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.