Does it feel odd being back in Britain, where everything is familiar and I don’t have to worry about whether the milla tank holds enough water for everyone’s needs until the next full moon*? I’ll be honest. It doesn’t. It almost feels like those five months on a tiny island in a developing nation never happened. That’s why I’ve been putting off writing this post. I was waiting for a golden moment when I realised what it was all about. But the moment hasn’t come.
It sounds crazy to write this. Life in Sierra Leone is so different to life in the UK it’s quicker and easier to point out the similarities: both countries use GMT, some of the time. And that’s about it. One is the sixth largest economy in the world, has one of the best healthcare systems on the planet, and ranks honourably highly (joint-tenth with Luxembourg and Germany) in Transparency International’s corruption perception index (the higher up the table, the better). The other barely has an economy, or a healthcare system, and ranks 123 out of 176 countries in the same index (although it’s important to say that in 152 days no bribe was ever asked of me, no bribe offered, and no bribe paid). One created free healthcare, public libraries and a social security system while the other requires citizens to provide not only their own medicines and books, but their own electricity, water and security too, crippled as it is by a web of factors so complex even the spiders get confused.
It seems pedestrian to point out these differences then, rather like going to the moon and returning only to obsessively talk about the lack of shower facilities. Anyone who has been there gets it; anyone who hasn’t simply can’t.
So there is an argument for not saying anything at all, and letting the memories together with what I have previously written speak for themselves.
* I never understood the need for pocket diaries to mark the phases of the moon until I reached Banana Island. I can now go into great detail about their effect on ground water levels, but this is not the place, thankfully.