Changing lifestyle for a while...
06.09.2016 - 16.09.2016 28 °C
It’s unlikely that you will enter Sierra Leone by road. It bears the dubious distinction of being bordered by arguably the only two West African countries that are in a worse state – Guinea and Liberia.
Thanks for nothing, Bradt Guides.
I have made my way from Conakry in Guinea to Freetown in Sierra Leone. Almost surprisingly, I’ve only been asked for a bribe once. Unfortunately, that was the guy stamping me into Sierra Leone. The fact that I didn’t want to pay him then resulted in him only allowing me to stay in the country for nine days. I’ll have to go to the immigration office in Freetown and buy an extension of my stay, as he told me. Luckily, he was pretty sloppy when he wrote the date into my passport, and I’ve been able to rewrite the date afterwards, granting myself another extra ten days.
To my surprise, after the last few days, I’m beginning to realise that nineteen days might not be enough here. For the last week, I’ve been couchsurfing with a German expat and lived the life of the expatriate – a jobless expat, but nonetheless an expat.
To the ones who need clarification, are expatriates – expats for short – defined as someone who is stationed abroad. Think of aid workers, diplomats, private institution teachers and the like. Stationing people abroad is usually no cheap enterprise and whether we’re talking about North Americans, Europeans or Chinese in Africa (or Africans in Europe). The paychecks tend to be larger than they would otherwise be in the expat’s country of origin. Perks like a paid house or car is also often part of expat luxury.
Whenever there’s a significant drop in living standards, say from a European to an African country, the paycheck goes up further. Every international organisation divides countries into “hardship” categories based on how dangerous, undeveloped, etc. the country is.
Sierra Leone is such a country. Frankly, most of the places I travel are considered “hardship countries”. And more frankly, there’s a lot more difficulty involved in budget travelling than being stationed somewhere, with excellent perks and top salary. Long time travelling – especially in Africa – is not a particularly comfortable lifestyle, and having just reached six months on the road, I needed a break. A pause from the cheap, semi-dirty rooms. A break from eating rice for 90 per cent of my meals. A break from crowded transportation. And a break from that self-imposed ambitious of not wasting time as many travellers have.
I think I need to elaborate on the unwillingness to waste time. Travelling somewhere new, just to sit and do nothing is not why we travel. It’s not a vacation. It’s, for me, a year of seeing a region of the world I don’t know much about. Not exploring it would be a waste of time. Also, having a limited time – or rather having a limited wallet – means that I have a rough idea about how long time I can spend in each country in other to get all the way to Nigeria. Those plans go out the window often but nonetheless do I have to keep a little bit track of thinks.
Those factors create pressure. At least in my mind. I need to get everything I want to do done so that I can move on. During that without wasting too much time is a very demanding way of travelling, and can only be done for so long before any traveller wears him/herself out. Arriving in Freetown, I’ve just about worn myself out during the past six months.
Since my host is living in a rather nice three-bedroom house, I’ve spend a lot of time – a lot of days actually – taking a vacation from all the travelling. To be honest, I’ve spend more time on the couch than anywhere else. We have ordered pizza and beers three days in a row for dinner and used the evenings to watch football.
I even burned money on joining my host and two other aid workers on an extended weekend in a small guesthouse on the exotically named Banana Islands. Lying in a hammock all day, enjoying gorgeous beaches and eating lobster at $10 apiece. We even went spear fishing. We also joked a lot about the fact that Sierra Leone is a “hardship country.”
However, in other aspects of life, it surely is. It took my host six months to get running water installed. Something that just happened. My first week here he only had bucket showers. My computer didn’t survive the trip between Conakry and Freetown either; trying to fix it seems almost impossible to do down here. I’ve instead bought a used tablet with an add-on keyboard. Buying electronics down here costs about the double of what it would do in Scandinavia – and this used tablet have set me back about the same as a new one would have done back home.
So there are definitely reasons as to why West Africa, in general, is considered “hardship” for expats too. To recover from this, and to see if it will be at all possible to recover what’s on my old hard drive, I think I’ll have to spend a few more days on the couch…
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