When I arrived in Sierra Leone, I was greeted by the blazing sun, family and coconut water. Traveling along dirt roads, I drank in the new sights: shirtless babies, women carrying bowls on their heads and livestock running wild. It didn’t take long for me to know I was in for an awakening. Experiencing my parents’ homeland was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Knowing this country held key pieces of my culture was enough for me to leave my nerves in the States. The thrill of getting on a plane and traveling to the unknown has been a whirlwind of a romance that continues to grow. My trip to Sierra Leone was one of my favorite excursions and ended up changing my life forever.
Once reaching my home away from home in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the sights continued to burn themselves into my memory. The constant honking from cars, endless chatter from locals on the street, the smell of burning trash and the cold showers started to be an everyday routine. Getting stared at was also an everyday occurrence (I never got used to that but figured that it was a part of being different). I began to understand that the fascination I had with the people of Sierra Leone was being reciprocated. This allure led me to foster amazing relationships with people who opened my eyes to a new way of viewing life.
I made multiple attempts to speak to everyone around me. Because I was a stranger to the city, my interactions were mostly with family and the staff who worked at the house. This was my first time experiencing security guards, personal drivers and cooks, which are the norm for middle-to-upper-class Sierra Leoneans. I wanted to know the locals’ thoughts and views of their home country and mine. A conversation I had with my driver, Alfred, truly put into perspective how Sierra Leoneans view America and Americans in general.
“I like you because you are straight,” Alfred said out of nowhere.
A bit startled, I asked him, “What do you mean by straight?”
“You treat me the same way in front of your family as you do when we are alone.”
While I didn’t think to applaud myself for the way I treated the people around me during my visit, I did start to acknowledge how rare it was for them. Learning this also helped me understand why the locals kept staring at me. People were afraid to talk to me because they assumed I was a stuck-up American!
With this information, I made great efforts in dispelling the perceptions of Americans. Hoping to enjoy my last Saturday in Freetown surrounded by locals, I went to a known beach bar with a family member. Q Bar had amazing music and was packed. The sounds of the ocean were the backdrop to people drinking and blaring music. While sitting at the bar, I was approached by a 6-ft. man with a charming smile. He complimented my outfit and then went back to hanging with his friends. Later that evening, we talked and danced the night away. I left that night with his phone number in tow and expectations out the door.
That one night of dancing led to four days of bliss. I experienced Sierra Leone through a true local’s eyes and was able to keep the experience with me long after I left the country. Not only was I given an opportunity to fall in love with adventure, new streets, weather and culture, I fell in love with an amazing man. To be able to connect such an amazing journey with a beautiful being did not make my trip better but it did mark the beginning of a new chapter in my life.
Although my first excursion to Sierra Leone came to an end in December of 2013, the memories have stayed with me forever. This trip heightened my love for travel and since then I have traveled to more than five new cities. I was also blessed to meet my life partner and I’m excited to continue my travel romance with my soulmate.