Learning from Sierra Leone


Sandi with Awoko staff in Africana clothing for Africana Friday.

When I told my friends and family at home that I was going to spend three months in Sierra Leone, most people asked me where Sierra Leone is. Some even asked if Sierra Leone is located in Europe or if it’s a French-speaking country. After explaining that Sierra Leone is located in West Africa, many people asked “why Sierra Leone.”

I found myself asking that very question during my fast-paced and rather confusing first days in Freetown. My eyes were mesmerized by the action on the streets and my ears strained to try to make sense of the chatter of intertwined Krio and English. I was curious, excited to talk to people, listen to stories and learn as much as I could from Sierra Leone and the enthusiastic staff at Awoko newspaper.

Before coming to Sierra Leone, I tried to prepare myself; I read a lot of news articles on the Internet, I sifted through research papers and policy reports, and I talked to as many people as I could find who had experiences in Sierra Leone. I wanted to be able to come to Sierra Leone and present a positive image of myself as a student, a journalist and an American. I wanted to appear confident, well learned, and prepared. But nothing could really prepare me for the realities of life in Sierra Leone.

Yet how can you brace yourself for the sun­­— the blazing sun that reddens your skin and the humidity that lulls you into sluggish spell? Or the streets—bumpy alleys and roads that are buzzing with motorcycles, taxis and people walking about? And the overwhelming, warm Sierra Leonean hospitality—the lengths to which people will go to carry your bags, bring you water and ensure you are comfortable?

I arrived in Sierra Leone completely unprepared for the misadventures ahead. I would have never imagined having a malaria scare, being stranded in traffic in a broken car, or even falling in a small ditch in front of the Awoko Newspaper office. I could not even fathom the fun adventures to come either; speeding around the city on okada motorcycles, spending weekends lazing about at scenic beaches, sitting under covered walkways with strangers during rainstorms, swimming at midnight on Aberdeen beach and exploring the calm of the luscious green provinces.

Life in Sierra Leone has been sweet. I am overwhelmed by the hospitality, generosity and kindness characteristic of Sierra Leone. I have been invited into people’s residences, fed delicious, home-cooked meals and been treated like a queen in a country that is not even my own. I have come to embrace walking around in congested marketplaces in search of soap or intricately patterned Africana fabric. Although I once found it overpowering in flavor, I have come to crave cassava leaves and rice for lunch. I even surprised myself by embracing the nickname “China,” which many strangers call out to me while I am in public.

My internship at Awoko Newspaper has been dynamic and fun. I have met important people from the U.S. Ambassador Michael Owen to the First Lady of Sierra Leone. I have been exposed to the issues in Sierra Leone through interesting events like the Ministry of Health and Sanitation meeting on the cholera outbreak mitigation efforts, the Anti-Drug Day rally at the National Stadium and the condition of Bo Prison holding cells. I have learned so much from the Awoko reporters and editors, who have empowered me to be a journalist in Sierra Leone. During my three-month internship, I have become more confident in my writing and have really grown partial to the idea of working in a developing country.

My life here in Sierra Leone has been somewhat of a dream. The more I dwell on the thought of leaving this idyllic life in Sierra Leone, the sadder I become. I am excited to leap into the loving arms of my parents, friends and American junk food, but I have become very attached to the wonderful people I have met here in Sierra Leone, who have made this journey more outrageous, more exciting, more fulfilling and more enjoyable. Through the care and company of these people, I have come to feel as though Sierra Leone is also one of my homes.

I would like to thank Awoko Newspaper for taking me into the not only as an intern, but also a member of the family. I am grateful for all the time, resources and opportunities the Awoko staff have bestowed upon me. I have had the best internship here in Sierra Leone, and it is all thanks to them.

Finally, I would like to thank the beautiful country of Sierra Leone. I have learned so much from the history, the culture, the people and life here. I have grown so much as a global citizen, an academic, a journalist and a person. I will be eternally grateful for this summer in Sierra Leone.

By Sandi Halimuddin

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