Sierra Leone, Day 1
From a 3.30am start on Wednesday morning from a sofa in Richmond to a 10pm arrival (11pm UK time) in the heart of the Northern Province of Sierra Leone where there is much horn beeping, shouting, loud music, night time crickets, joyful noises, power cuts, goats and chickens and thunder and lighting in an air thick and heavy with moisture and heat. It takes a few hours to adjust to the sights and smells and sheer scale of poverty of this place again. Inhaling the air feels a little like you are eating it.
At Lungi airport in Freetown we were immediately met by a thermometer and rubber gloves before collecting our bags - the first of many health checks that are happening across the country. Our mini bus took two people to get it started and with a triumphant cloud of black smoke and huge roar we were ready for our trip to Makeni, home of Street Child and the marathon. The bus says in bold writing on the front "God is great". What it seems is clear is that the bus isn't. As we negotiated the speed bumps on the newly laid road to the North bits of the ceiling fell off (light fittings and other unnecessary trimmings) and the doors flew open and there seemed to be little sign of any suspension, at least on the back wheels. The lights in the cabin came on unannounced and stayed on so as we travelled through the pitch dark of night we were lit up like a Christmas tree so everyone could see us. Excited children running and shouting the Sierra Leonian equivalent of "white man". We were stopped five times in the 3 hour journey at police/military check points where we would be ordered out of the van (sometimes to a lot of premier league football chat from excited local police) wash our hands and have our temperature taken. Mine varied from 35.5 to 36.5 and I wondered what would happen if It read much higher. It is a little like Russian roulette with a thermometer as they point it at your temple. None of us knew what stage 2 is if we recorded a higher temperature (One of our team hitting 37.5 and popping paracetamol to try and keep it down for the next check point). It is comforting to see these health check points erected in shacks with UK aid tarpaulins stretched over the top and Sierra Leone is counting down for the day it will be declared Ebola free.
The contrast between the ruin of the bus and the declaration of God's goodness sums a lot up in my first impression. "God is not helpless amongst the ruins" said Rick Warren's wife after the tragic death of their son. There is an air of hopefulness amongst the devastation here that although all has been stripped away, and death and disease and poverty is not and the country is once again on its knees, somehow the hope that is driving people through is God.