Friday, June 3, 2011
On my second Saturday, Rebecca, Natalie and I went to No. 2 Beach. It took us a little while to get going. We had to stop by Natalie’s house on the way out of town so that she could grab her things and have a quick shower. While she got ready, Rebecca and I went to look for bananas. Natalie’s house is tucked over looking the bay in a network of mud alleys. We wandered up and down the alleys for a while then an older man asked us what we here looking for. “Bananas.” And he was off! Trotting along path next to flowing water. A left, a right, a left, a right, we zigzagged with the crowded alleys where people worked, children played, and puppies rolled in the dirt. The man stayed well ahead of us and would stop occasionally to look behind to make sure that we follow. He’d beckon us onward with a wave. After a while, he led us to a stall with banana, funnily right behind the office. The man asked us if we could make it back. Though it felt like hubris, we said we could our way and we did.
Desmond drove Natalie’s massive 4x4 all the way to the beach. The beach road is under construction: piles of backed dirt with intermittent patches of pavement. Along the road, the wheel of an SUV flew off as the car came towards us. The wheel bounced into the front of the car as Desmond skidded us to a halt. The back left side of the other car collapsed into the red dirt of the road. What followed was one of those tense, “do we help? do they need to help?...” moments of uncertainty. Desmond checked and determined that they’d be ok. We went off again. A few minutes later Desmond revealed that the woman in the car was his aunt. Later while we were at the beach, Desmond returned to help.
We arrived at No 2 Beach and set up in a beach cabana. It was raining as we arrived. Men came by offering us fresh young coconut and oysters taken from the No 2 River, which runs into the ocean there. The coconut was delicious and the oysters were bright and sweet. We sat and chatted. Occasionally, the rain would let up and we could stroll along the beach and swam. Like in Freetown, the green hills come all the way down to the shore. Unlike Freetown, they are free of any buildings: just green hills, the sea, a river, and the beach. Colorful boats sit on beach. The water is neither cold nor warm, just the right swimming temperature. I only got out when I saw a mangy dog plop down on my shirt that I’d left on the shore and begin to gnaw on it.
We moved on from No 2 Beach to a restaurant on the way back to Freetown called Franco’s. Franco’s is tucked into a little beach with a wide sandbar and a hill overlooking the ocean. The water makes concentric designs in the sand as it slowly evaporates or gets sucked into the ground. The restaurant is attached to a guesthouse that offers scuba diving lessons. Apparently, Franco’s was ransacked a couple of times by rebels during the war. We met other friends from the office and their friends there. The food was wonderful. Fish Capriccio made from grouper, delicious Red Zebra tomatoes in olive oil and spiny lobster sliced open and grilled on coals. We drank beer, chatted, and watched rugby.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Aberdeen Rd is bumpy, but quite drivable. From the hectic intersection with Wilkinson, it stumbles down and across a bridge. Crossing the bridge, to the right you look out and see the Atlantic and Freetown, and to the left you see a bay and Lumley Beach in the distance. Under the bridge is the very place where Pelican water taxis deposit passengers freshly arrived from Lungi airport. Just today as we drove over the bridge a gang of people were stopped looking over the side. As we passed, we saw the guardrails smashed through. The only plausible idea was that a car had gone off the side of bridge. We didn’t stop to see.
Aberdeen Rd continues over a few more hills coming to one turntable (or roundabout) that is lit with fairy lights and has a strange statue with ancient Egyptian gods in the middle. The second right passes the red and blue wall of the Aberdeen Women’s Centre. The wall is topped with coils of barbed wire. At the bottom of long hill, there is another turntable. The first right takes you up a hill to Cape Sierra, a chuck of land that sits out in the Atlantic Ocean like ball in a pool. The boy’s live is house up on the hill overlooking the sea. The house has a large covered patio with a bar and couches that serves as the real common space for the house. The this wonderful patio the ocean opens up before you framed by similar homes on either side and from beneath by the interlocking scales of zinc roofs covering less grand dwellings. At night during the brutal thunderstorms lightening streaks across the sky over the rolling ocean and single bolts snap into the Atlantic like whips. In one storm, from somewhere, one of these zinc roofs sailed passed ripped off by the violent winds.
Back to the turntable by the sea, the second right takes you down Lumley Beach Rd, which hugs the coast. Along the beach are restaurants many with decks that sit above the sand where you sit and look out over the Atlantic Ocean. You can eat grilled barracuda or snapper with chips. The sand is very white.
Friday, May 27, 2011
(Here my story begins to come out of order and here is a picture or a coconut)
The day Rebecca left I didn’t do much but hang around the Raza. Derick and I went to see a movie. The movie theatre is in the basement of the somewhat sketchy Chinese casino. The second night in Freetown the shared taxi we were riding in dropped off a tiny East Asian woman there. She was glittery and in heals. On the way to the basement with the movie theatre was a jazz club. The movie theatre had popcorn and sodas and softserve. It has movie theatre seats but the projection is the type that you would use for a PowerPoint presentation. We watch RED and occasionally words at the bottom of the screen warned us that we’d see a watermark in order to reduce pirating.
I went to work the next day, but I felt a little off. I went to the clinic with Jessica and started to feel weird. When I got back to the office in the afternoon it got worse. I was so tired, had no energy, I was sweating and achy. I didn’t want to eat. Then Cordelia asked how I felt, and I admitted not so well. “It’s in your eyes” she said. Then Ambrose came in and said, “Do you have malaria?” To which I though “no!” Malaria! It just sounds so scary at the face of it. “I don’t want to have malaria. I’m just a little sick,” I thought. I also knew that almost any sickness in Sierra Leone is likely to be called malaria. As I went around the office telling people that I was leaving, other stories of malaria emerged. Others on doxy (an antimalarial prophylactic) reported getting mild cases.
I spent the rest of that day and next day lounging in bed. I watched TV on my computer. That’s about all the energy, I had. I was even limited to the shows that I could watch. I tried Deadwood, but even that was too taxing. Occasionally, I’d try to read or write emails, but I’d quickly become covered in a layer of sweat. I ate little, and the little I got down didn’t agree with me.
So many supportive calls and emails came my way as news filtered out that I was sick and that it was likely malaria. I was really touched. Some people at the office here called me several times a day to check in. I got emails from back home wishing me well. My boss back in Cambridge even called me. It was so nice.
The morning after my full day in bed, I tried to get ready for the day, but when I got Cordelia’s call asking how I was I realized I couldn’t make it in. I still felt exhausted and achy. She told me she’d come pick me up later in the day to go to the clinic. When she came, she brought James and Ambrose with her.
The clinic was down a dirt road near to the office and waiting area was often filled with tired looking women. I checked in and sat to wait. James stayed with me and we talked. We read the several years old cooking and health magazines, which all seemed to have an exorbitant number of advertisements for American states. “Visit Louisiana!” “See Historic Sites of the Civil War!” Strange things for a Sierra Leonean audience.
Eventually, I was taken back with the nurse so that she could note my symptoms. As I told her, she also entertained an almost constant stream of questions from her fellow nurses. She used the bed behind her to write on as she took notes. A bible lay open on the bed as well as a pile of papers.
After another short wait, I was taken into the lab for blood and stool tests. The syringe was fresh, but all the medical tools seemed to be haphazardly stored in a random assortment of plastic containers.
As I waited for the results, I began to worry, “What if I don’t have malaria?” I wasn’t worrying because of what it could be if it wasn’t malaria. I was more worrying, because by this point I had become “a development worker who caught malaria in Africa.” I hadn’t realized that catching malaria was actually on my list of things to do in my lifetime, but over the past few days it had been added to that list. It had become a story to tell in the future. Sitting around a table drinking wine telling stories, I now had a new story to tell about the summer I spent in Sierra Leone. “One time, I spent a summer in Sierra Leone and two weeks after I got there I came down with malaria. It must have been the first damn mosquito in to bite me!” I didn’t want my story to disappear.
As luck would have it, when I described my symptoms to the doctor he made my story a true one saying in his deep voice, “It is malaria.” He sat behind a large desk and happily laughing at my utter lack of understanding Krio. The doctor was very casual and laidback, especially when taking my vitals. He prescribed a handful of medicines that I began taking immediately.
Initially, I was very surprised at how quickly I felt better. By the next morning I was absolutely ready to go into the office. I’ve heard stories that if you manage to take malaria with you back to the States you can be in no end of trouble. In Sierra Leone, they have malaria medicine available in a way that it isn’t so back home. Another reason to feel luckily that I caught malaria in Freetown.
Monday, May 16, 2011
After a half empty flight from Boston to London and seven hours getting well acquainted with BMI’s terminal at Heathrow, I boarded the flight to Freetown. Before boarding, I found Ryan in the lobby area and we chatted. This flight was also half filled and had an astounding selection of bad movies. My favorite selection was called Tomorrow, When the War Began, which was a pretty fantastic Australian takeoff of Red Dawn, where Chinese Communists invaded a small town and a ragtag bunch of kids become guerilla rebels. The flight stopped in Malaga, Spain to be refilled of fuel and water. It was the first time that I’d taken a flight that had to stop for fueling. It wasn’t the length of the flight that required it, but the availability of fuel here in Freetown. I found Ryan during the stop and we chatted about phones with a fellow passenger.
Sierra Leone was the darkest country I’ve ever flown into. It’s one of the ways that I judge how developed a country is the amount of light coming up from below. Right before landing, we could see the many twinkling lights of Freetown shining below.
Lungi is a tiny airport. One entrance hall, four lines to have your passport processed, two tracks for luggage. Ryan and I were assisted by an employee of the airport. We hesitated to receive his help, but led us outside through the throng and got us to the Pelican Water Taxi booth. He helped us buy tickets and got us into the van. We were taken to a covered waiting area with other passengers waiting for the boat to Aberdeen.
My mum talked about coming to visit me in Freetown while I’m here, but when I saw the process of getting onto the boat, I deemed it impossible. The stable wooden pier led to rocking ramp, then a drifting platform, and finally to the boat. It was wet and slippery and the platform rose and fell over two foot swells. An older woman was physically carried to the boat. With a little leap, I got a board and found seats at the front of the boat.
A boat ride is the best introduction to a country, even at night. You get to view it from afar, but also get the sense that you’re there. I watched Freetown in the dark. Small lights climbing up hills and a stretch along the shore. It reminded me of seeing Santa Barbara from the sea. It was very beautiful.
The boat ride took about half an hour. Ryan and I fear briefly that we’d taken the wrong boat, but then we saw Rebecca, Ali, and Ben and felt considerably more secure. There is nothing so great as seeing friendly faces after a long trip.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
It was last Monday when I was coming up from my basement that I realized that I was going to Sierra Leone. The previous week had been a crazy scramble of uncertainty. My passport spent most of the week in Washington acquiring a visa for my trip. It went to the Sierra Leonean Embassy with all the proper bits of paper and certificates and return envelope. I called daily hoping reach someone. On Friday while I was in New Haven talking about the trip I finally reached someone at the Embassy. Once I had gotten over my surprised, I began to understand that my passport had arrived, but that it had not left the Embassy. “Did you send an envelope?” they asked. “Yes,” I said keeping my cool. “We will send if today.” Kindly they called me later to confirm that the letter had gone and I could expect the letter on Saturday. But it was not to be so. I tracked the letter and found it “guaranteed” to reach my house by 3pm Monday. My flight was at 6pm. Over the weekend, I packed my stuff out of the apartment and with the help of my housemates filled to the brim the storage unit in the basement. Time was set-aside for a nice dinner with my co-workers on Sunday. Monday came and I still had no passport. I went to Cambridge to sign a lease on a new apartment and after some breakfast went home to finish up packing. Zack and I were working on my last things. I had been checking the mailbox all day. The very real possibility existed that I wouldn’t get back my passport in time, but as it happen, it appeared at 2:20pm.
I told Zack, “I feel like when spring comes I’m hurled like a fireball to some new part of the world.” Last summer, the toss took me from San Diego and, with a bounce in Boston, deposited me in Kenya. And this summer, I’ve been lobbed and landed in Freetown, Sierra Leone.