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Travelogue:Visiting Sierra Leone can be overwhelming

28 May 2018 at 19:37 | 2640 views

Travelogue: Visiting Sierra Leone can be overwhelming

By Dr. Nanah Sheriff Fofanah-Sesay, USA

Living in the western world haS its benefits in many respects when compared to third world countries. As a result of these benefits, it comes without surprise that visiting any third world country can elicit culture shock or even become overwhelming for the western resident.

The purpose of this write-up is to articulate a synopsis related to my recent visit to Sierra Leone.

Needless to reiterate the excitement and anticipation associated with going back-home. For me, these two concepts take a different dimension with each and every visit.

Due to the multiple experiences on this visit, its makes sense to limit this narrative to experiences that stood out the most. One of these experiences was my visit to the department of registration at Roxy building in Freetown for a business purpose. Since this visit entails interactions with various staff members, it is fair to say that some of the staff members are keen about their jobs while others are disconnected.

In addition, the waiting time was extremely long as paper work moves from one staff member to another. The pain of the long wait was sometimes alleviated when listening to other visitors’ stories regarding the impact of the past presidential election results and the ultimate change of regime.

The highlight of the Roxy encounter was when I was instructed to pay the required fees at “Commercial Bank” and was provided with the account number into which the money was to be deposited. Its turned out that there were two commercial banks affiliated with the government along Siaka Stevens street-namely the “Rockel Commercial Bank-(RCB)” and the “Sierra Leone Commercial Bank-(SLCB)” with RCB being the most popular bank. This led me to RCB rather than SLCB.

I must commend the staff at RCB for their good customer service and engagement in their respective duties. The RCB, the staff quickly made a determination that the account number provided to me in Roxy building was an SLCB account respectfully re-directed me to the appropriate location. As I made my way to SLCB, it was my hope to experience similar customer service but that was not the case by any means.

The staff I encountered at SLCB were not only disengaged from their respective duties, they were extremely unfriendly and acted with profound indifference towards their customers. Some of their distasteful actions towards me includes; sending me back to the information desk to inquire about the name of the beneficiary account even when I clearly provided that information verbally and via documentation from Roxy building to the bank teller. I had to re-join the line three times as the teller kept sending me back to the information desk for information she could have easily provided to me.
The ladies at the information desk were not forth-coming and they each acted like they were being bothered by customers. Having realized the lack of customer service in this bank, I had to use myself as a resource to resolve this very simple task turned to impossibility. When the teller realized that the deposit slip has been completed to her satisfaction, she went on to snatch the slip from my fingers and requested that I provided her with my black-ink pen since she was using a blue-ink pen. The teller then completed the transaction and then pushed the deposit receipt and the black-ink pen towards me without saying a word. When asked if the transaction was complete she responded with a sarcastic “yes.” I then left the bank feeling disrespected, violated, and traumatized.

A week later, I returned to the said SLCB and requested to speak to the General Manager in order to register a verbal complaint regarding this encounter. The general manager was not on location at the time, however, I was able to narrate my grievances to the assistant general manager in the presence of three staff members I interacted with during my encounter. One of the staff members made an attempt to interrupt my conversation for which I sternly instructed her to stop. With respect to being concise, the details of my complaint will be withheld but I can reassure all my readers that the SLCB was left with something to ponder about.

Another experience that stood out during my visit was when one of my neighborhood store owners from whom I often purchased building materials decided to switch a 100 dollar bill I handed to him for a counterfeit one. The long-term business relationship between this gentleman and myself includes the provision of dollar bills from my end for the purchase of building materials from his end. In addition, he would provide any change back to me after changing the dollars to Leones and subtracting the purchase amount.

On this fateful day, the items to be purchased were selected as usual and amounting to 399.000 Leones. I then handed him a 100 dollar bill while standing behind the counter for which he went to his office and then returned a few minutes later to inform me that he did not have enough change for the 100 dollar bill. He then handed me a counterfeit 100 dollar bill. I proceeded to pay for the selected items using Leones in my pocket book and then left the store. My next stop was at Jeety Store at Kissy Shell where I unsuspectingly presented this 100 dollar bill for change.

Jeety examined this bill as he usually does with previous exchange but this time he declined to change the bill saying it is fake. With this findings, I immediately drove back to the initial store and confronted the store owner about the counterfeit dollar. After listening attentively to my confrontation for a few minutes, he became enraged claiming the dollar he gave me was real and that he never left his location after the 100 dollar bill was handed to him. My response was “How then did you know that you did not have enough Leones to make this exchange if you did not check in your office? I then threw the fake 100 dollar bill towards him and left the store.

The next day, I reported the incident to the Calaba Town Police Station-a location close to where the store is located. The police station provided me with two female police officers and we all drove to the store in question. He was then invited to the police station for questioning. While in the police station, we were both interrogated and made to provide statements. I then left the police station to run errands after the officers re-assured of contacting me with the outcome of the investigation.

I returned to the police station after 5-6 hours and was provided my money back in the amount of 780.000 Leones. It is imperative for me to express my profound gratitude to the Calaba Town Police staff for their promptness, diligence, and professionalism.

Saving the positive for last was my experience at Banana and Bunce Island. Both historic islands were visited on April 27, 2018. The tour on these islands includes securing a machine operated boat that is later managed by two marine staff members from Kent Village. Prior to paying the required fees, customers are asked to read the posted rules at the entrance of the dock. Some of the rules includes the need to wear a white or black head tie and to refrain from using profanity while in the docking area. I was accompanied by my younger sister and nephew. We headed to Banana Island spending 2-3 hours and then proceeded to Bunce Island for another 2-3 hours.

Banana Island has a population of approximately 500 people, one primary school of grade 1-5, two churches, one healthcare center, one active guest house, a cemetery, multiple fruits, and other plantations.

Bunce Island have similar characteristics and demographic to Banana Island with a marked historic difference of the remnanst of the Trans-Atlantic-Slave-Trade. Inhabitants in both locations expressed satisfaction about their location and stress free life-styles. At the end of the day, we were taken back to Kent Village where we rejoined our vehicle en-route to Freetown.

It is without a doubt that visiting home to experience one’s culture of birth and to meet and greet family members on a periodic bases is a pleasant and rewarding venture. What is doubtful in Sierra Leone is the innate degeneration of culture, values, integrity, the rule and abidance of law, and overall lifestyle. It seems like Sierra Leoneans back home are missing a piece in the puzzle of adopting western culture as an adjunct to their own culture creating a miss-match. The ongoing outcome of this missing piece in the puzzle if left unchecked will result in a generational dysfunctional nation.

This article is dedicated to staff at the Calaba Town Police Station, staff at Kent Village marine, my sister-Kadiatu Fofanah, my driver-Alimamy, my personal assistant Gibrilla, my cook Haja and others who contributed to the smooth running and achievements of all my anticipated goals during this visit.

Here are two video clips of the visit: