I was asked last Monday at short notice to attend the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Sierra Leone in Freetown some 135 km from Makeni where I am based. There was little time to try and arrange transport other than use public transport.
I was put into a taxi in Makeni by one of the midwifery school staff and he said a prayer as I drove off!!
The taxi had 4 in the back and I was made to sit in the front although I was happy to share with 3 others in the back. The journey takes about 3 hours to the outskirts of Freetown. The car was a right hand drive and in Sierra Leone they drive on the right - so it all felt a bit precarious.
I was instructed by the member of staff who put me into the taxi in Makeni to get out at a place just outside Freetown called Shell. This is an old relic - before the war - of a petrol station which still retains the name even thought there is no longer a petrol station.
I was put out of the taxi I soon learnt well before the Shell stop. I was also charged double the price I had negotiated before I got into the taxi - when I questioned this the driver said it was because I had a seat to myself. Well this is how it is.
I dont know why I got put out early either. I got into a poda poda which I hoped was going to Freetown, they are the cheapest form of transport with loads of others all crammed to the gunnels. The door I was squashed into was held shut by a coat hanger. I was terrified to move incase the door popped open and we all fell out under the pressure. Well that did'nt happen. By this time I was in the east end of Freetown which is absolutely packed - the traffic at a standstill and the markets and the people - you just cant move. The poda poda had a puncture and the tyre which looked bald to me was stuck in a pothole in the road.
By this time it was 11.30 and my appointment with the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Sierra Leone was at 1.30pm. so I got out as the traffic was going nowhere and the flat needed attention. I did not know which direction to walk but knew my next stop was a place called PZ. I walked through the people, traffic, muck on the ground, markets, animals, noise and of course the heat - about 38-40 degs. I just kept asking people 'where I go PZ' eventually I got to PZ just a big central point with no signs or street names and I had not got a clue what direction to pick up a taxi to take me to my destination.
I asked a man and he very kindly found me a taxi on the right road that would take me to my destination. He was just such a poor man with odd shoes and very bad teeth. He had a black plastic bag with his things in - I gave him 10,000leones - he thought I was giving him the money to pay the taxi driver - I said no it is for you - his face just lit up - well if I made his day he certainly made mine.
I got to my destination on time but was not seen until several hours later!
I got a lift back to Makeni 2 days later.
The staff at the school were very pleased to see me again - it was like having a reception committee.
Throughout all of this trip I had no mobile phone. The generator at the school of midwifery had not been working on the Friday - and I lost all power on the Sunday before I went on this character building excercise!