I arrived back from India at the end of 2010 after being away for 3 years and spent Christmas with the family cosily huddled around the fire eating mince pies. A bit of a culture shock to say the least! After moping around the UK, Dublin and Germany for 4 months seeing friends and generally bumming around wishing I could be on some desolate beach again I had a phone call come through from a friend with the most unusual news. He had a job for me, this was no ordinary job let me tell you! He wanted me to go to Sierra Leone and work on a 'Jack up Rig'!
With thoughts of kidnapping, 'short sleeves', poverty, and adventure I eagerly agreed. 'Right, just sign on the dotted line' he said. I initially assumed the document was an employment contract but after I little skim through I came to the realisation that this was a proof life form. Apparently Sierra Leone had a high kidnapping rate and I needed to write down some questions accompanied with the answers only I would know, these questions would be asked to the kidnappers to prove that I was still alive when in negotiation for my life.
'You will need vaccinations for Yellow fever, Rabies, Malaria, Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Polio and Hepatitis B,' he said. He looked up 'well don't worry, we are paying for it lad',
'Its not that I'm worried about', I said with a nervous laugh.
When I got to the airport I headed straight for the check in desk for Lungi Airport Free Town, only to be told by the lady behind the desk that I was at the wrong place and that this was for Sierra Leone. 'Yes that's where I'm going' I said in my toughest persona, 'oh sorry sir' was her only reply. It was almost like she was trying to put the shits up me on purpose.
About 11 or 12 years ago when I was about 17 or so I remember staying up late one night to watch a documentary about the civil war in Sierra Leone. It looked like hell on Earth with gunfire coming from all directions and people running for their lives down the rubble lain streets. Something that disturbed me quite a lot was the scene of somebody getting shot and then kind of spasming on the floor and dieing. What made this whole situation even worse was that I would tell friends of mine where I was going and they would say, 'isnt that where 'Blood Diamond' was filmed!
Sierra Leone is like nothing I have ever experienced before and as we drove from the airport in a 4x4 through countless little villages towards my hotel I was a little apprehensive. I was kind of ducking in the back seat as we drove past hundreds of staring faces, trying to avoid any potential sniper or small arms fire. The hotel was set behind 15ft gates and looked like it had been reinforced for some reason or another.
The first 4 weeks of the job involved building the 'Jack up Rig' at the Freetown Harbour. Everyday, crowds of sullen looking Africans would congregate around us, watching and making hand gestures which signified they wanted food. They would make this very annoying whistle, and when you turned around they would ask for money or food. One day as we worked, I heard a lot of shouting and commotion coming from a crowd of guys. As I looked over I could see that one of them had jumped in to the festering river and got hold of a stinking rotting half a Barracuda fish. As he ran off with it, he was followed by 30 jeering men in to the distance. I asked one of the guys stood around what he would do with it, he said that he would take it up to the market and sell it for $10!
On several occasions there were armed guards with AK 47's standing out side my room of the hotel. After asking around I found out that the Liberian Finance Minister was staying next door to me, apparently some sort of African summit involving leaders from all over the continent.
In conclusion, after spending 11 weeks in Sierra Leone I definitely had a different point of view, for one I knew there was no need to duck because of sniper fire! The people of Sierra Leone are welcoming nice people who always want to help. What happened there 12 years ago was a tragedy and I can only hope they carry on to become a stable African nation.
The country is a beautiful untouched place full of luscious jungle and pristine white sandy beaches. It would make an amazing holiday destination or a backpacking trip.