Last week I traveled to Pujehun: The “interior of Sierra Leone,” as my editor and Awoko colleagues called it. Fellow reporter Solomon Rogers and I were assigned to go cover stories relating to the developmental district and how economical issues and the current ‘global crisis’ is affecting businesses and families there.
Prior to this trip, the farthest that I had gone from Freetown was to Waterloo, so I was very excited and, admittedly, anxious about this five-day visit. When my editor, Mr. Kelvin Lewis, first told me about the assignment, he smiled and said, “You’re going to see the real Africa.” This week’s columns of Through the Eyes of ‘U’ will be accounts of my experiences, starting with our first day traveling.
The day actually got off to an interestingly skeptical start, as I was nearly pick-pocketed at the bus station in Freetown. My colleagues all warned me about the petty crime while I walked through the city center, but I never really imagined that it would actually happen (how naïve of me). I was already grumpy from getting up early in the morning (at 5:30 a.m.) so this was not exactly how I wanted to start the trip.
Regardless, nothing was stolen and we were lucky enough to catch a bus that was going directly to Pujehun, so I was more than satisfied.
I actually slept for most of the bus ride, but during the times I was awake, I was continually impressed with how the natural sceneries of Africa cease to amaze me.
It was fortunately a beautiful, sunny day throughout the ride, and I got to enjoy seeing open fields and still-inspiring views of mountains and trees. It seemed as though the closer and closer we got to Pujehun, the more spectacular the sceneries became (I know I must sound like a broken record – already having discussed the breathtaking views at the beach and from the peaks of the U.S. embassy – but the nature of Sierra Leone is something that has truly settled in a deep niche in my heart).
The bus ride, though crowded, was far more comfortable than my first time riding a poda-poda. And while we must have stopped six or seven times during the entire trip to pick up more customers, I didn’t realize how jam-packed the vehicle was until our pit-stop at the Moyamba junction. As I got up to stretch my legs, I turned around and was amazed at how many people were actually sitting behind me. I couldn’t help but stay in my seat and watch as the throng of passengers piled out of the bus.
I was reminded of a commercial I once saw in America, advertising a small car for its spacious interior. In the commercial, a small car pulls up in a parking lot and a large group of people come out of the car, one after the next. The ad itself was an exaggeration and some form of “TV magic” had to have been used. No such magic was used in the ride to Pujehun, however. It must have taken us a good 10-15 minutes just to unload the bus. I didn’t actually count the number of passengers like I did in the poda-poda, but that was quite impressive.
Anyway, after our brief break we got back on the road and I back to sleep. I woke up, however, to a number of passengers, including my colleague Solomon, arguing about what I soon picked up as politics. I couldn’t really make out the Krio they were using, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to hear the words APC, SLPP, and PMDC. What started off as a conversation between two or three people turned into a shouting match between everyone on the bus.
And as I sat and observed the energetic debate continue to surge, I couldn’t help but giggle and repeat the words which another Awoko colleague, Ophaniel Gooding, has said to me a countless number of times: “Things work differently out here (in Salone).”
The political debate eventually died down as we finally arrived in Pujehun at around 6 p.m. – rather late, largely due to the number of times we stopped to pick up more passengers. And while we were graced with wonderful weather on the bus ride there, a few minutes upon arriving we were greeted with a heavy downpour of rain. It was a good thing I was wearing sandals instead of shoes when Solomon and I went to a restaurant later on in the midst of the rain because I stepped in two or three deep puddles of water – it was difficult to see anything that was in front of me due to the poorly (if at all) lit roads.
I got a kick out of it though, because it was as if the travel gods were looking down upon us saying: Welcome to Pujehun.
By Yu Nakayama