It wasn’t raining when I arrived in Sierra Leone, five years ago today. British Airways was still flying back then (they stopped when Ebola broke out), and on my overnight flight from London to Freetown, to the new to-be-home, I met my first Sierra Leonean ever, and apparently fell asleep on his shoulders. I jumped into life in Sierra Leone with the same lack of physical and emotional distance as on this flight, extending trust and friendship far and wide, and largely being repaid with the same trust and friendship.
The second picture I took in Sierra Leone was the view from the Youyi building, that houses the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, where I was going to work for two years (I had no idea back then that I would still see that view everyday five years later).
Today, it looks like this:
Seen much change? I know it looks fairly the same, so let me tell you of some of the other things that changed in those five years:
- They fixed the road in front of the entrance (go check again – see the difference?).
- Everyone is using email and whatsapp now (there was no internet in the Ministry, when I came five years ago.) Communication is much easier now – I remember how we struggled to get invitation letters for meetings to the districts. The Directorate of Primary Health Care had letter boxes for all districts, that would get emptied whenever the District Medical Officer was in town – no one really knew when and how often this would happen.
- The speed of implementation has increased. Maybe that is linked to the above point, or maybe I just know better how things work and how projects and reforms can be implemented.
- There is no more canteen downstairs. The Youyi canteen served me my first lunch in country (it was beans, plantain and fish) and has been a love/hate affairs for three years, before it closed down and was supposed to be re-opened by the sister of the then-President, but that never happened. Now we have a new President, but still no canteen.
- I have moved down one floor (did you notice the slight change of perspective on the pictures?). I started working on the fifth floor for 2.5 years, and have now spent the last 2.5 years on the fourth floor. The fourth floor is definitely more active.
- Mortality indicators have gone down and up and down. Ebola didn’t help us.
- I have a travel pillow now, so I don’t fall asleep on strangers’ shoulders in planes anymore.
What has not changed in the five years:
- My neverending passion for my job and Sierra Leone in general.
- My neverending fascination with my job and Sierra Leone in general.
- My neverending adventures in my job and Sierra Leone in general.
- My hopefully-ending-at-one-point frustrations in my job and Sierra Leone in general.
- My neverending gratefulness for the opportunities I have. Thank you.
I am glad I survived until my fifth Salone birthday – and look forward to more to come. By God in power.