This might not be the true for everybody, but for me always leaving Sierra Leone one feels a sense of relief and peace. Whether this has to do with the stressful work of a journalist or maybe it is an effect of the socio economic situation of the country I cannot say. However this was my feeling, standing in the Kenya airways line to check in.
The check-in line was divided into two one for business class and the other for economy class passengers. In the latter part of my journey I got to realise that the distinction as far as Sierra Leone was concerned – is meaningless. We the business class passengers had to wait in line until nearly all the economy class passengers whom we cleared the NRA/Customs desk together with had been checked in. Of course this was not infuriating me alone, but a European who was behind me whose impatience had got the better of him and he started raising his voice, then we were called to check-in.
Flying First Class
Business class passengers are usual treated preferentially because they pay far more than the other class of passengers. At Lungi we were entitled to sit in the first class lounge and we were given a ticket for a (single) drink. In Lungi there are two Lounges one for first class passengers and the other for Government officials and their guests i.e diplomats etc etc. The air conditioning in the first class lounge had broken down and the place was relatively hot while in the other room which I entered to chat with members of a government delegation who were heading off to Kuwait – it was functioning well. Does this mean the priority for the Airports Authority is providing the best for government functionaries? Well, that is anybody’s guess, the officials had to secure their jobs and they cannot do that by satisfying customers who have no say in their fate, but government officials who with the whim of a pen can get them sacked.
I watched the Kenya airways flight crew as they ate their meals and chatted happily among themselves. I could not help noticing that the Captain was a fairly young chap looking to be in his early or mid thirties. Of course this got me wondering why Sierra Leone could not also produce young pilots well we do not have a functioning national airline was the answer my mind told me.
Well after enduring the “comfortable” first class lounge we trooped out to the plane and again there were two stairs one for the front end of the plane and the other for the back end. We were all being shepherded to use the bask stairs when before I got there one of the Kenya airways staff came down to ask why business class passengers were not using the front stairs the hapless lady with the new company logo stencilled on the back of her bright orange jacket could not give an answer. Eventually we were asked to use the front stairs instead of having to pass through the long back way and work our way up to the front. Well there are certainly a lot of things we need to learn even though we pay a lot more for the same services which we enjoy in other airports.
Eventually we set in and the flight took off, and the lively chatter of some members of the government delegation made me sleep. The flight was of course smooth and I had to get down in Accra while the delegation which included my dear mentor Wilfred Sam King had to proceed to Nairobi enroute to Dubai and then Kuwait. I wished them well and left.
Accra- from chaos to order
Because we had been given the landing forms to fill in the plane we just moved up to the lines for immigration. I soon realised I had come from chaos to order. Not a single Ghanian came to offer us forms to fill or say anything to us. Everybody – no matter who you are – had to fit into the lines Ghanaian passport holders, Ecowas and Others. Ecowas passport holders who went to the Ghanaian passport line were told at the desk to join the appropriate line, and except people were travelling in a group or together, only one person was allowed to stand at the immigration desk. Of course this was the opposite of what happens in Sierra Leone.
Thank God for Zain’s one network, I soon started communicating to announce my arrival. The High Commission protocol officer was waiting outside, even though he had a pass, he was not allowed in until we had cleared customs. I did not need him as the Holiday Inn hotel had an airport shuttle and the driver already had my name thanks to the Australian High Commission.
To this day I do not know how I was chosen for this trip only that Tommy Massaquoi and Danna Van Brandt who has just left the American Embassy where she was the Public Affairs Officer had been asked to sort of endorse my nomination and say whether I was fit according to the requirements.
However I had worked with a Ghanaian Walter Kudzodzi during a training for Editors in conflict management conducted by the German group Inwent in Ghana some years ago. Also Walter was a colleague working for IRIN the UN news agency while I was also working for them at that time so I take it since Walter also now worked for the Australian High Commission based in Ghana I naturally had things in my favour. But also Walter had called me several years ago when the Australian High Commissioner was coming to present his letters of credence to meet him and assist him in any way possible to do what he wanted to do in Freetown(this was a colleague asking for assistance from as he said then – the only person he knew).
So I had met the High Commissioner, had a drink with him a pleasant man and also we covered his press conference announcing what they wanted to do in Sierra Leone in the area of aid. So I was not surprised to get a phone call from Accra from a lady (Kate) enquiring whether I would like to go to Australia as part of an International Media Visit I was not to say no – especially when the cost was being paid by someone else.
The Holiday Inn hotel is just about ten minutes drive from the airport and checking-in I refused to look at the cost of my room although it was negotiated to half of what was on the sign board. This was a tall hotel over ten stories high and I was on the fourth floor. At the desk I was given the pass word for wireless internet access. This was cool and it was fast. So after a hot bath I called home, the office and set down to check the internet. I felt hungry and so called the High Commission protocol Officer Teko Aryee who took me to drink pepper soup very much like it is cooked in Sierra Leone. He wanted to take me around but I protested and so went back for an early night, much in anticipation of a very long and tiring flight the next day. By Kelvin Lewis