A SIT-IN IN SIERRA LEONE: Getting there is often half the job for a foreign correspondent. That's just one of the facts of journalistic life that the Monitor's Danna Harman was reminded of while reporting on Sierra Leone's path to peaceful elections today (page 1). The other: Always check the immigration rules before leaving, particularly in a nation where the rule of law has been re-established.
After traveling two days by air to get from Kenya to Sierra Leone (with stops in nearly every nation in between), Danna was told she couldn't enter the country.
"The visa rule had changed since the last time I was here, when I got the visa upon arrival. A large woman tried to literally shove me back on a plane to Nigeria. 'We've changed; we're a modern country now," she said. 'We are governed by laws and rules.' "
"I thought I could work it out make a few phone calls, negotiate a visa if I was able to stay. So I just sat down on the tarmac, and I refused to move as immigration officials gathered around me. Eventually, they took me to the immigration office, a tiny hot room where they held me for six hours. It was the most grateful I have ever been for my cellphone." After many calls to the US Embassy, her editors in Boston, and a visit from Sierra Leone's ambassador to the US, Danna accepted that indeed, she would need to go to Guinea the next day to get a visa. No exceptions to the rule.
But instead of spending the night in jail, as initially promised, she was put up in a motel ("a term generously applied," says Danna) with an immigration officer outside her door all night to make sure she didn't leave. "I had to get special permission to plug in my phone charger in an outlet down the hall, because there was no electricity in my room."
David Clark Scott