Sierra Leone, in West Africa, has suffered a lot in recent times. Torn apart several years ago by a bloody civil war, it emerged from internal conflicts in 2002 with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission. Critically the country was only recently (7th November 2015) officially declared free of Ebola by the World Health Organisation. Any journey through Sierra Leone isn’t without its perils.
As a country on the mend after a long period of conflict and prolonged virus outbreak, Sierra Leone is a region of Africa not easily navigated, and only attempted by the few in the last 15 years. Its scars may be ever present but the beautiful and friendly people of the country are like no other.
Journey from the Capital
The journey from the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown had taken 3 hours by car to Makeni, 85 miles East of the capital. Staying overnight in Makeni, we had to make the decision to leave that day or the next to get to Kamakwie, another 4 hours drive north on a very ‘bumpy’ track in a 4×4.
We left that afternoon. This was probably, the wrong decision.
The journey through Sierra Leone in the light of day was okay. For the first part the road was fairly good- a shingle covered mud road. Our journey crossed some fast flowing rivers over narrow bridges, by this time the light had faded.
The driver stopped and passed his phone to me, it was one of the local staff suggesting we had left too late and should turn back – with the language barrier it was difficult to tell what he was saying, we pushed on.
We Pushed On
As the days light started to fade, the sky rapidly grew dark, that’s when the rain started.
Ahead of us we could see a huge weather front hanging over the bush, dark intimidating clouds with shocks of terrifying lightning smashing through them, and we were driving straight towards it.
Into the Storm
In an instant, we found ourselves in the middle of a tropical storm, rain smashed against the land rover. Visibility was almost impossible and we were surrounded by water.
It was at this moment, I recall the pitch darkness and the state of our chosen ‘road’ worsening and worsening. In and out of deep mud craters filling with water we went crashing and crunching around. Amazingly I thought to myself in disbelief, how has no water come into the car?
The bush crept in on the vehicle and soon we were forced to push bush and vegetation out of the way of our land rover. As the storm carried on, lightning was shooting down left and right of us, very close to the vehicle but still we ploughed on through the bush.
Soon we came to a slow run behind a large 4 ton truck carrying people in front of us. After a few moments, the lorry had subsided off the road with what looked like a river running down a hill in front of us.
In amongst the chaos, we managed to steal an eery half an hour stopped in the pitch black bush during a lull in the storm whilst people cleared a path ahead.
Eventually, we carried on, starting to climb hills with water pouring down the slopes, and lightning striking down at the road only about a hundred metres in front of us. I thought we might be struck by lightning and as a medic realising I would be the one who treated anyone, started to go through in my head what I might do with a casualty of this sort.
What could I do? It became clear to me with the lack of equipment, and being in the middle of the bush miles away from anything, that any effort would likely be completely hopeless.
Journey through Sierra Leone
By good luck alone, we made it to Kamakwie, and all these worries were not realised- thank goodness.
My only regret is that I did not take any photographs during the chaos. That regret stems from the sights I saw around me, which I have never seen the likes of before.
Finally though after hours of gruelling travel, here was where our work would start.
The next step of our journey through Sierra Leone would see us travel on dirt tracks through the bush towards Guinea and into the Tambaka region. There we would try to help the local population in the aftermath of an Ebola epidemic in the shadow of the previous civil war which still has left many marks on this country.
Our journey was only just beginning.
For more information on Sierra Leone and it’s recent history, please refer to the BBC’s country profile. Click Here
Featured photo by Simon Davis/DFID (Creative Commons / Flickr)