A friend posted on Facebook several days ago that now is not the best time to travel to the US with a Sierra Leonean passport. My comment came quickly, I wouldn’t agree less. But I think he’d gone a bit far. Why not think closer to home? Let me share an emotional but interesting story with you, as I experienced a 3-hour journey turned into a 12-day trip across six countries. Thanks to the Ebola disease outbreak.
Since the flight ban, Sierra Leoneans or Sierra Leone residents that need to make essential trips from Freetown have to travel by road which could range from several hours to days, depending on the expected destination.
There is nothing unusual about that. What is unusual, however, is the unnecessary delay and attention – and sometimes embarrassment – they now get for their travel documents or have been proven to have been in Sierra Leone – or Guinea and Liberia.
I had a reason to travel to Abidjan from Freetown in the last week of August. I won’t say it was a good experience. The shorter route (Freetown – Monrovia – Abidjan) had been blocked as part of measures to curtail the spread of the Ebola disease. I had to go through Conakry, Bamako, Ouagadougou, Accra and, eventually, Abidjan.
I felt so sad when a cleaner at the Ghana-Burkina Faso border at Paga, about 2,000km east of Accra, said to me early Wednesday (September 10) morning as I was held in wait for medical clearance to enter Ghana: “This Ebola thing has really created a lot of problems. Imagine Sierra Leoneans who have been living in Ghana for many years no longer feel free now because they said they get a kind of look everywhere they go.”
I sighed. Not because my problem was included in those he’d summed up but because I have been living in Sierra Leone for more than eight years. I had even met two Sierra Leoneans in the hotel I’d lodged the previous night who told me they had been at the border town for over a week just to enter Ghana. That made me celebrated my close to 24-hour delayed stay at the point as I waited, gladly, for a new infrared thermometer gun to be transported to the port health at the border. It was used on me as the first foreigner along the route.
I had arrived at noon on Tuesday. “Don’t you know Nigerians are not allowed into Ghana at this point?” One of the officials had asked in a seemingly tense manner. I answered in the negative. As calls were made to confirm what would be done in my case, I recalled my first time of using the same route fourteen years earlier which started my crisscrossing the region. Throughout those years, no official has ever asked such a question about admission.
The treatment by the Ghanaians would be considered better by a wide margin than what I had received at the Cote d’Ivoire–Burkina Faso end two days earlier. I was refused entry by the Ivorians after Banfora because they had no thermometer gun and my travel history showed I had passed through Sierra Leone and Guinea. I chose not to believe the Nigerian I had met in the bus from Bamako (Mali) to Bobo Dioulasso (Burkina Faso) who had persuaded me to use the route saying I won’t be denied entry as Ivorians only hate Guineans. Interesting.
I was escorted by an Ivorian police officer to cover the 5km distance back to the Burkina Faso side. The Burkinabe official who had stamped me out smiled, shaking his head as I and my imposed aide, who had worn hand gloves immediately he was assigned to me, approached the immigration post. “I had told you you will be returned,” he said to me in French. See part two later.