It is a privilege to travel beyond your usual routine locations, it is a privilege to go beyond your own country’s borders, and it is even more of a privilege to work alongside people from other nations and explore not just the landscape but the rhythms of places. But to actually embed within a community, to live alongside them, share their whole days and nights, work play and socialise with them, is a supreme honour.
It has happened rarely in my travels – apart from the two years I lived in the Virgin Islands. Conditions there were similar to the UK; yes we had our frustrations with electricity and water supply, bat droppings coming through the roof and cockroaches, but overall it was a comfortable and familiar homelife.
One of the few other times where I spent more than one night in a community, the experience was very different. I knew the village I was to stay in, Fintonia in Sierra Leone. My previous visit had been a few hours visiting the STEWARD office and having a meeting at the acting Paramount Chief’s house. Now I was to travel there, stay at a small “guest house” in the village among the community for a week and work with them. I knew from the prior visit that the only known location for electricity was a generator in our project’s office. There was no running water and no sewerage system. It was going to be basic.
I was travelling with my colleague, Kofi, from Ghana, and was lucky enough to have a good friend of mine, Gray, from USGS, with me. I’d arrived in country a few days before and had caught up with various friends and new colleagues at the project office. It was so nice to have arrived in Freetown in the dry season. My previous two visits, although interesting, had been frustrated by the almost constant torrential rain. Even the travel to work had been a nightmare, trooping along wet potholed roads, avoiding miserable commuters on foot, bike, motorbike or donkey. Everything was damp, inside and out. At the weekends you were left in your apartment looking out at sheets of water hurtling down out of the sky.
Now in February, the evenings were pleasant and warm; the daytimes there was blue sky. The ground was dry and baked hard in the sun; only the larger rivers had any decent amounts of flow in them and the water was clear and black as opposed to brown and muddy. I was looking forward to this excursion.