Even though I am really excited about the year ahead. The goodbyes were so difficult. Saying goodbye to my family (especially as it is my dad's 70th birthday tomorrow) and all my friends was hard, even though I know I'll be able to keep in touch with email. I felt really sad saying goodbye to Hassan at the airport. I'm going to miss him and everyone else so much, thank goodness for internet! I had to remind myself that I have been given such an amazing opportunity and will see everyone again later on this year.
The flight to Sierra Leone is 7 hours; my journey was a lot longer, which seems fitting really as London and Sierra Leone are worlds apart. I left home in London at 6am and everything was blanketed in snow. This of course meant delays on the flight. We sat on the plane for two hours waiting for the wings to be de-iced, we were the lucky ones though as we got to take off and flights after ours were cancelled. There are so many contrasts leaving London and arriving in Sierra Leone, stepping off the plane into the warm, sticky, African night is the first!
Life in Sierra Leone has daily challenges for the vast majority of the population. The first challenge on arriving is whether to choose the ferry, hovercraft, helicopter or water taxi to get to the mainland as the airport is in the coastal town of Lungi across the water from Freetown. All of these options have a slightly dubious safety record. I thought I would give the water taxi (which is a new option since my last time in Sierra Leone) a try. We arrived in one piece, although I think everyones alarm bells started ringing when we were given life jackets before boarding! We thought we were going to need them when a horrid noise came from the boat, followed by it stopping, bobbing around for a few minutes, a bit of shouting then we were on our way again. I think at that point eveyone was wondering if we had picked the right mode of transport and was glad of the life jacket !
This morning walking to the tiny tin roofed shop, to buy bread for breakfast, exchanging greetings of 'How di Bodi' (How are you? in Krio) with the shopkeeper, with chickens scratching in the dust and women selling bananas piled high on their heads, all with a beautiful backdrop of blue sea and green, green mountains it felt good to be back in Sierra Leone.
Today I met the Health Unlimited staff here in Freetown. I was made to feel so welcome in the London office and the staff here are just as friendly. I'm going to enjoy working with them all over the coming year. Today was spent planning my work for the next couple of months.
The next two weeks are going to be really busy as nearly all the HU staff are going to be involved in conducting focus groups in a number of communities in Northern Bombali, to get more information on how women and girls are viewed within the community. We will be going to Kamakwie at the end of next week. I am really looking forward to being in the field and meeting the communities in and around Kamakwie. This work is also really important to be able to think about how best to work to improve health for women and children. The status of women and girls in communities affects the health of the whole family, so the coming weeks will be incredibly useful. We will be doing a lot of travelling as it will take us a day to get to Kamakwie and some of the villages we will be working in are quite a distance from our base in Kamakwie and the roads are very bad. Interestingly the beds at our base in Kamakwie are made of concrete, so we'll see how comfortable they are after a long day on the road. I hope the mattresses are really thick!