Sierra Leone: People-to-People
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

  Dispatch 1 - Lungi  

Arrive at Lungi International Airport.  Lungi is across the mouth of the Sierra Leone River from Freetown -- twenty kilometers as the crow flies.
Points of interest: economic activity and division of labor by gender and age.
Cycling conditions: paved, flat.


Despite warnings on the Internet and in guide books, passing through Sierra Leone immigration was smooth and customs was almost invisible.  The customs official started to get interested in the bicycle then left the tropic almost as quickly.  There was none of the anticipated gauntlet of shakedowns for money and things.

Sierra Leone moneyAdding to the convenience of the arrival, there is a foreign exchange window at the exit of the customs area.  The Sierra Leonean currency is the Leone.  The largest common note is 5000 Leone, which at the time was worth US$1.25 or about one euro.  They are packaged in bundles of 500 notes, for a value of Leone 2.5 million (as in millionaire).  Besides making the possessor a millionaire, the brick is worth US$625.

Freetown from across the mouth of Sierra Leone River in Mahera, Lungi

The main international airport in Sierra Leone is in Lungi, across the mouth of the Sierra Leone River from Freetown (left).  There is regular service from the north side of the river to Freetown by helicopter, water taxi or ferry boat. 

Most the air travelers passing through Lungi probably know it only as an airport and don't give much thought or have a clue to the extent that the surrounding community exists.  As it is I have no pictures of the airport but had an interesting time visiting and taking photos in the near by communities where one hardly have a sense that the airport exists.

Eliza's Restaurant, Lungi

Though few non-locals seem to patronize it, there is a small commercial area with a range of businesses covering; food stuffs, dry goods, household utensils, clothes, cell phones and adult beverages.  There are also several guest houses, bars and Eliza's restaurant (left).  Eliza's serves very good local dishes.  The guest houses seem to cater to overnight guest who arrive the night before their flights to be in position for early morning departures from the airport.

Lungi, house / residencial buildingLungi has probably seen better times (and worse times).  Dotting the area are a number of large, sturdy, comfortable looking houses (left).  Scattered between the houses are power pole with power lines drooping helplessly from them (right). Cut power lines, Sierra Leone Walking around you hear a din from out building near the hotels, guest house and other business that want electricity  Those with the means solve the power problem with individual generators, but still may only avail themselves of the luxury for a few hours a day.  If there were telephone lines, they are now close to redundant because of the universality of cell phones.  Any visitor can  purchase a cell phone or local SIM card immediately after customs in the arrival hall of the airport.

Sierra Leone's populations is a mostly a mix of Christian and Moslem, but, while taking a meal at the restaurant a traditional masked (similar to the one on the left sidebar) and raffia cover dancer moved down the street.  This public mask was for entertainment and provided no clue of how entrenched traditional religion was in the local population.  The traditional role of masks we secretive to uninitiated people and encompassed connections to educational, administrative, religious and judicial role in the society.

Sierra Leone, large open air mosqueIt was interesting to see a couple of well defined large open air mosques, with no apparent associated buildings.  They always were well shaded and along with a mihrab or some modest structure indicating the direction of pray, there was also a large cotton wood tree on the qibla. 
The size of the trees would suggest that the mosque had been at the site for a long time.  The co-location of the cotton wood tree is curious because of the role of cotton wood trees in traditional indigenous beliefs as a protector.

A very enduring feature of a walk around the community is the kids.  It also presents a concern -- there are a lot of them.  About 50% of Sierra Leone's population is under 18 years old.  The annual population growth rate is 3.4%. (source UNICEF).  Schools are already over crowded and health facilities over stretched, but nation wide there capacity has to be increased by 3.4% every year, just to stay even.

Siera Leone, children  Siera Leone, children

Sierra Leone, bicycle traveling sales manA sales man, traveling along the coast by bicycle, had an inventory of shirts, shoes and other clothes displayed on his rear rack (left). Bicycles weren't numerous in the area but there was a smattering.  From our conversations there was a lot of desire for more bicycles and they would take whatever they could get.

Sierra Leone, palm wine collectorAnother independent entrepreneur we met was the palm wine collector (right).  Traditionally, palm wine was collected and served in a natural gourd.  I guess that modernization in the palm wine profession mean moving to collecting the sap in plastic bottle.  Palm wine is collect uniquely from the pissava palm.  It is best if it is drunk as fresh as possible (within about eight hours of being collected.)  Don't even wait for the Beaujolais Nouveau -- be wary of vintage, aged, palm wine.

Perhaps the largest economic sector in Lungi is fishing.  It probably involves more people, but it may not generate as much value as the airport.  Our excursion  introduced us to: 

An older man repairing his fishing nets

Sierra Leone, man repairing fishing net

Younger men repairing their boat (pounding fibers into the cracks)

Sierra Leone, repairing a boat (pounding fibers into the cracks) Sierra Leone, repairing a boat (pounding fibers into the cracks) Sierra Leone, repairing a boat (pounding fibers into the cracks)

Teams of people hauling in fish

Sierra Leone hauling in fish from the beach Sierra Leone fishing Sierra Leone fishing

And, women delivering baskets for transporting dried taking fish to the market

Sierra Leone, women carrying baskets Sierra Leone, women carrying baskets

Sierra Leone coast, Mahera Beach, LungiIt seems to be Sierra Leone's aspiration to develop it's tourism industry and become a beach destination (because of the proximity to Europe, more likely for European than North American clientele.)  The coast line is blessed with fine sandy beaches and beautiful views (left).  But not all is well in paradise.  A closer examination of the upper beach reveals long stretches of rubbish in both directions (below).  Improved environment practice are not only going to have to be achieved in the coastal communities, but up every river as well.  A lot of the ocean garbage is probably dumped in rivers hundreds of miles away and then washed ashore after the rivers deliver it to the ocean.

Sierra Leone, garbage on the beach Sierra Leone, rubbish on the beach

In the North, the buzz for getting the word out is 'social media'.  In Sierra Leone the availability of the Internet is rare. Television is common but not in every household.  Of broadcast media, radio is the most common.  There is social messaging on TV and radio, but a lot of getting the message out is still done by road side signs.  Here is a collection from the main road near Lungi airport:

Sierra Leone sign, AIDS prevention message because "Mobile cares about you."

AIDS prevention message because "Mobile cares about you."

Sierra Leone sign, support the promotion of good governance and sustainable development.

You have a responsibility to support the promotion of good governance and sustainable development.

Sierra Leone sign, Promote the rights and equality of women.

Promote the rights and equality of women.

Sierra Leone sign, Independence means depends on domestic resources. Pay your taxes.

Independence means depends on domestic resources. Pay your taxes.




 Next dispatch.



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