Sunday, 5 September 2010

Two different lives

I’m back in Sierra Leone having been in the UK during August. In some ways it feels as if I currently have two lives. Moving between the two countries I find it hard to really believe that it is possible to spend only 7 hours on a plane and experience such dramatic contrasts.

I still can’t really comprehend that it is possible for aspects of life in Kamakwie and the UK to be part of the same world. I have left behind electricity at the flick of a switch, water that comes out of the tap, food flown in from all over the world and iphones and other incredible technology at every turn. In Kamakwie, we live without electricity or running water. I see on a daily basis the visible and grinding poverty of many of the families close to my house; where, quite literally, because of the lack of an exercise book costing 10p, children are not going to school. Women needlessly die giving birth and children don't survive until school age.

How can it be possible that only 7 hours travel away many people have so much disposable income that shopping has become a leisure activity (I can’t deny I did quite a bit myself having been away for 7 months – it was stressful, who knew August was already Autumn/Winter season? I live in Africa I need cotton not wool!. That most people in the UK worry about losing weight, rather than how to fill their stomach more than once a day and children refuse to eat things they don’t like instead of ravenously eating anything put in front of them. How can it be possible to cross two countries (including a stretch underneath the sea) on a train so comfortable the journey feels like a holiday in itself in less time than it takes to drive 55 miles between Kamakwie and Makeni. How?

I don’t want to paint a bleak picture of Sierra Leone. It is an incredible country and there are many things in Sierra Leone which we could learn from. The strong sense of family and community means that despite the basic living conditions and almost daily sightings of rats in my house which I am terrified of (my reaction to which, is still a source of great amusement to my colleagues) I genuinely enjoy life my life in Kamakwie. I have experienced such genuine hospitality here in the remotest of areas and poorest of villages, at times I have felt quite overwhelmed by it. It just seems incomprehensible at times though that these two worlds exist side by side.

I am not yet back in Kamakwie, I am in Freetown which feels a bit like a bridge between these two worlds in some ways. Going for a Chinese meal last night, sitting in a café having lunch today, followed by a trip to the supermarket I could almost be in London. Walking back home past children filling water buckets from the stand pipe, a power cut last night and having a wash with a bucket of cold water reminds me I am not.

I have to admit to feeling sad as my holiday came to an end, I realised how much I have missed all my family and friends when I saw them at home. Arriving back in Sierra Leone on Sunday felt good though. It is hard to describe the sights, smells and slightly chaotic feel of Freetown but it feels like I have come home, which is funny really, as that is the same feeling I had arriving back in the UK 4 weeks ago.

If anyone is interested in donating to Health Poverty Action go to their webpage or my justgiving page