Monday, January 23, 2012

#77 Pademba Road - Freetown, Sierra Leone

On July 5, 1968 we landed at Lungi Airport, this despite having been refused landing rights by officials at the airport and by the Sierra Leone government. We were a large group of new Peace Corps volunteers who had left Philadelphia the night before with the impression that we were going to be the first in-country training program in Peace Corps history. For several hours we all sat in the plane while Sierra Leone soldiers surrounded our plane and directed their guns on us. Soldiers periodically came on board, machine guns in tow, walking the plane's isle and peering at us. To some degree we were oblivious to the politics of it all. As the Director of Peace Corps Sierra Leone was repeatedly making efforts to get us off the plane and into Freetown, we celebrated that we had "arrived' in-country. I remember the tropical rains that swarmed around us that afternoon. So typical of rain season the clouds were low, the rain came periodically in sheets, and despite the somewhat tenuous situation that surrounded us - we all continued to celebrate. Sure - there was some angst about our sitting in the hot and unpleasant plane on the Lungi tarmac. Perhaps we worried about the soldiers who from time to time seemed to have our plane in their rifle sites. But what I remember most was how unworried we all really were. Maybe some of us thought that this was just how things went on in West Africa. Maybe some of us felt that things would work out. The charged atmosphere that was ongoing in Freetown was unknown to us.
So we partied-on while negotiations to get us in-country went on and on. And at last - in the dark - Freetown lorries arrived beside the plane - we were hustled off the plane - and then hustled up to Fourah Bay College and our quarters for the night - and for the next week. And after a week of training up on the mountain (where Fourah Bay College was located) we went to live with our host family, the Nelson-Williams family of 77 Pademba Road. As you look at the picture below our room was on the 2nd floor and on the left. The veranda overlooking the street was where, from time to time we ate our meals. We had a bathroom in the back. The house was very typical of Freetown. A wooden structure of 3 floors, there was a central hallway with rooms off on each side. Our host, Lottie Nelson-Williams slept on the 3rd floor with her grandchildren. Her husband was confined to the nearby Pademba Road Prison after the April 1968 Coup [Claude Nelson-Williams]. A Krio family - the Nelson-Williams family was well known in Freetown.

77 Pademba Rd - Freetown, Sierra Leone

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