I dragged my suitcase along the tarmac, my heels clicking purposefully toward the man who was responsible for my demise - Mr. Andrews. I found him behind the ticket counter, a dark and stout man in his 60s. His voice was girded with a no-nonsense gruff that should have intimidated me, but I was piping mad.
(For part 1: http://www.ammazingseries.com/stranded-in-sierra-leone/ )
This time, he lifted his head from the computer screen and stared into me. “Young lady, we are running a company here. By the time you got to the gate, the pilots were ready to take off. You did not even have a board passing. How did you expect to fly?” At that moment, I knew I had lost the argument. Mr. Andrews was not the reason why I had missed the flight. It was my lack of preparation that had thrown my itinerary into disarray. We Africans like to complain about the ineptitudes on the continent but the moment we meet someone who is efficient, we expect the rules to be manipulated to our convenience. I felt I should apologize to Mr. Andrews but I was still angry and damnit I felt like blaming someone. “Ok can you put me on the afternoon flight?” I asked.
“If you pay the $60 change fee, I will see if I can put you tomorrow’s flight.” His were salt to my wound.
I only had 3000 Leones - $1- left in my pocket and it was not even enough to pay for a taxi back to Lungi port. I rubbed my fingers against the crisp note and remembered how I ended up broke: I gave the film crew much more than what Cedric had advised and after I paid him as well, I was out of money. I opened my purse and flicked through the plastic cards in my wallet. “Do you take Visa?”
“Young lady, we only accept cash.”
I walked away from Mr. Andrews knowing that I was not going to be on the next flight to Mali. I shuffled my listless body across the vacant hall and plopped onto a made-in-China chair. It was only 8:30 am, but the hysteria of the morning had hollowed me. Hunger pangs rumbled through my stomach, reminding me that I had not eaten. I leaned my back against the chair and exhaled the exasperation of the ferry ride, the disappointment of missing my flight, my lack of money… my strength cracked. I cupped my face in my palms.
God you have to help me, you have to help me. I am tired, I am hungry, you have to help me, you have to – suddenly, a scrumptious waft of donuts overwhelmed my senses. I peaked through my fingers to find a family having breakfast and watched as the children sunk their teeth into the crusty morsel and licked their lips. Hunger bubbles echoed in my insides. I just wanted a piece but I was too embarrassed to ask, so I stared as they grounded each bite, their jaws moving, up, down, up, down…. That’s it, who needs pride when you are hungry. I inched closer to the mother, but before I could mouth excuse me can I please have some, someone tapped me on the shoulder.
“ Ghana, you still here?”
It was Mr. Andrews. Ah, this man again. I looked away. Unfazed, he continued. “How are you planning to spend the rest of the day?”
“I don’t know. I can’t afford to go back to Freetown so - ”
“So you are going to sit here for 24 hours?” he interrupted. I ignored him and returned my attention to the donut “Ok, get up, follow me.” Every cell in my body was telling me not to go. But like a zombie, I found myself following a stranger out of the airport. He led me to a parking lot and ushered me into a pick up truck. Once I closed the door, he turned to me.
“I bet you are wondering where I am taking you right. Don’t worry; when God closes a door, he opens a window.”
We veered off the town’s only highway and entered the back roads, dodging shirtless children playing football with bare feet. The pick-up bopped over potholes and finally came to a stop in front of an aluminum roofed bungalow that read WELCOME TO GATEWAY GUEST HOUSE. Mr. Andrews picked my suitcase and held my hand as we walked into a modest lobby. A young man behind the reception desk got up to greet him. “Good morning Sa.” “Morning,” Mr. Andrews replied. Then he put his arm around my shoulder and introduced me. “This is Amma, she is my very special guest. I want you to take care of her. Give her food to eat and a place to sleep. I will be back for her later.” I held onto his hand, trying to find the words to thank him, but he simply rubbed my cheek and walked to the car. I needed a moment to wipe the tear threatening to roll down my cheek, but the receptionist was already pulling my luggage through a narrow hallway. He entered a spartan room with a mosquito net around the bed. “Seesta Amma,” he said. “This is where you are going to sleep but first, you must eat. Come with me.” I followed him out of the room to an open courtyard.
Two guys who looked to be in their thirties were huddled over an empty bottle hushing out what seemed to be a business deal. As soon as they saw us, they stood up and introduced themselves. The short fellow with dread locks was Django - a serial entrepreneur and unofficial mayor of Lungi. He claimed that if anyone needed land, water or women, he was the man to speak to. His companion was a Belgium-based Sierra Leonean, stranded in Lungi for reasons he would not divulge. As we traded stories of our travels, a woman emerged from the kitchen balancing a tray on her right hand. “Seesta Amma,” she said as she placed the tray in front of me. “ This is for you.” My eyes flew to the chicken stew spread over a mound of white rice and fried plantain. “What would you like to drink,” she continued, “Fanta, Coke, Sprite…” I stared at her in disbelief. An hour ago, I was preparing to sleep on an airport floor. I was so hungry I was prepared to beg for a piece of donut. I bowed my head and thanked my Provider for doing exceedingly and abundantly above all I could ask or imagine.
I pulled the plate close to my chest. My newfound friends looked on as I cracked the spicy drumsticks. When I licked the last grain of rice off the plate, they took me for a tour around the Lungi. We shared fresh coconuts on the road side and even gatecrashed a local wedding. Between Django’s jokes and Belgium’s tales, I laughed until my ribs hurt. By the time they took me back to the Gateway, I could barely keep my eyes open.
The next morning, at 4am, Mr. Andrews sent a driver to pick me up to the airport. I stopped at the receptionist and asked for the bill. I knew I only had 3000 Leones in my wallet but perhaps I could arrange to send the amount by Western Union later. “Don’t worry, Mr. Andrews has taken care of it,” the receptionist said. A lump of gratitude bulged in my throat, it swelled when I reached the arrival lobby and saw my good Samaritan. He greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. “Did you sleep well?” I nodded, unable to push words past the hardened lump. He rubbed my cheeks. “Look, I have something for you,” he said. “Here is your boarding pass for Bamako.”
“But I don’t have the $60” I managed to whisper.
“Don’t worry, it is on me.”
In retrospect, my journey in Sierra Leone was a premonition of how 2013 would unfold - it has been a year of challenges and upheavals. I have been tested and starved, and just when I was about to beg, a blessing came along.