A Native Daughter Goes Home

These days, Sierra Leone is known for its fight against ebola, but it is my native land & these are my recently-re-discovered 6-part journal entries about my pre-ebola 2007 return after a near 30 year absence

Sitting on the SN Brussels airline’s A319 airbus heading to Sierra Leone, West Africa, I notice I stand out. Not because I was a petite brown girl with unconventional blond braids twisted into two pigtails peeking underneath a brown baseball cap. Never mind that because of my youthful looks, I could easily have been mistaken for an unaccompanied minor as I was dressed in the uniform of American teens: a thin white Banana Republic sweater under a screen T-shirt from Abercrombie and Fitch paired with dark denim jeans. I stood out because I was one of two black passengers on a plane-full of people heading to Africa!

Twenty-nine years had passed since I last left Sierra Leone, the land of my birth. This was the same tiny West African country that became internationally known for its horrific 10-year civil war between the government and a bandit of rebels. The conflict stood out because the insurgents carried out a reign of terror with signature amputations of the limbs of hundreds of innocent women, men and children. This is also the same country portrayed in the Academy Award nominated Warner Brothers film Blood Diamond, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Benin-born Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly.

I had no real excuse to not have made my way back during any of those 29 years.

Yes, I had immigrated to the United States with my parents as a young child and for most of those years was restricted to traveling back for various reasons. First, it was for immigration reasons. We hadn’t organized our immigration status properly yet to allow travel. Then, I could not interrupt my schooling. Finally, there was the war. It wasn’t safe. However, through all those years, after the war, when all reports indicated it was safe to return, I had not made my own personal attempts to go back… to give back.

But on January 4, 2007, I found myself on a Sierra-Leone bound airplane; me and the plane full of Arabs, Asians and other foreigners who call Sierra Leone home. I was a “JC” (or “Just come”), the term native Sierra Leoneans affectionately give to the contingency of expatriates living in North America and Europe who make the annual pilgrimage back home each December.

The term references the newness and briefness of our visits. We returning sons and daughters of Sierra Leone are watched, scorned, admired, despised and adored alike because we are privileged to have made homes for ourselves abroad and have acquired coveted American or British citizenships. We JCs are the same ones that feed the economy of the poor African nation. Millions of dollars in supplies and money make their way back home each year.

They come from the earnings of these members of the Sierra Leonean Diaspora make as nurses, cab drivers, professionals, vendors, shopkeepers, and nannies in North America and Europe….

To be continued…