Remembering Freetown

I am not in any way prepared for postwar Freetown. Postwar Sierra Leone. The tanks parked on the roadside, the brand-new Toyota 4Runners marked UN rolling by. I am not in any way prepared, despite my ten-day Hostile Environments and First Aid Training by the British Royal Marines in the Shenandoah Mountains; ten days of mucking around with other aid workers and journalists from the Sacramento Bee, the Associated Press, and the New York Times. There are guns here, I notice. The men posted at roadside checkpoints have AK-47s. They’re dressed in uniform, blue military helmets fastened. I go over checkpoint protocol in my head, but the men do not stop our vehicle. We are waved through. “Who are they?” I ask Maureen, our local host. “Those are the UN peacekeepers,” she says.

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