The Long Walk to Freetown

General comment, street photography

Well it wasn’t exactly a walk, but after 6 months of finding ways to pass the time since the last stint I finally arrived back in Africa, this time Sierra Leone. I will be here for the next 9 months with the likelihood of a couple months intermission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I will be doing a variety of different projects, kicking off being back on the trusty Africa Mercy photographing for Mercy Ships, the NGO I photographed for last year.

The ship didn’t arrive until today so for last few days I’ve been staying at a hostel next to the stadium courtesy of Medical Assistance Sierra Leone (MASL) who I will be working for at some point after my time with Mercy Ships (by complete coincidence the advance gateway team for Mercy Ships was staying at the same hostel – nice to see a few familiar faces early on). Brima, who works for MASL has been ferrying me around in his little Peugeot 309.

Above: View from the corridor outside my room at the Stadium Hostel.

I spent the best part of my first half day in the Peugeot actually – having arrived at 3am Brima kindly met me at the airport, and we hopped in his car and drove to the ferry terminus. Which doesn’t open until 8am. So we (well, Brima) drifted off to the sound of the BBC world service. I think the first thing I heard on it was a Nigerian saying that went: “If beards were meant to make people be wise, the he-goat would be a genius”. At which point Brima broke out of his stupor with a cackling laugh and pointed at my face noting the rather curly ginger beard that I’ve sporting of recent. It looks like I can’t break away from the ridicule…

I eventually went to sleep to the sound of a Gaddafi translator that didn’t sound unlike Ming the Merciless.

Above: Lungi Ferry Terminal that took Brima, myself and his Peugeot 306 across to Freetown. Below: Images from the ferry while crossing.

The first couple of days were essentially spent waiting in the traffic which I feel is going to come to define the Freetown streets for me. Having said all that it made for a great opportunity to photograph the colours, cultures and lives of Freetown’s residents, so here are a few examples…

Being an old British colony, many of the places names are familiar. Aberdeen in Freetown is very different to Scotland’s proud city. Fewer cattle. Meanwhile I reckon Del Boy would have preferred that ‘Peckham Base’ (above) would have been located nearer ‘Bargain Street’.

Above: In a recent visit to the law courts in Freetown I sat down and chatted with the photographer that does people’s polaroids outside. He wanted to swap cameras. I considered it for a moment… not sure anyone’s documented life in Sierra Leone before using just passport polaroids.

Brima (below) also runs a shop called Holland Farming which sells a number of products that are (in some cases tenuously) related to agriculture. I noted a copy of ‘The Archer’s: The First Thirty Years” in a stack of books.

Above: We stopped briefly after the first day to see some fishing on the beach and the second day (below) also gave us the opportunity to photograph some of the local fishermen. There was a bit of arguing as to whether I should be handing over money (I didn’t and never do) but when they dragged in their haul it was especially large and they were too wrapped up in their catch to take notice of me.

Perhaps it’s the returning feeling of being in an unfamiliar environment that I find so familiar, but I feel happy here. Naturally life is not as comfortable, but I don’t think that defines happiness. It’s the adventure and education that comes with immersing yourself is such a different country that brings me real satisfaction.

The Africa Mercy arrived this morning (photos on the blog tomorrowish?), and though it’s nice to be back on the ship I called home for three months last year, it’s the view of the astoundingly varied, complex, occasionally ravaged and most often astoundingly beautiful continent outside that really makes my soul brim with excitement. I’m happy it’s on my doorstep.

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4 thoughts on “The Long Walk to Freetown

  1. not gonna lie…this make me wish i was there even more than i already do.
    glad to hear you arrived safe and sound, Tom!

  2. Good stuff Tom..like the beard/goat reference!
    Son announced he’s going off to Benin to stay with friend he met at uni who is from there….bon chance

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