Thursday, 21 February 2013

Overall Trip: After-Thought

Overall Trip: After-Thought

My dusty trainers had to be thrown in the washing machine, so high was the red Salone dust percentage.  But something seems to be missing.  They are now pristine, factory clean but boring & ordinary.  At least the dust had a story buried in the particles...  

It is hard to adapt being back in shiny, clean, organised Britain and with each trip to Freetown I find it increasingly hard to do so.  Myself & Sarah have no family to welcome us back to a home that is not really ours.  So we plod hand in hand through the airport arrivals gate, onto the bus and back to brisk but surprisingly sunny Wells.  Our flat feels empty & I feel empty & we feel empty.  Part of us is back in Freetown and it makes us want to go back & retrieve it.

Every trip is unique and this one has had a character all of its own.  I don't think I have seen a group bond so quickly & so tightly in the three trips I have made to Freetown.  It could have gone badly wrong but they worked so hard to forge new friendships through shared experiences.  And what shared experiences!  Given the shorter nature of this trip its intensity has shot up and the downtime shot down.  Bizarrely enough, I think this has been an advantage.  Everything we did mattered more than before and in reality every day became more rewarding than the one before.  The mantra of "I think that was the best day of my life" has characterised this trip like no other.  The team have definitely been changed for the better & permanently I hope.  Even temporarily is enough.

No single student ever defines an entire trip, in my experience in Freetown.  In fact, it is surprising how the whole group is always more than the sum of the individuals in it.  None of the following could be said to define the trip but they have had one hell of an impact upon all involved: Josh & Alex’s worryingly authentic love ballads, Jenny Song’s V-signs, Jenny B & Mercedes’ incessant dancing, Hatty’s vast array of admirers, Izzy’s seemingly irresistible hair, Annie’s near death experience playing duck-duck-goose, Becca’s very early morning trumpet warm-ups, Elin’s skirt/shorts debate live on SLBC and Ru’s rejection of airport arrivals hospitality.

Every trip has had ups & downs but overall they have been overwhelmingly up.  This one has been no different.  A Sierra Leonean heatwave, two fainting students,  poor decision making [mine & the Team's], not enough seats on the bus, Chicken Kievs, teacher : student ratios of 1:60, mad bus drivers obliterating tyres in potholes, a vicious fight between desperate beggars outside a supermarket, small children playing with rubbish, intense poverty.  Only on the Sierra Leone trip could these things collectively be no more than a droplet in an ocean of positivity.  It has been the most fun trip to Freetown I have had but also the most intense in terms of my emotional response.  Freetown now feels like as much a home to me as Wells.  In fact, it seems akin to a photographic negative of my homeland, only in vibrant colour.  And it even has a similarly cavalier attitude to timekeeping!

I could talk to you all day about this trip but I could never do it justice.  You must experience it firsthand as the gains made simply cannot be articulated.  "It stands outside representation" as my friend Cathy says.  Read the rest of the blog, look at the photos, talk to those who went but most of all go yourself.  You need to do it.  If everyone in the Western world spent two weeks in Sierra Leone the world would be a better, warmer, more vibrant and happier place.

I realise that part of my sadness writing this is due to the fact that I don't know when I will be back.  Now I hand over the baton to Amy Hugill, who I wish all the best in her leading of the project.  But, to be fair, I have been to Freetown three times with the woman I love; first as my girlfriend then as my wife after those Freetown Romeos threw down the marriage gauntlet in front of me!  Nothing has brought us closer together & I sincerely thank the school, & Roland Ladley especially, in allowing us this wonderful opportunity.  Freetown has worked it's magic.  Fall under its spell....