There are many differences between the Sierra Leone and American cultures. This probably doesn’t surprise anybody.
What does surprise me is the one difference that has become the biggest challenge for me here in West Africa, and I bet it’s not what a person would expect. It’s certainly not the main issue I thought I’d be facing on my trip.
It’s not the food. That’s delicious. It’s not the sporadic electricity. I brought a lamp. It’s not even the driving, which can be reckless to say the least. I actually really like the motorbike rides.
No, the issue that I’m having the hardest time dealing with here is the assumption that seemingly everyone has that I have a lot of money.
Because I don’t.
I literally emptied my bank account to come here. When I get back to America, I’m going to have $0. I hope my father will be happy to see me on his couch for a couple of days until I can find a job, since that’s probably what’s going to happen.
Every morning the first thing I do when I get to work is figure out how much money I spent the previous day and try to rework a budget for the remainder of the trip based on that. Right now it’s very close. If I eat nothing but bread the last two days I’m here I should be okay.
In other words, I’m not going to be buying much September 18th through the 22nd.
It’s not like I’ve been blowing through money uncontrollably either. Paying for my room is expensive, but aside from that I usually can slide by on about Le8, 000 a day, which is about the equivalent of two U.S. Dollars.
Really the only things I’ve purchased that I didn’t absolutely need were a Sierra Leone football jersey and an Africana shirt. You know what, no. I needed those.
But I didn’t have a lot of money before I came, and the money that I do have is quickly being taken away from me for lodging and food.
Money is my biggest concern for this trip. My health is a close second, but if I ever get really sick (even sicker than last weekend which I pray doesn’t happen) I’m going to need money to be okay.
All this leads me to my problem: everybody wants money from me. I’m convinced it’s the reason half of the people I’ve talked to in Salone approached me. Who am I kidding? It’s probably at least 90 percent.
I learned early on that people with white skin were automatically assumed to be rich. It probably doesn’t help that I wear button up shirts every day either. That’s not my fault though! I’m trying to be professional for work. Believe me, I’d much rather be wearing a t-shirt.
The truth is I feel bad when I say no. Friends and coworkers have told me not to worry about it; that they understand. But I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m disappointing them. Whether it was because of the color of my skin or not, they still came to me for help, and I couldn’t give it to them.
I really don’t like the feeling like I’ve let somebody down. Sometimes, I feel like as a poor white person, I’ve let everybody in this country down.
Believe me, if I’ve told you “no” (something I’m not particularly good at) I guarantee I feel just as bad if not worse than you do.
I know that I can’t change a countrywide stereotype with one article; especially since it is unlikely the people asking me for money will read this.
Sometimes it’s just therapeutic to write about. I’m sure there’s at least one other white person somewhere in Freetown who feels bad when they turn someone requesting money down because they just don’t have it.
It’s been bumming me out since I got here, and I want to fix it. I wasn’t sure how, but I think I finally have a solid plan.
Sierra Leone, I know you like to bargain, so let’s try that. Right now, I have no money. It’s like I want to buy an Africana shirt, but don’t have sufficient funds. The merchant wants Le50, 000, but all I have is Le5, 000, and that’s obviously not enough. So what do you do?
You go home, get more cash and come back. Except in my case, there’s no more money at home. I’d have to really go home (to America) to get more money, and then come back. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Years from now, when I’m old(er) and rich, I will come back to Sierra Leone. I will buy that Africana shirt, and help as many people here as I can while I’m at it. Now, I’m not going to be throwing money around in the streets and causing a riot, but I will find a way to help many of those in this great country.
I’ve had a lot of help here in Salone, and I want to give back. I really do. I just can’t right now.
By David Krueger