The day I didn’t go to Sierra Leone

Blogging trip to Sierra Leone

I’m meant to be in the sky right now. My flight took off two hours ago for Freetown. Instead I’m sitting in the airport departure lounge in Brussels, with a ticket booked back to Heathrow. All round it’s been a pretty rubbish day.

I should probably wait to write this post, until my eyelids aren’t burning from all the tears and the lack of sleep and my emotions have levelled out enough to process what happened. But my phone’s out of battery, I’ve got no money to blow in the duty free shops and I’m on my own, with only my laptop for company.

The decision to go to Sierra Leone wasn’t an easy one for me. Instinctively, it was something I desperately wanted to do, but I’m a mum with two young kids (one who’s still breastfeeding) and I didn’t know if the logistics would work. It was a huge deal for me to decide to leave them for nearly a week and travel four and a half thousand miles away.

But I strongly believed (believe) in the work World Vision are involved in to help rebuild children’s lives in communities torn apart by Ebola. Little girls (and boys), just like my own, without a mum and dad – or aunties and uncles, siblings or grandparents. Mothers doing amazing things and communities coming together to make a change against all odds.

The process to get to today hasn’t been a straight-forward one. Aside from all the logistical arrangements of leaving two young children for nearly a week, there’s also been a lot done behind the scenes to get things organised. A small fortune on vaccines, anti-malarials, travel insurance etc, then there was all the paperwork and pre-trip interviews. It’s been a big investment of time, as well as an investment of emotional energy preparing for such a trip.

I’m exhausted today. The past week has been punctuated by late nights covering work deadlines so nothing is missed while I’m away – the reality of working as a freelancer. But I woke at 3.30am excited and ready. The day was finally here. I was going to Sierra Leone.

But it wasn’t to be. At some point along the line a ball was dropped. My visa – which I thought was being arranged – was not sorted. From my end, I’d completed all the paperwork asked of me, sent all the documents I’d been asked for, had the jabs needed to obtain the visa and – or so I thought – been pretty diligent.

An outside agency were used to organise my visa. It’s unclear what happened, but it looks like it was never done. As I don’t have any experience with going to Africa and have never had to organise a visa for Sierra Leone before, I naively assumed it was being sorted and would be given to me when I arrived at the airport, by the World Vision rep.

This didn’t happen. My passport should have been stamped – of course it should have! But how was I to know? And so I was left with nothing but a letter from the government in Sierra Leone to show along with my passport at check-in. A few frantic calls at the front desk and we were told it was OK, we could obtain a visa on arrival. We were let through. Phew!

But when it came to board the plane from Heathrow, I was told that no, I couldn’t go past. They radioed to take my bag off the plane. The woman (scary and officious) barked into her phone, shouting her colleagues to help her sort it out. After more barking she passed me my boarding card and said it’s OK, I could go through. At this point my heart was racing and I felt sick. All the planning for this trip, the state of mental readiness and I nearly lost it all at the last hurdle?

We arrived in Brussels. I still felt sick, but hoped the fact I was allowed to board the plane was a good sign – I could still sort the visa cock-up when I arrived. I had someone from World Vision not to mention my blogging buddy Annie by my side. I wasn’t on my own.

It wasn’t to be. They wouldn’t let me through at the boarding gate. I was the only one without a visa. No one was answering their phones. The minutes were ticking down and it was a case of either I stay or we all do, and the trip would be jeopardised. Those stories would never be told. And so I found myself wandering around the airport, looking for my baggage, through eyes full of tears, trying to work out how to get back to London, accepting that there was to be no trip to Sierra Leone after all.

And here I am. Waiting for my flight back to Heathrow. Deflated, upset, frustrated but still committed to sharing the stories of the people doing amazing and inspiring things in Sierra Leone.

I can’t be the one to tell these stories, but Annie is on her way, in the air right now. Please follow her and help to shout loud.

In the meantime, I’m going to sit here and hide my puffy eyes behind sunglasses, comforting myself with the fact I’m safe and I’m going to get to see my daughters far earlier than planned.



  1. says

    Huge hugs Molly. I know all to well the extent of all that prep you have been through and exactly how much emotional energy and headspace it takes. I am completely gutted for you. You are an amazing human to have put your all into supporting this xxxx

    • says

      Thank you for Penny. And thank you for your lovely messages. Hopefully there might be another opportunity some time down the line xx

  2. says

    I am so so sorry Molly, how annoying and frustrating, and ultimately really bloody sad that you couldn’t go. As you said though, you had done everything expected of you so it’s really not your fault. I hope you have time for a big fat Belgian waffle at least before you have to make it home again. x

    • says

      I’m really disappointed and frustrated – such a basic error has prevented me from sharing some really amazing stories, not just on here but with other places that were going to publish too. But I really hope there’ll be another opportunity another time, hopefully xx

    • says

      Thanks Cass. I’m safe – that’s the main thing. I just kept thinking yesterday about all the people making journeys at the moment who aren’t safe, and who face the Unknown of being turned away from their destination. Helps to put things into perspective x

  3. LucyBC says

    Oh Molly that is so disappointing. I’m so sorry. How unbelievably frustrating. Hope your journey home is OK.

    • says

      Thank you Lucy. Got home at 10pm after the NLM (bless him – so grateful) met me at the airport to drive me home. He had my dad drove all the way from Devon to get there as they were worried about me driving when I was so tired and upset. Slept for about 12 hours and having a very low key day today. Feel like I could sleep for another 12 hours all over again!

    • says

      Every country is so different when it comes to visas – sometimes it’s a form you hand over and they stamp your passport when you arrive. I guess I just assumed this would be the case again!

  4. says

    I’m so so sorry. I’m sure you will make the trip sooner than you think. Now you know more of what’s involved, I have every faith you will somehow find a way to make your voice, and that of Annie and everyone else involved heard. Big hugs xx

  5. says

    Molly, I’ve already said this today numerous times in texts and messages and Facebook comments but again: I’m so gutted for you. I know how much you had invested – both in time, effort and emotionally- into this trip. I know the challenges it was bringing you and the fears you had. To have it all crumble away thanks to what appears to be an admin slip up by the agency seems so unfair. Massive hugs (and a huge glass of wine for you, lady) xxx

  6. says

    Oh Molly I’m so so sorry, what an emotional rollercoaster this must have been. You must be exhausted. I hope you’re home soon and can give those babies of yours a huge hug. Look after yourself xxx

    • says

      I slept for 12 hours last night and feel like I could sleep for 12 more! All the emotions, adrenaline, tears etc really wiped me out. Feeling better for seeing my girls though. xx

  7. says

    Ohh Molly, I’m so sorry. When ONE were getting my Ethiopia visa their agency lost my passport and I had palpitations for a few days, thankfully it all came together. I’m so sorry it hasn’t for you. Mich x

    • says

      Thank you Mich. Yesterday was a really disappointing day and on a personal level I was really upset. But I’m determined to put it behind me and still feel strongly about sharing those stories – I hope I might be able to properly again one day xx

  8. says

    OMG, so sorry to hear this Molly. You must be devastated. Hibernate for a while. Hope those hugs from your girls lighten the load just a little bit at least xxx

  9. says

    Ah my sweetness. I know i said this via message, but again, I’m so so sorry. This is so crappy for you- I know how excited you were & so looking forward to this trip, an amazing adventure to bring awareness to a sensitive & hugely important subject. What an utter balls up. But, do you know what i think? (this is me, being ever the optimist)- it means there is an adventure, a cause, just as important & exciting as this waiting for you still, & I can’t wait to follow you on that journey. Sending you much love right now xx

    • says

      I still really believe in the work World Vision are doing in Sierra Leone (and around the world) and am committed to supporting that. Obviously I’m hugely disappointed about this trip and yesterday was an unpleasant and difficult day on so many levels, but you’re right – it’s not the end, and I hope I’ll get another opportunity to engage personally with these stories I want to share. Thanks for your lovely messages K xxx

  10. says

    I am so sorry Molly, I know how geared up you were towards your trip and I feel so desperately sorry for the fact that you haven’t been able to go. I hope you get something sorted out and can still commit to the cause you so bravely set yourself up to do. x

  11. says

    Molly, that is utterly rubbish. I’m so sorry you weren’t able to go. You mustn’t beat yourself up about it. There’ll be another trip, and other important stories to tell, I’m sure. Big hugs x

  12. says

    Aah Molly — I’m gutted for you. That’s so bitterly disappointing. It’s sometimes really difficult to gear ourselves up, mentally, for brave new adventures and get the right mindset in place, to even agree in the first place, isn’t it?

    Let alone arrange all the logistics — childcare particularly — so to get all those things in place and then not be able to go is so frustrating.

    I know it’s no comfort but I bet there will be other opportunities. Chin up lovely x

  13. says

    Oh Molly, I’m so so sorry.
    I was keeping updated but didn’t realize once you got to Brussels that it all fell through ????
    I can only imagine how upset you are, and how scary it must’ve been actually. You poor love.
    As you say, those stories will still get told, your heart has showed its intent for us all to see, and you’re a wonderful lady.
    Chin up chick – all will feel better after a cup of tea and a hug with your girls.xx

  14. says

    Awful Molly and so deflating after all your hard work. There will be something else for you. You’re heroic for continuing to support and voice what the world needs to hear

    • says

      Incredibly deflating. And just as much because I can’t be there to work alongside Annie and share all the inspiring stories I know she’s bound to hear out there. x

  15. says

    So sorry to hear this, you are so brave to even contemplate it!
    From experience of living in West Africa for a year I know that African business is never simple or straightforward. I advise a good sob a large glass of alcohol and family hugs? You will soon be ready to go again! Sending love…xx

  16. says

    Oh no, how incredibly disappointing. All I can think of is that there HAS to be a reason why it has turned out like this. You may not find out that reason for a long time, or indeed ever, but I really think it’s there.

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