The flight from Dakar to Freetown seemed to be full of Sierra Leonean Americans - and what a combination, the loudness of Americans (sorry about the stereotyping) and the exuberance of Sierra Leoneans making it feel like some kind of noisy school trip. As we landed safely at Lungi Airport there was not just applause but whoops of joy and a few shouts of "Praise to the Lord!".

The airport was complete chaos, but not in the intimidating way of some African airports, more that people were more interested in getting home to see their families than in bothering to follow the few rules that seemed to be in place. It wasn't helped by a power cut that left us in complete darkness for about ten minutes.

It took about an hour for our luggage to come out, even though we were the only plane to have landed during that time (you wonder how they would cope with two aeroplanes arriving in quick succession...), and there was a lot of laughter and shouting as people jostled for position by the conveyor belt. However when the luggage came, those at the back would just shout out, "That's mine - the red one" and it would be picked up and passed over peoples' heads towards its owner.

Once through the airport you have various options as to how to get into town. I was taking the helicopter so walked to the 'Helicopter tickets' counter and handed over my $80. My ticket was not given to me but to a young man beside me: "this man will take you to registration" I was told. I refused to let him take my case (I've done this before and remembered that the helicopter office was somewhere very near) but I could only follow behind him as he sped off with my ticket.

In the office he got it stamped, and returned it to me, telling me proudly that he had got me onto the next flight. Then he stood there waiting for a tip. Only ten minutes later the luggage was all carried out and loaded onto a trolley. I followed it, not wanting it out of my sight as it sat unguarded outside. Then one of the luggage handlers turned to me: "I want a tip" he said. I asked why. "Because I looked after your luggage for you". I laughed and told him that it was his job, for which he received a salary. Lungi airport is the worst of any in West Africa for requests for "tips" (excluding Nigeria, of which thankfully I have no experience), but at least it is always done with a smile, and no-one refuses to stamp your passport if you say no. In fact I left the airport for the helicopter with a big smile on my face. Sierra Leone is truly one of the friendliest countries I know.

Travelling to the world of the ancestors

According to the Senoufou people, there are three worlds: ours, that of the spirits and that of the ancestors.

When someone dies they have to travel to the world of the ancestors, a journey of three months for which some preparation is required. During the first week after a death, therefore, the community help the deceased with the preparations, making sacrifices of chickens, beer, vegetables, grains - all that the deceased might need to sustain them on this journey. The preparations culminate on the seventh day, with final sacrifices and much drumming and dancing as the appropriate funeral masks come out for the send-off.

My primary aim in spending a few days in Burkina Faso after our conference there was to see some masks in action. I see them on every trip in the tourist shops and I have several on the walls in my house, but I had never yet managed to see a real mask dance. They are hard to track down as they are held for events such as funerals and harvests which do not have fixed dates. But I had read that in Burkina Faso they mostly take place from February to April, so I made a point of asking around in every village I went to on my trip.

& finally with some success - there was to be a funerary mask dance in the Senoufou village of Sindou!

I returned on the appointed day, and when the sun began to sink and the air began to cool I went out mask hunting. Eventually I heard distant drumming, and I followed the narrow winding paths through the village until I found the ceremony.

There were two very large ancient-looking drums being beaten with sticks, plus a number of men in procession banging and scraping small metal instruments. Three masked dancers were there, covered head to toe in a brown fabric, including a triangular headdress giving the effect of pointy ears, and long trailing fronds of blonde rafia-like stuff. Apparently they represented cats, and certainly they were prowling around some of the time but also jumping, shaking and swirling to the music.

All this in the middle of a beautiful traditional village, the setting sun turning the mud houses a pinkish shade - and me the only tourist there. Photography was not allowed, unfortunately.

The next day there were further processions around the village with different masks coming out, although I must say none of them were anything like the wooden ones sold in the shops. In some places it is possible to see dances using those masks, put on specially for tourists, and I may seek one out in the future, but I know that such an performance will come nowhere near to the special experience I had of a real mask dance in this remote little Burkina Faso village.