Next Day Daily Diary  
  Sunday, May 22nd
Notes From Toni:
Today, my journey commenced with a late afternoon flight from Tampa to London Gatwick Airport. The flight was nearly ten hours long, which gave me plenty of time to ponder the journey ahead.

I was filled with anticipation and had no idea what to expect from my upcoming experience. It was rather like closing my eyes and diving off of a cliff - "Here goes, come what may." I was certain, though, that this would be an experience I would not soon forget.

I pondered what I did know; that the purpose of our trip was a joyous one, to return the spirit of Priscilla to her homeland 249 years after she was captured and sold into slavery at the age of ten. I knew that Sierra Leone had a long history surrounding colonialism and the slave trade, and that the country is still dealing with the cultural aftermath of both.

I also knew that Sierra Leone is slowly emerging from a ten year civil war that ended in 2002. The war, which brought poverty and suffering to many thousands of Sierra Leoneans and left thousands dead or injured, also left parts of the the city and the surrounding countryside devastated. Even now, three years after peace was finally restored, the economy is only slowly beginning to recover.

I expected that the joyous events of Priscilla's Homecoming would be bittersweet when set against the backdrop of a country whose citizens live with anxiety and despair over the frail economic conditions brought about by the war. This would prove to be true as the week unfolded.

Overall, though, I was excited and full of anticipation about the events of the coming week, and eager to reach my destination and join Priscilla's Homecoming. I napped on the plane and awaited our arrival at London Gatwick Airport.

Notes From Kenny:
An account of Priscilla’s Homecoming
© 2005 K. H. Burton

I had many expectations and concerns about traveling to Sierra Leone West Africa with she (Africa) being the stuff of myth, legend and ignorance, and had thought my visit would be something totally different from what it came to be. Quoting Stevie Wonder’s song Living For The City “West Africa, just like I pictured it jungles and everything.” My Arrival quickly dispelled all preconceived notions that I had.

I had been in Sierra Leone a good three days prior to Thomalind and Antawn Polite’s arrival and what greeted me was not full regalia of dignitaries but a few kind faces. The Thursday before my visit, I was leaving a Kroger grocery store in South West Atlanta, and ran into my first cousin, who I excitedly told about my trip. Coincidentally, she informed me that a church member of hers named Charles Black was making a trip to Sierra Leone, to do some work on a documentary, he being an actor. She said she was sure the both of us would be in the same place and to look him up.

My flight departed from Hartsfield-Jackson airport Sunday morning, and butterflies where wreaking havoc with my mind wondering what lay in store. A good friend and frequent flyer Lionel had driven me to the Atlanta airport and accompanied me to get my boarding pass and as far as the security check, and after that I thought I would be on my own until my arrival to Lungi airport in Sierra Leone. But as I sat at the gate waiting for my flight, I overheard a gentleman talking on his cell phone and he mentioned Brussels Belgium. I looked around and noticed that he looked like the person my cousin Joy described, so I asked him if his name was Charles Black, to which he replied "Yes." I was glad to see him, and explained that I, too, was headed to Brussels en route to Sierra Leone.

I gave him my story, my affiliation and showed him the pictures of my grandmother from whom I had a Sierra Leone Mende connection. When we finally arrived in Brussels after a not so brief layover in Dulles airport in Washington DC and a seven hour flight, we were greeted by the watchful eyes of Alison Sutherland, an Attorney from London. Alison was another of those welcome faces that I constantly met while on this journey.

When we arrived at the Lungi airport, her suaveness proved to be of considerable comfort as we faced the seeming randomness of securing our luggage and booking a helicopter flight to Freetown (the capitol of Sierra Leone), which lay across the harbor. Besides Charles, Alison and I, a few other colleagues had also arrived, including Valerie Tutson (founder of the Project Priscilla in Rhode Island) and Marian Alfred and Juliette Emmesiah who were native Sierra Leoneans, and last but not least one member of the film crew, Lenny Spears.

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