Sierra Leone

Layna Fisher Issue: Section:

I have lived in Sierra Leone on and off for the last 2 years.
It started out as a 5 week trip. After the 2nd week I wanted to abandon ship and then...I extended for 2 more months and then 2 more and then on and off for the next 2 years, during which I filmed a documentary on an election in the country, created a children’s theater exchange and visited the places and people of my solo theater show 'Truncated' from 3 years earlier.

Sierra Leone is the 2nd least developed country in the world behind Afghanistan.

In 2008 it was thee place to be if you were a development intern from the top colleges of the world. The first place I lived was with UN interns. Our house was on a hill that sloped to the ocean 2 miles away. It was a two level building with a large living room. Wood musty doors. Musty couches. A kitchen with a stove that could be lit if power was on. Which was about 5 random hours out of the day. There were 6 stray cats that lived on the porch. My area was a mattress on the floor next to the dining room table. It was the rainy season and it seemed like nothing would every dry.
I couldnt stand sleeping on the floor in the middle of the 6 bedroom apartment. I moved on.
It was a sudden move, I moved into my guides room. 9 x 9 shack. In a row of shacks. The walls were fortified with cardboard. Against the rain we had a tin roof, covered with blue plastic held down by rocks. The ceiling was about 7 feet high. Cats, rats and goats would scurry across the top waking me up in the middle of the night. But it was an adventure and I liked it except for the toilet (a cement slab behind tin that you did your business on and then rinsed away with a tea kettle) and the nights were not pleasant either. To sleep we would close the 6" square window and tuck ourselves into a mosquito net. It was stiffling. A single blue dim bulb, powered by 3 D batteries and no air.
We moved out to the country where the local NGO I was volunteering with, was working.

They had built a guest room in a local house. The house made of orange colored mud and sticks, had a tin roof that was raised quite high and was open to the rooms below. Except our guest room, which had been equipped with a low pressboard ceiling and painted white. The floor was covered in mauve contact paper. We ate rice and sauce and again slept in oppressive air, in a mosquito net, this time with spiders the size of my hand at the top of the wall/ceiling. The spiders were not to be removed, they are considered good luck.
The NGO and I didnt see eye to eye on corruption. I left.


Taking a short break at a hotel for one night. A white nightmare of a place, with an old kids merry go round and a rusty swingset as the grounds. A big bed and a deer that got in the room and peed on the bed after checking itself out in a mirror. Pretty funny.



Back upcountry in a guest house of a new NGO. I was living on the elementary school grounds. At 730am the students would begin to arrive and sweep the dirt compound for trash. At 8:30am was morning singing. There was a well to draw water for showers and to dump down the toilet. Drinking water we had to bring with us from the city as no one in the country really bought their water, therefore the local store only carried a few packets of the safe water. This place was great. I could open the windows and it was cool at night. Sometimes I hid from the students I was teaching in the room. Then would reemerge with cookies for them.

Back to the capital city, I moved in with a sweetheart. An 'apartment' type building renting out rooms with a shared parlor. There was no furniture at first in the living room. Everything was cheap Chinese cement. Floor to ceiling. The rooms were carpeted. Dear God why? And his particular room was carpeted with long shag in several colors of blue and purple. There were a few old shelves on the wall. All of them filled with stuffed animals that he called 'telly bears', a clothing bar with clothes and a radio tapedeck from about 1988 with big, black, old and detachable speakers. The flat mates on the same level sharing the parlor were nice. One, Michael wanted to talk about everything so he could learn. He asked all about America, where of course he wanted to live. We debated politics and colonialism and had science lessons, like how we know we are going around the sun and not the other way around. What the solar system looks like and what stars are. There was a little girl Mama na Bis. Which means no reason to go out of the house. She was friends with the slightly older girl in the room next to hers. Her mother would beat her. And it drove me insane. I stopped it many times. But this woman is big. I stopped beatings of wives on the street several times but this woman scared me. The next day the girl had a black eye and I had guilt for not physically stepping in that time. The room that we shared had a window over looking the porch. I loved it and I loved the room. Its the Venice off West Africa....in my mind. We are over looking an alcove of the sea. A view like this would cost bucks in the first world. Juxtaposed to the slums you are seeing on the way to the sea. A couple miles wide getto, sloping into the garbage dump, where they bring up the pigs for slaughter. And the boats coming in from Guinea with plastic products for sale at market. The sewer system is troughs of cement leading down the mountain side capital to empty in the ocean. It smells like fish or shit or ghanj. But it sure is beautiful.

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