Schoolchildren on their way home from school in central Bo. Just over 40 per cent of the population are 14 or under, and life expectancy is 56.55 years, one of the world’s lowest. The country is spending 13 per cent of GDP, one of the world’s highest ratios, to tackle major killers such as malaria and yellow fever. The US, at 16 per cent, is the only large country to spend more.
Sierra Leone – Been There

Hitting the ground running in Sierra Leone

Photo by Kieran Meeke

Sierra Leone – Been There Hitting the ground running in Sierra Leone

I have been in Sierra Leone only an hour and am already having a party.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

I am staying at the airport hotel, following the advice of the guidebooks and British Foreign Office who advise against making the long crossing to Freetown, the capital, by night: “None of the options for transferring between the international airport at Lungi and Freetown is risk-free.”

The hotel is deserted apart from the crew from my flight who have made straight for the bar, still in uniform. They are banned from making the crossing at all. “I have been flying to Sierra Leone for two years and have never left the hotel grounds,” one crew member tells me. It would cost the airline a fortune to send out a replacement should anything happen to one of them. “The helicopter transfer crashed and killed everyone on board,” she says.

So I walk out to explore the roads nearby, slightly nervous about what I might find in the darkness. There are no street lights, no traffic and only the barking of distant dogs and the call of insects disturbs the quiet. Then I see a beer stall lit by a paraffin lamp. Two women dressed in an impressive assortment of bright colors offer me a wobbly plastic stool to sit on and a lukewarm Star beer from a cooler full of melted ice. “You’re brighter by far on a Star,” says a faded advertising sign.

The heavy local Krio dialect, a mix of English, Portuguese and local languages, makes it hard to understand everything Fatimata and Esther say, but it is soon clear they are complaining about how lazy their menfolk are. Some problems are universal.

Music starts from a battered radio, the fast-picking guitar music of West Africa that is impossible not to dance to. The music calls up a few children of various ages, who politely exchange Krio greetings with me: “Adu, sa (how do, sir)?” “Aw di bodi (how are you)?” “Di bodi fayn (I am fine)!” They are soon dancing and playing with each other, and my evening has suddenly turned into a fun party.

I realize I am really going to like Sierra Leone.

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