I embarked on a 27-hour journey from Seattle, Washington to Freetown Sierra Leone. My journey took me to Newark, New Jersey; from there I flew to Brussels, Belgium; from Brussels, I stopped in Dakar, Senegal, and there, I finally made it to my final destination.
I experienced bad turbulence before landing in Newark. With all the plane accidents that have been dominating the news lately, I feared that I would die before I was even halfway to Freetown. But we made it through just fine and I lived to make it to Brussels, which would officially mark my first time leaving the United States.
The 8-hour flight was so comforting that I was sorry we had already landed and I needed to connect to my next flight. We were treated with excellent service and had a number of options for entertainment from in-seat virtual games, full albums available to listen to and movies. We were even served a whole breakfast, lunch and dinner, which was quite delicious for airplane food.
My flight to Dakar was the least comfortable, but I think it had to do more with my getting tired out more so than the service of the flight. I managed to sleep most of the way before I finally landed in Freetown.
It’s been less than two days and I’m still recovering jetlag and lack of decent sleep, but that hasn’t stopped me from eagerly taking in the sights and sounds around me that are so vastly different from the United States. Things that are commonplace to the people of Sierra Leone are fascinating to me, such as women balancing baskets of fruits on their head with perfect balance; pedestrians crowding the street as cars fight their way through in a kind of organized chaos; and the sound of extreme partying at two in the morning. In Seattle, many clubs and bars close at that time; I am learning that here, 2 a.m. is when the party gets started.
The heat will take some getting used to, but it’s not something I can’t handle. I miss the American plumbing system, but it is something I will learn to do without for the next two months I am here. A colleague of mine referred to the hustle and bustle of Freetown as “organized disorganization” which is very true; with all the chaotic traffic weaving around a mass of pedestrians, it is a surprise there are people who manage not to get hurt, which is a sign that Freetown must be doing something right.
I have two months to experience Sierra Leone and I plan to make the most of it while I’m here. I don’t doubt that I will experience bad days, but I also don’t doubt that I could experience the most wonderful days of my life.
Many friend and family members fear for my safety and I have my own fears too about what may happen to me in a strange country. But what I haven’t shared with them is that my biggest fear was not about getting raped, kidnapped or mugged; my biggest fear is that I will go through these two months and not get a life-changing experience out of it. I fear I will return to Seattle the same person I was when I left, a spoiled and wasteful Westerner who takes everything she has for granted.
But I am determined to make the best of it and I am grateful to have people here in Freetown who will see to it that I do.
*Judy Vue is a journalism major at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is an intern with Awoko Newspaper. The intern last year was Yu Nakayama who had a column called ‘through the eyes of Yu.’