Diamond in the Rough: Sierra Leone
Originally published in WildJunket Magazine Spring 2013
talled along a dusty road, our vehicle slowly took its last breath with a billow of smoke. As fumes crept out from under the car hood, I began to question my logic in visiting a place like Sierra Leone. I suppose the nervous glances from my traveling companions did nothing to hamper this train of thought.
When I told friends and family that I was heading off to this small West African nation, I was initially met with one of three reactions: bewilderment, horror, or stifled laughter. Indeed, the country is sadly known for the brutal civil war and ultimately the negative images associated with it: blood diamonds and children brandishing guns.
But I’d heard from a work colleague that this nation, which locals affectionately call “Sweet Salone,” had a lot more to offer than just precious stones and dark images. So, in 2011, I set off on a two-week adventure to find out what to expect in one of Africa’s smallest but most thought-provoking countries.
My time was split between visiting the remote north – where I learned about a humanitarian project – and the serene lagoon-fringed Atlantic coastline of the Freetown Peninsula. In the northern town of Kamakwie, I spent time alongside dogged, industrious members of the Sella Community Project as they tackled poverty through adult literacy and small business creation. I met teenagers determined to catch up on missed education, and middle-aged housewives gathering supplies to run market ventures with gusto. And I savored long strolls in the white powder sand, where beachside B&Bs pumped out jovial tunes from old-school boom boxes, and pineapple sellers donned vibrant prints and the latest hairdos.
It became clear on that journey that Sierra Leone wasn’t just a series of negative images, but instead filled with promising paradoxes: women living in extreme poverty but refusing to be crushed by it; hard-working locals unafraid to take time to enjoy the melodies of the latest musical hit; and a landscape awash with tranquility while it slowly heals.
Sierra Leone may not be a polished tourist destination, but it certainly was a diamond in the rough.
To support the work of The Sella Community Project see sellacommunity.org
This article was originally published in WildJunket Magazine Spring 2013.