Airports are fundamental strange places. It is one of those things we collectively ignore as a society. They have only become stranger now I no longer take flights unless absolutely necessary(humanitarian work being only exception). It is not just the mass ignorance of how our individual impacts can build up and cause devastation. It is the way, during queues and security checks when group together everyone’s individual intelligence seems to dissolve and be replaced by collective inability to follow basic quiet clear instructions. These seems the most apt metaphor for some of the societal problems.
Alas, needs must, the overland trip between Brighton and Freetown, although admittedly epic, would have someone eaten into the six months I have to undertake an implementation of ultrasound education in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Departures are also strange. Lots of lasts, undertaking the last shift in a hospital always has a tinge of sadness, and of escape but mostly of anticlimax. The goodbyes to friends which I find awkward, a bit like birthdays, they have to be about you whether you want them to be or not. Then the rush of admin, trying to tie up all the loose ends in one life before starting another.
And now the strange transit; a strange limbo when all the emails have been sent, all the QR codes downloaded and it is too late to repack anything. But the new life has not yet begun. Sierra Leone is still just an idea. When you tell people you are going there, there is usually some vague idea of a war, occasionally something about Ebola, once or twice they get it confused with either Saudi Arabia or Sri Lanka for some reason. In all fairness my knowledge if not that much better. In west Africa, desperately poor, something in the distant history about free slaves, recent history also troubled, life expectancies in the 50’s, Jollof rice. Even with a lot more detail it doesn’t give you a feel of a place. It is still just a potential place for me. A map with strangely familiar name such as Aberdeen and Hastings, a weather app telling of consistently silly temperatures, and it feels full of potential. I can’t wait.
After a 20-hour journey, sleep deprived and not just a little bit nauseous after a late night stormy ferry crossing I arrived into one final chaotic room. My friendly boss (I’ve always resisted the idea of having one, but one must have someone to report to) was there to greet me. There is something about being met of transport that is inherently joyful. I got so used to scoping out the station for the next bus/taxi/walking directions that just having someone to hand over responsibility to is freeing. The ubiquitous white charity 4×4 is there, vehicles I have mixed feelings about.
I was so tired, attempts at small talk were made, I imagine disastrously. Then a hot sleep, this is the coolest time of year at 25 degrees. It is time to acclimatize, you can try and hide from it, or you can just accept it. You will be wearing less clothes. You will have a slight shininess to your face at all times. You will sweat. This is inevitable. We should not hide form the world behind the facile protection of air conditioning units.
The next day, the usual challenges of a new city; navigating the chaos roads full of weaving motorbikes, honking keke (tuk-tuks as they have become to be known in the UK), poda podas(minibuses) shouting out their destinations and barley slowing down to pick up passengers. There are rules to cities, I just have to learn this one’s. And the money too, dominations that are simple when you know how, bemusing if you are new to a place. I move with the calm knowledge that yes, I will get ripped off a bit, yes, the noise and chaos can appear like pepper spray, but I know this city will become mine, I will move through it seamlessly and, just like a busy emergency department, there will be some sort of order to the chaos.