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Gridlocked in Freetown, Sierra Leone

April 16th, 2012 by Digital Giants

YMCA international intern Meghan in Freetown, Sierra LeoneToday I truly understood some of the challenges of arriving on time in Sierra Leone, Africa.  Here in Africa, time is cyclical and being late is commonly called Black Man Time or BMT for short. Today I too was on BMT, but only two hours behind schedule. This afternoon we travelled a short distance across town that would generally take 15 minutes. However, today was gridlock day. In fact, most days are gridlock days, actually most times of the day are gridlock times.  To avoid gridlock traffic people often travel early in the morning, sometimes arriving to work one hour early, others choose to travel late at night when they hope the traffic will have subsided. I’ve only experienced small doses of gridlock before. Cars on either side are bumper to bumper in both directions, the horns are honking and the vendors are happily moving from car to car selling their goods. We are now stuck in what is called gridlock. We are inside a live tetris game. No one can move enough to let someone else pass, and the cars that can, don’t want to give up their advantageous position in case they are able to squeeze through. The tetris blocks (cars) keep dropping, but the difference here is that there is no reset button, you have to push through and the cars just keep piling up. Eventually a traffic police will come along and try to unscramble the tetris blocks.

We are on our way to a YMCA celebration. This year the YMCA of Sierra Leone is celebrating 100 years of youth service and the theme is Unlocking Youth Potential. Tonight is a traditional Awujor feast. This awujor is in remembrance and celebration of the people that have passed that have contributed to the YMCA mission and vision.

We finally arrive two hours late to the function. As we are travelling with four members of the head table they are waiting for us before the ceremony begins. The hall is filled with little children, kiddies as they are lovingly called here. They are excited to see us, and they all look shyly at us, until we start waving, of course then everyone begins waving enthusiastically. One little girl is very shy, but her friends forcibly carry her over to me and deposit her in front of me. She is half Chinese, half Sierra Leonean. All the other kids think that we look alike because we have the same colour. We hardly have the same colouring, but close enough for them. She comes to join me and I suddenly have a new paddy (friend). Her name is Georgegee. We are served ginger beer (my favourite). Dinner is delicious; a huge plate full of rice, beans, meat with onion gravy, fishballs, plaintain and sweet potatoes. The food, celebration and of course my new friend make the long journey worth it! After dinner we climb back into the jeep and venture back into the gridlocked streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone.