Accra Ghana Temple

Accra Ghana Temple
Accra Ghana Temple

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sierra Leone

Gregg just completed a three day trip to Sierra Leone.  It's a two hour plane ride (that's the easy part, especially on Kenya Airways which is quite nice).  Gregg calls the entry into Sierra Leone at the Freetown airport the second most exciting border entry of his life.  The first being the Andes mountain pass between Bolivia and Peru... but that's another story for another day. 

Arriving at the airport requires a walk down the stairs to the tarmac and on to the one gate airport.  After clearing immigrations, Gregg found himself facing an old disheveled man in a white lab coat asking to see peoples' shot records.  Gregg, having forgotten his international shot record (yellow card), discreetly hung back until a lady who had forgotten her shot record was hauled off into an office.  Seizing the moment, he stealthily slipped into baggage reclaim and customs vowing to never again forget his yellow card.

After clearing customs, Gregg stood in a long line to buy a ticket for one of three types of water taxis.  At this point he discovered that the airport is on an island requiring a 30-60 minute boat ride (depending on how high the seas are) to reach Freetown and the mainland.  Gregg chose the larger ferry with air conditioning, a stewardess, and refreshments.  Granted, it was slow (60 minutes) and bumpy, but the creature comforts were appreciated.  Unfortunately, there's a 30 minute bus ride from the airport to the harbour.  Arriving at the harbor he found numerous vendors offering raw fish, raw shrimp, and other unattractive food items to quell the hunger of weary travelers.

Arrival in Freetown presented an aging city with very narrow streets and people everywhere.  Everyone had something to sell and apparently, the tall white guy wearing a white shirt and tie was the perfect customer.  Gregg was met by a local church employee and they began the slow, arduous car ride up the mountain to the "best hotel"  in town.  Freetown is built on a series of steep hills covered with many narrow roads, most of which desperately need repaving.  Dodging potholes is the pastime of the local drivers. It is the rainy season and it did rain every day, sometimes very hard.  But it was very green and pretty. 

Gregg took a three hour car ride to Bo, Sierra Leone to see the LDS churches there.  The road to Bo was surprisingly new, but the cars needed to share the road with the goats, the people, the bikes, the chickens, the tro tros (vans used like buses) and many children.  It was interesting to see the many little villages along the way. 

Sierra Leone is about 40% Muslim and Gregg saw many mosques and often heard the call to prayer as Ramadan was just beginning.  Because the Muslims fast from sun up to sun down during Ramadan, there was quite a flurry of activity at the markets before sunrise and after sunset.  He found all the people, Christian and Muslim alike to be helpful and friendly. 

On his return trip, the Mission President asked Gregg to escort 5 brand new Elders headed to the Accra Missionary Training Center.  They chose to take the small speedy ferry. Gregg got a bit uncomfortable when they were all required to don a life jacket before the trip started.  The seas were calm and it was a much faster ride (30 minutes).  None of the eager, wide-eyed missionaries had ever been on a boat, an airplane, or ever left Sierra Leone.  At the airport one missionary became distraught when his checked bag disappeared down the conveyer belt, as his mother had instructed him not to let the bag out of his sight.  He repeatedly asked Gregg if he would ever see that bag again.  Sure enough, it showed up in Accra.  None of the missionaries had ever gone through customs or ever filled out any of the necessary paperwork.  Fortunately, most of them spoke passable English and Gregg was able to patiently work them through the process.  All arrived safely in Accra and Gregg turned them over to escorts from the MTC.  Mission accomplished. 

Shopping and Food Preparation

My three favorite places to shop for food currently are:  
  • Shop Rite - which is a modern foreign owned supermarket where you can find many South African products as well as local FRESH MILK and yogurt, in the new and modern Accra Mall (it makes Gregg happy just to go there because it's somewhat like shopping at home - high roof, big open space, and a movie theater),
  • Koalas - a small old and quaint Lebanese grocery store with the very best bread and hummus in Accra, and
  • Ruth's vegetable stand - a wooden structure filled with laundry baskets full of produce.

Once home, I begin the necessary task of soaking all the produce in Clorox water. That takes me about an hour wearing my yellow rubber gloves. The more things you buy, the longer it takes. For example, if you buy eggs here, they still have "interesting things" on them - so they require soaking followed by scrubbing with a little brush. Gregg has developed a recent aversion to eggs. I offered to make an omelet the other day, and got a "no thanks." And I have given up my lifelong love of eating cookie dough (because of the raw eggs).  Also, eggs must be thoroughly cooked -- no sunny side up here.  But it's all worth the prize of staying well.