hold true to my roots though and studied non-fiction creative prose at Penn (class of ’04) and pursued a career in magazine journalism, and at one point I thought I was getting closer to my goal when I landed a job at a national travel magazine in New York. Score! Now I’d get my chance to sip cocktails with foreign correspondents and interview mysterious sources in exotic locales—not. As I reported from my desk about African safaris and the Great Pyramids of Giza without ever checking off either item from my bucket list, I felt empty inside, and worse…like a fraud.

Christine at the Taj Mahal

That did it. I handed in my articles to my editor, pulled out my dusty list of countries back home, and started scheming about how I could take a year off to experience the same adventures that I only wrote about. I adopted a budget for the first time in my life, found a roommate, and scrimped and saved for more than a year until I stumbled across a simple but brilliant way to travel. It’s a form of voluntourism called work exchange, which trades the sweat of your brow—rather than the money from your pocketbook—for room and board with locals abroad. Wait…that meant that my trip suddenly got cheaper! So I immediately bought a one-way ticket to Sierra Leone via Morocco, gave notice at my travel magazine, let my adorable apartment go, and stuffed all my goods in storage. There was no turning back now.

Starting on January 1, 2011, I took my first step off a plane and into a solo round-the-world adventure that included 19 countries on six continents. My work exchange led me to teach HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya, become a desert guide with the Bedouin tribe in for Holidays to Jordan, teach English to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal, mend fences on an aboriginal cattle station in Australia, shuck oysters on a black-pearl farm in French Polynesia, save baby sea turtles in Guatemala, teach music to Roma (gypsy) children in Romania, and herd a thousand sheep as a nomadic shepherd in Austria. Oh, and I can now finally say that I’ve been on an African safari and have also stood in the shadow of pyramids…

Underwater at the Great Barrier Reef with Christine

I returned to the States just a few months ago on January 1, 2012—exactly one year after I left—and I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe my last year to friends and loved ones. “Life changing” seems too anticlimactic. When I look up other superlatives in the thesaurus, I get more of the same. All I can say is that you need to throw caution to the wind and launch your own grand adventure to understand the inspiring journey that I experienced.

Cross that Bridge! Live your dreams like Christine!

Oh, and what about my dream of becoming a bestselling travel writer? Well, now that I’m represented by a bona fide literary agent, I can say that my prospects are definitely looking up for the first time in my career.

From WeSaidGoTravel:
We hope you feel as inspired as we do! Thank you to Christine for sharing your story! We cannot wait to read your book! Read more about her adventures, click here.

New video from our year away: Gushing Geysers of New Zealand






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