How Sierra Leone taught me to love my life
Foreign Intrigue Intern
I thought the most fun you could have in your life was calling your mom one February afternoon and telling her you’re moving to Africa for the summer.
Then I got there.
When I told my mom that I had been selected to report and work for Awoko newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone, I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. My mother was so anxious she could hardly contain her… we’ll call it excitement.
“Why?” she asked.
Being a smart-aleck 21-year-old, I answered the best I could.
Now, having spent 84 days in Sierra Leone, and another three-months-plus reflecting on my trip (sorry this is so late by the way), I have the perfect answer.
Because it’s the best place in the world.
I’m worried that you won’t believe me. You’re thinking, “What about Italy? Or Paris? Or Australia? It’s snowing outside right now and I want to go to Australia!”
I’m sure those places are very lovely (I can even personally vouch for Italy), but they’re no Sierra Leone.
When I saw the possible destinations for the Foreign Intrigue Scholarship there was no doubt in my mind where my preferred destination was.
I wanted to go to Africa.
How often do you get to live for three months in West Africa? For most of the people in my life, it’s never. I wanted to see a culture that was incredibly different from what I had grown up in.
Well, mission accomplished.
Before I left I didn’t know a lot about Sierra Leone. All I knew was that I had to get approximately 3,812 vaccinations before I departed and “Blood Diamond” is kind of a scary movie.
It turns out I had nothing to worry about. Everyone in Sierra Leone had my back.
I met the most incredible people during my time there. That’s what I enjoyed the most and what I lay awake at night missing. The people I worked with at Awoko were so much more than just my coworkers. They were all close friends. They took incredible care of me. Because I always had about 30 people watching over me I think I was probably safer in Sierra Leone than I am in Seattle.
Another group of incredible people was waiting for me when I left work and returned home to the YMCA, my place of residence for my first couple months abroad. I made some of my best friends in life at the YMCA. And, I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t stumble to bed after a couple Star Beers (the pride of Sierra Leone) humming, “it’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A” more than a few times during my trip.
Yeah, I got a lot of writing experience, and yeah, I’m sure I’m a better journalist than I was before I left, but I didn’t go to Salone for experience for my resume. I went for experience for my life.
And I’m proud to report my trip was a monumental success.
There were so many incredible moments that I could write an entire essay about it’s ridiculous. Running into Mr. Ibrahim Njai, a 1968 graduate of the University of Washington, in Northern Sierra Leone was pretty cool. So was seeing the beautiful Charlotte Waterfall. I’ve been sitting here for 15 minutes looking at pictures and trying to come up with the right words (or really, any words) to describe the view of Freetown from the balcony of the YMCA and I have nothing.
And I’m a journalist.
When I sit here and look back on my time in Sierra Leone though, one thing stands out a little bit.
During my time in Freetown I went to a couple bars and clubs (this isn’t it; stay with me). I was always very responsible of course and NO ONE will tell you any different (but, just to be safe, don’t e-mail anyone on my Facebook named Anaïs). While I was in these bars I heard my new favorite song, which, more than half a year later, is still my favorite jam.
It’s called “I Love My Life” by a guy named Demarco and, quite frankly, it’s the greatest composition ever written. Google it. Right now. This essay will still be here when you get back. I promise.
You can disagree, and I’ll happily listen to you tell me your favorite song. However, afterward, I’m going to tell you you’re wrong.
I think the reason I love this song so much — aside from the catchiest chorus in the history of choruses — is that I could relate. I’ve never been happier than when I was at Atlantic Crossing, a bar literally on the Atlantic Ocean, screaming “I love my life” at the top of my lungs with the best people in the world.
My time in Sierra Leone is with me every day. I’m not even close to the same person who left on June 28, 2011. I sincerely think every journalism major at the University of Washington should be required to do this. If nothing else, they should want to.
So, I want to thank UW for giving me this incredible opportunity. It was the definition of life changing. It taught me that if I set my mind to it, I could do anything. And I can prove it!
Not only did I finally get my mom to (reluctantly) sign off on me going to Africa, I was even able to score a ride to the airport from her!
If you have any questions about Sierra Leone, the Foreign Intrigue Program, or want to tell David what you think your favorite song is, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.