|Flying Slok Airlines to Freetown is by no means direct! The fight actually goes to Dakar, but makes stops in Monrovia, Liberia; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Banjul, the Gambia; and then finally it arrives in Dakar, Senegal.
Slok Airline was the only airline that I could find that flies to Freetown from Accra. However, I have no idea what the meaning of their name is but I do know that they are an airline from the Gambia. So I was very interested in what the trip was going to be like on a relatively obscure airline from a tiny little African country that nobody has ever heard of!
My first glimpse of the plane was on the runway in Accra. It was a decent Boeing 727-200 with nice pea green and orange paint job. And in big black, hand painted letters on the side it said SLOK. So in anticipation I sat clenching my hand written ticket in my tiny fist, waiting for our chance to board.
The plane boarded about the same time that we were actually suppost to already be in the air and on our way. There were maybe about 100 or so seats onboard but it wasn't too big of a plane. Two rows of three seats. I was sitting fairly close to the front but seperate from the people I know. Anyways, after the business people came on and got their seats, these famalies were coming on board with UNHCR bags. They were Liberian refugees on their way home. They kept coming and coming: Grandmas, kids, moms and dads but there were so many kids. I dunno if the UN was paying for them to get home but I am assuming that they were somehow helped out with the purchasing of the tickets but all the children didn't have seats. They stood or sat on their parents with no seat belts- and these weren't all babies and toddler either, some were like 12 years old! That was kind of disturbing because not only were there no seat belt, lifejacks or airmasks for these kids but I am sure their are passanger limits for a reason.
But we made it to Monrovia, landed for refueling and were able to get out and stretch our legs. It was very surreal. As we flew down the run way I could see shanty houses lining the outskirts of the airport with cattle grazing nearby. Then as we taxied towards to Roberts International Airport, the whole landing strip was full monsterous, white UN choppers and cargo planes. It felt like we were deep in the Congo with all the lush greenery accenting these beastly 'war' machines. It was such a juxtaposition of the man made problems with the beauty of the continent. Anyways, when we pulled up to the airport I was actually quiet surprised- I am not sure why but.... The building was like a warehouse, with a bunch of satalites on top. It had to have been the worst airport I have ever been to, but I guess that is what 20 years of civil conflict can do to a country.
Only being in Liberia for a brief time certainly gave me a bit of insite into the place where the refugees in Buduburam had come from. I dunno how to explain it but just seeing the aiport and the condition it was in, seemed really symbolic of the whole country and the lives of people I have been working with in the camp.