(Freetown, Sierra Leone) February – April 2012: Freetown is divided into three main areas: Western area, Central area and Eastern area. The Western area is the most developed part of the city, you find most of the embassies on that side of the city and few neighborhoods where there is running water and electricity. The Central part is less developed, and it hosts most of the government buildings, offices, NGOs and CSOs. In this part, you could find okay restaurants, a few guest houses and/or youth hostels such as, YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), which I would highly recommend, where you get to meet other international students. In addition, the YMCA staff is familiar with dealing and interacting with foreigners, and it is central and close to many of the work places. A single room at YMCA costs around 10€ a night including small breakfast. For unfortunate reasons, I lived in a house in the Eastern part of Freetown, which is the least developed part of the city! In this part of the city, you do not get constant electricity or running water. It is also far away from the city center and down town where you could find internet cafés and food places.
Traffic is a bit of a challenge – especially on the Eastern side. Hold ups could last for two hours. Public transportation includes few government buses, commercial microbuses (Poda Poda), commercial motorbikes (Okada) and commercial taxicabs. Since I lived on the east side of town, transportation ate up my money and of course my energy. If you live in the center which means not so much spending on transportation, I would suggest a budget of 200 or max 300€ a month. The cost of living is high since sales taxes are very high. Since the end of the civil war in 2002, prices never went down to reasonable rates.
Internet access is very slow, rare and expensive. An hour in an internet café costs around 1€. The official languages in Sierra Leone are English and Krio, a modified English dialect. Those who never went to school cannot speak English.
Food is another big challenge especially for those with sensitive stomachs. The local food does not provide lots of varieties, and it is extremely spicy; cooks use huge amounts of pepper. It is mainly rice with potato leaves, other local leaves; such as Casaver leaves and Crain Crain, or fish stews. A dish of that kind of food would cost around 1€. On the street, you could find fried food being sold with bread; such as, chicken, eggs, potatoes and sausages. However, the sellers fry this food since early evening, and so it is cold and exposed by later times at night. This kind of food is called ‘Fry Fry’, and it costs around 2€. You could find Lebanese good restaurants with good food in the west side and on the beaches, but they are a little expensive. A good dish or a reasonable-size pizza would cost around 12 or 15€. In the city center, you could find few places where you could eat relatively safe food, such as Shwarma wraps, meat pies and the like that would cost around 2-5€.
I did an unpaid internship at one of the local NGOs, Youth and Child Advocacy Network (YACAN). I worked as a Communication and Public Advocacy Officer. I developed and wrote projects’ proposals. I produced a newsletter for one of the organization’s projects. My job included lots of field work, which was the most enjoyable part. I worked mainly with children and school kids. I paid visits to the schools and participated in most of the activities and events that took place during my internship. In addition, I had to ensure effective engagement with media groups, I advised on communication approaches and represented YACAN in some of the dialog forums.
Finally, Sierra Leone has the best coast in West Africa; if not in all of Africa. The beaches are gorgeous. I believe these beaches are going to be a main touristic destination twenty years from now. On weekends, I was able to do a couple of excursions. I visited the Charlotte Water Fall, Tacugama Chimp Sanctuary and Banana Islands. I am planning to visit the Outamba Kilimi National Park on my last weekend. There are a couple of clubs in Freetown and local pubs and bars as well, and going out in groups is recommended.
by: Sara Thakeb (Egypt)