Day Dreaming about Sierra Leone

June 17th, 2013  |  by Veralyn Williams |  Published in Blog, Personal Essays

Ok. I woke up this morning day dreaming about Sierra Leone! Oh Salone… my country of birth… Here are my experiences there since I finally got a green card in 2006, and was able to travel.

I went in 2008 right after their Presidential elections (and right before America elected President Obama) excited, curious, and full of hope! I was going to Salone! And my mission was simple: To see what life would have been like for me, if my parents hadn’t brought me to America as a baby.

My first taste of reality hit me before I even stepped onto Freetown. You see Sierra Leone’s airport is in Lugni, and the best ways to get to Freetown, is by air or by sea. There had just been a huge story in the news about a helicopter that crashed and killed 19 people, so I opted to get on the ferry… I cried as boys younger than my brother– fought to help me with my bags. Poverty was everywhere I looked, and I was sobered.

But after that initial shock (and once I was safely in the care of my family) I truly had the experience of my life. I was showed the best Salone had to offer: family, good food, the best parties, beautiful beaches, and lots of “enjoyment” to be had. Sure there were no lights throughout my 3-week stay, but my family had a generator, and life their felt doable.

From the minute I got back- I knew I would go again. There was something about my country that was just calling me, so I answered again in 2010. Less nieve, but still very idealistic in the way I viewed life in there. On this trip I made contacts outside of my family, I walked places (first trip I was all about that car-life), and being the journalist that I am– I talked to everyone I could about their life in Sierra Leone.

If my first trip was about what growing up there “would have been like,” this trip was about living there in 2010. I asked people about dating, relationships, and sex. And I talked to women about how they saw themselves in society. This was during the height of the attack on “successful black women” in America, so of course I wanted to know if the same point of view existed around the world. It did…

After this trip I was convinced I could live in Salone. Infrastructurally things felt like they were getting better. They were fixing the roads, we had lights 75% of the time, and I could see how I’d go about my day-to-day activities. (Dating not-withstanding)… But could I really?

December of 2011 I went back! This time for a family reunion, and my mom went too after being away from 25 years. Seeing Sierra Leone through her eyes was painful. Whereas I was seeing the improvement in the country since my initial 2008 visit, she was comparing what she was seeing, to the Salone she left in 1986. It didn’t matter that Wilkinson Road was now a newly paved 4-lane road, she remembered when it was lined with beautiful homes. I wanted to be able to tell her things will get better, and that before we knew it Sierra Leone will be just as she remembers it, but I couldn’t… especially as a person that only visits 3 to 4 weeks at a time.

After my last trip to Sierra Leone I told myself the next time I go… I wont be going empty handed. I’d be going to “be the change I want to see” in the country. But as I’m starting to feel the pull of Salone again… I am still at a loss on where to even start.

Should I pick up and move there? Will I be able to find a job there? Will that job be able to cover my expenses? On a personal level- will I be happy there? (Hmmm… sounds like that same questions I have about living in Brooklyn.)

As I’m trying to figure out what my next steps in life will be, Sierra Leone is definitely at the forefront of my mind. Now what exactly does that mean… I have no idea… but hopefully I figure it out soon.

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