The Sierra Leone Adventure Begins

Packing Up

After a manic few days and late nights packing up our flat in London we managed to get ourselves and a van ram-packed back to Rhos on Friday 17th Jan. It’s strange packing your life in to a van – we thought we were quite light on “stuff” but it turns out we still have a lot. Elsie’s fault. Fair play to Dad for agreeing to let us fill my old bedroom with it all.

We spent a couple more busy days at home in Rhos packing our Salone bags – taking way longer than expected, and set off for a night at Manchester Airport on Sunday before an early 06:10 flight on Monday morning.

120kg of luggage and a 9.5kg Munchkin

Arriving in Salone

After a fairly uneventful journey with Elsie being a good little Munchkin on the aeroplanes we arrived at Lungi airport around 17:30 on Monday. I remember my first visit to Salone – as you step off the plane you’re blasted by a wave of humid heat, like stepping into a cross between a sauna and steam room. The air smells of earth and you can walk across towards the terminal building in whatever direction or path you like. It was no different this time, but things inside are more organised now, with proper queues for immigration, thermal camera systems which are still in situ after the Ebola crisis and now apparently being used to screen for Coronavirus. It’s noisy and hot and there always seems to be loads of random people hanging around, airport security seems lackadaisical here. But everyone knows everyone in Salone – I think any bad actors would be quickly outed.

Exciting times, sweating the minute you get off the plane

Praying for our bags we waited nervously in the hustle and bustle of the arrivals section. Kirsty stood next to an aircon unit blasting Elsie with cold air to keep away any mozzies, one of our biggest worries. On our last trip away our luggage got lost – this time they contained complete essentials, so we were very relieved to see them come through on the conveyor in the very last batch of bags. 

It’s a 3.5 hour drive to Bo (where we will live) and driving at night isn’t recommended so we stopped for a night at a new guesthouse called Tariq’s, run by an expat Sierra Leonean lady called Hawa and her husband who’ve lived most of their life in the US. It’s as good as it’s gets accommodation-wise in Lungi. The actual capital Freetown is separated from the airport by a river so it doesn’t make any sense to go into Freetown if you’re travelling onwards, and the accommodation options in Freetown definitely don’t make the journey worthwhile. 

Sweating, exhausted, super paranoid about mosquitos, and deep in the realisation that we were actually here now, after so long planning & thinking about it, we got Elsie into the room, unpacked her playmat and toys and sat on the floor for 10 minutes playing with her, pretending to be all happy, but wondering if we were mad. The secure feelings of safety, certainty and assuredness, of knowing what is happening at all times and being ok with everything – what i would say are your default positions back home – escaped us both for a decent chunk of time, a few minutes at least. It’s quite scary, when you spend more than a fleeting moment wondering if you’re fundamentally doing the right or wrong thing. Chatting later we found we were both feeling exactly the same, and decided it was normal. Worry and self-doubt, in the right amount, can keep us safe we agreed. Not worrying about it all would have been a bit negligent. 

Kirsty had gone to a lot of effort to check the hotel would be bug proof before we booked, and we were assured it would be fine. But there was a one centimetre gap under the door and our room had high thatched roofs. Thatched roofs = bugs, we had borne this out in Mexico. We put a folded damp towel under the door to block crawling intruders. Aircon & mozzie nets are our main defence against mosquito bites, which at night carry the extra risk of malaria. We’re all on anti-malarials but still don’t want Elsie to be bitten if we can help it. But the aircon took 2 hours to cool the room down, and kept going off as the generator was struggling, meanwhile the ceiling was too high to hang our mozzie net. We popped up Elsie’s travel tent which had served us well in Mexico and put her to sleep, but she woke 20 mins later crying, and we were in a pickle. In that 20 minutes we’d found two too many cockroaches, and started discussing sleeping in shifts to watch over Elsie. But KJ, ever the practical problem solver, had the idea to drape our mosquito net over the headboard and prop it up at the bottom with our suitcase handles, and we’d co-sleep with Elsie – far from ideal, but our best option. Scrambling about in the dark with my iPhone for light I noticed a light fitting to attach the mozzie net to and we ended up getting a semi-decent night sleep, despite the guy in the room next door having his TV blasting out all night. He had the cheek the next morning to say he’d heard Elsie crying, seemingly oblivious to the fact he fell asleep with his TV on full whack. They love playing the TV way too loud over here.

Camp Elsie

When we’d had bad nights in Mexico we always knew a few hours later life would seem grand again, as we sipped coffee and had breakfast in the morning light. This was no different. We stepped out in the morning to a lush setting and chirping birds. Hawa went out of her way to help us, making us a cafetière and knocking up good African omelettes. Onwards to Bo we went, our driver was an hour and a half late obviously. We’re on BMT (Black Man Time) now. 

All was good until about an hour out from Bo, when Elsie did her daily business and then cried the rest of the way. There is nowhere safe or OK to stop en-route so we couldn’t change her nappy. That kick started an afternoon of semi-major stress. We arrived at our hotel (Doha’s) in Bo, where we’ve stayed before. We’d been looking forward to getting in to the relative comfort of the room there, as it was a devil we knew. And we knew they had reliable aircon, mozzie nets and decent wifi. But a conference had overrun so our booking was not going to be honoured. Incredible, but typical. So we had no room. We’d booked Doha’s hotel as we considered it the only viable place to stay in Bo, while we waited for our longer term accommodation to be ready. The duty manager kind of apologised but despite our protests he said that simply there was no room to check in to, and one of his staffers proceeded to take us to the next best alternative, a 10 minute drive out of town. It was so awful I don’t know how to describe it. We would have been the only guests in a really weird and very large building that looks like it belonged in the soviet era. Very unimpressed we drove back to Doha’s to complain again. He took the complaining with dulled and resigned eyes then told us our only other option was Bo Inn. We’d seen signs for Bo Inn on our way into the city earlier that day. Fed up, with Elsie upset and in a dirty nappy still, we asked our driver to take us to where we thought Bo Inn was. Except it wasn’t there at all, the sign posts were directing to the hotel they were just advertising boards. After another 30 frustrating minutes trying to find it, it was actually about 200m away from Doha’s hotel. Why they didn’t send us there in the first place is beyond me, as Bo Inn was actually pretty good. 

We changed Elsie, recuperated with cold beers and ordered food. An early night, as the next day was going to be busy. As I was climbing in to bed I was pleasantly surprised by the mattress being decent quality. Until I rolled over to the left and found out that, while the bedframe was kingsize, the mattress was a double, and the gap had been filled in with a piece of foam 😂. Standard Salone.

After a good sleep we were excited for omelette and coffee. But only one omelette came. After 5 minutes or so we asked where the other one was, to be told that you only get one free breakfast per room 😂. So we asked for another omelette, and agreed to pay for it. We’d sort that out later. Musa came by and it was a relief to see his friendly face. The fixer of all fixers. Musa knows everyone, and is making it his mission to keep Elsie safe. Kirsty has known Musa since 2006 and i’ve worked with him since 2014. We are lucky to have such a trusted friend here to help us – it was a huge factor in our decision to come here. 

Off we went with Musa and our driver to get local sim cards. You get sim cards in the streets here, i’ll get a photo one day. Getting out of your nice air conditioned Toyota Land Cruiser to go and buy something off the street is always an ordeal. The first 2 trips to Salone I found it really overwhelming but i’m a bit more used to it now. Pumi’s (white people) stand out a mile, and everyone wants a bit of you. The heat hits you and the noise is relentless. No one uses horns like i’ve seen in Salone. 99.9% of horn blowing is ignored by everyone, it’s totally pointless. But everyone does it, all the time. Our chosen vendor, at the Orange “shop”, who’s only fixture or fitting was an Orange logo’d umbrella and a small table, proceeded to take my sim card out of my phone, and dropped it straight down in a drain. He looked at me sheepishly, I shrugged my shoulders and laughed. Typical. He wanted my passport next, which didn’t leave my hands while he recorded my name and number. Kirsty’s phone next, and this time I took the sim card out for him.

The next task for the day was to go and visit where we thought we’d be living for the next 6-12 months. We’d spent a couple of months liaising with Patrick, a local Lebanese guy, to rent the 3rd floor in an apartment in a newly built block, in an existing compound. We’d luckily found a Westerner’s expat Whatsapp group with some people who lived in the same compound. They included Dutch and German families, a Dutch Doctor and some Christian Missionaries, all trustworthy people, so we were quite confident about our accommodation being kosher. But within seconds of arriving we knew it wasn’t right for us. There was no balcony / veranda as we’d been led to believe, and outdoor space of some kind was non-negotiable for us. Sitting out in the mornings for a few hours drinking coffee & watching the often hilarious and baffling world go by, is one way to whittle away time in Salone. And without a balcony Elsie would be confined indoors for much of the heat of the day, which wasn’t an option. The apartment was also weeks away from being completed, and would need furnishing at a cost we deemed too high. 

Disappointed but still hopeful we’d find somewhere, we spent the next few hours trawling around Bo with various “estate agents” viewing one dreadful place after another. You have to pay about a fiver to visit each place, crafty. Our hope was dwindling fast and by the afternoon we were starting to think that living in Bo perhaps wouldn’t be possible. Freetown or Kenema were other options, but not ones we’d wanted to consider, as all the AdAmi work were are here to do is in Bo. We were knackered and both our spirits were low. 

We were sat on the bedroom floor playing with Elsie and decided to crack open our coffee grinder, grind some beans and have a nice coffee. Just as I hit the power button on the grinder the electricity cut out 🤦‍♂️

Then Kirsty had an idea, one which i’d had the day before but discounted. We decided to speak to the hotel manager about staying longer term at the Bo Inn. The place had a vibe that we liked. So after a day or 2 of negotiations we have ended up with Room 1 as our home for the next 5 months or so. Some benefits:

  • I’ve always wanted to do an Alan Partridge and live in a hotel
  • It is safe and secure, with 24 hour security and lots of staff on site
  • All the staff LOVE Elsie and the amount of interactions she’s getting with them is awesome. We realise we’d have been quite isolated in our own apartment
  • We can use the hotel kitchen to cook our own food
  • We don’t have any large upfront expenses like buying aircon units, beds, mattresses, furniture, generators etc etc
  • There is aircon all night, and most days
  • We have a balcony to chill on and its safe for Elsie to crawl and potter around
  • The rooms are bug free :-))) i’m yet to find a cockroach or any sort of spider. Massive result for me. 
  • We have a fridge!
  • Breakfast is included, and cooked for us each morning. And their African omelettes are decent. 
  • The cleaner will clean our room whenever we ask 
  • There’s a great bar/restaurant area with lots of locals coming and going all day, loads going on 

Partridge was onto something – living in a hotel is the ultimate convenience and is perfect for us for now. We’ve agreed to stay here until the end of June (we have 2 weeks back in the UK in March) and then we’ll re-evaluate. 

I must admit that not long ago I didn’t see us all living in one room in a hotel in Bo Town, Sierra Leone, but so far so good. Elsie seems happy and full time Daddy Day Care is in full swing. We have an Ikea order on a ship arriving in to Freetown today, once we’ve got all of our stuff set up i’ll post some photos of our set up.

Daddy Day Care 🙂

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