The Journey Begins

(Sergio Castillo writes from a place called Waterloo, Sierra Leone. He and a second FTF Field Worker, Dan Padrnos, will live and work in West Africa long term. His immersionship finds him running a clinic for our partner P4K. He will serve a large contingency of kids, including disabled youth and a group of 50 kids orphaned by the Ebola epidemic. Sergio will write on his experiences and our work twice a month.)

Daniel and I left Guatemala very early in the morning on the last Tuesday of November. The multitude of unique experiences began during a layover in Mexico City when we met the lawyer of the city’s airport. He described to us the wonders of Mexico while we took transportation to fill our bellies with tacos on a Federal District Corner. From Mexico we flew to New York City where we met Daniel’s friend, a professional skateboarder. The three of us stayed up all night sharing good conversation, laughing as the sun came up over the Brooklyn diner where we had our last meal in the western hemisphere.

We joined with FTF’s director, John, flying from New York to London. Together, our goal was to get neatly installed and ready to serve in our new West African assignment. Despite arriving at London’s airport 6 hours prior to our flight to Morocco, we nearly missed the flight. One moment the three of us were relaxing at a restaurant, deep in philosophical conversation, and the next we were running like madmen.  When we finally arrived in Sierra Leone at 4:00 AM on the fourth day, one of our suitcases did not show up on the baggage carousel—a classic case of Murphy’s Law. Exhausted and smelly, we curled up in the first semi-comfortable place we found and waited for the sunrise.

An hour later Mustafa, a joking and jovial taxi driver helped us into his taxi to drive us to the port where we were to take a ferry to our final destination. The neighborhood’s facades stood out in the darkness. I was surprised to see houses composed of sheets and pieces of wood. Two people with extended arms could easily reach from one side of a house to the other. The streets were arid and poverty was almost as evident as our impending thirst for water. After half an hour we arrived at the port. Mustafa helped us with our bags, offered us hugs, and promised he would return in the same manner that a mother promises her son that everything will be OK before his buttock is pricked with a needle at the hospital. Anyone observing the situation would suspect that something was wrong: three foreigners with backpacks loaded with the equivalent of their weight sitting on a heap of pebbles, making really bad jokes, surrounded by curious and expectant locals, with the dark as the only witness. A morbidly obese pig surrounded by leopards would have felt less vulnerable.

The mosquitoes and flies didn't matter anymore. My heavy eyelids, intermittently opening and closing, let in an image of two large men approaching us. My anxiety was overcome by fatigue, and the next thing I saw was John and Daniel hugging and shaking hands with a couple of locals. Others began approaching from the dark, smiling and shouting "Kusheo” and "Apoto" (we later learned the meaning of these phrases: “Hello” and “white man”). We quickly learned about Africans’ good senses of humor and lack of personal space. After every few words exchanged, the people would hug each other, shake hands and laugh outrageously. We talked until the sun and the sea were recognizable on the horizon. As the green trees and orange dirt began to appear, our anxiety began to subside. We boarded the ferry with others wearing colorful outfits carrying fruits, baskets, and other items, some alive, some not so much. It felt as if a parade of poverty coincided with our arrival. Freetown and our new adventure awaited us on the other side of the bay. For the time being, we felt at ease. We made it. Freetown.

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