Sunday, January 18, 2009

Catching Up

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. But a lot of things have been going on since my last post that kept me distracted—Dr. Maggi showed up, then my family came to visit me here in Sierra Leone, and then the day that they left, six volunteers arrived from the United States! So, it’s been a very busy month. Dr. Maggi performed about 15 surgeries, mostly fistula repairs. We finally got running water at Bo Government Hospital, since WAFF purchased and installed a pump for the well. This is the first time the hospital has had water since 2004. Unfortunately, it’s also the dry season, which means that the hydroelectric dam that powers Bo and Kenema is running low, causing frequent blackouts. We’re dealing as we can, though the power shortages certainly cut into surgery time and make the office even more inefficient.
One of our patients delivered her baby boy, named Doctor Maggi, in early January, so we have a new little wrinkled face on the ward. We’ve said goodbye to two of our most dynamic patients, Alice and Sama, who have been discharged following successful surgeries along with three others. I feel very close to both of them, and their leadership and liveliness is lacking in the ward. We took Alice back to her village, and though watching her return to her element made it easier to leave, I miss her. She gave us a giant cocoyam, a bunch of green plantains, a large papaya, and a live chicken, which spent its trip in the car trussed up in a shopping bag, its head poking out of a hole in the plastic, its angry red eyes dilating at every movement. Every so often it would go ballistic in the back of the car and roll around squawking and flapping inside the bag. It made me a bit nervous, and Alice made fun of me for jumping away from it when she told me to pick it up and it lunged away in a rustling of plastic and pinned feathers.
While returning Alice, we also looked for new patients in the surrounding villages, and we ended up on a wild goose chase for a prospective patient who walked from one village to another before we could find her. Eventually, as the sun began to set over crowing roosters, goats grazing among the cement ruins of houses burned in the war, and sooty kitchens full of hanging baskets, bunches of dried okra, and stacks of clean pots awaiting the evening meal, we found her. On the trip back, she couldn’t stop smiling and spent a good portion of the trip holding my shoulder and stroking my hair, which had become a rats’ nest in the wind from the open windows.
It was amazing to have my dad and sister come out over their winter break to visit. My dad came to see me when I was in Dakar, so he had some frame of reference for what Sierra Leone would be like, but my (vegetarian) sister had never been on the continent before. Both of them were incredibly patient with the transportation issues of this country (a blog post to follow on transportation, at some point) and the other things that go with visiting a place that has very little in the way of a tourist infrastructure. We went to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary to visit rescued chimps, which were very adept at throwing rocks at visitors and were terrifyingly human. We saw endangered red Colobus monkeys at the Tiwai Island Nature Preserve, where we slept in REI tents and ate beans cooked over an open fire. It made me yearn for the Sierra Nevada, where camping is a lot less humid. We ate, in age-old Robinson tradition, good food, trying out grilled lobsters, Chinese noodles, paneers, various experiments from the Bo market, and a lot of fresh fruit. My poor sister had to eat a lot of falafel, which was often the only vegetarian option, as my dad and I gorged on perfectly roasted, juicy chicken with garlic mayonnaise and Lebanese cheese pies, which are a bit like a white pizza. We did a bit of exploring in Freetown and found it too hectic to endure for long, but we watched masked Sande dancers shuffle through downtown waving green branches and followed by women with drums and shakers and bells.
Now we’re at the end of the trip for three of our volunteers, two of whom were working on a documentary film and one who helped set up our garden, which is now full of sprouting cucumber and squash, and little green shoots of corn and peppers. It’s very exciting. We traveled out to Taiama, a village near Bo, for a church service on behalf of the family of one of our consultants, Samuel Pieh, who is directly descended from Sengbeh Pieh, the leader of the Amistad revolt. It lasted four hours, which would test the limits of a faithful person but for me was tortuous, but our visit was made worth it when a troupe of “cultural” dancers, including Sande maskers and other “devils,” a man on a very thin high wire, and many drummers, showed up at the Pieh household. We also drank palm wine with our host, which isn’t too bad in small doses, if you can avoid the bees and other bugs that get into the drink during the tapping process.
Since then, we’ve been gardening, doing arts and crafts in the ward, and sitting with the patients. I’m still working in the office and I’ve done what I can to help our volunteers with educational programs (family planning/reproductive health as well as first aid) get started. I’ve followed the cinematographer and writer team around as they shot various locations and conducted interviews a bit and taken the volunteers to the market and other Bo hotspots. We’ve begun frequenting Georgetown, a local guesthouse and bar right up the road from the house, and it’s been nice to have a bit of relaxation. It’s a very exciting time to be with the program, since it feels like all of this new blood has increased enthusiasm and excitement within WAFF. And it feels so good to grow things that we will, with hope, be able to offer to the patients (or to eat ourselves, if the patients aren’t feeling brave). Watching little seeds push up and fold out leaves is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. We’ve started our compost pile and built up different types of raised beds. The patients come down when they see volunteers heading for the garden and point out the various ways in which we are doing things completely wrong. We listen to them most of the time, since they are professional farmers and we are amateur putterers at best, but we’re hoping our weird experiments and ideas pan out, so that we can pass on some knowledge to the patients as well, with the goal of giving them the opportunity to improve their diets and those of their families once they go home. So, for now, we’ll be the crazy pumoi with our weird raised mounds for gourd cultivation and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that it will work.

1 comment:

  1. love reading about your adventures. sure there many more like me who would have given anything to be a part of the Robinson camp fire scene, african style. you are amazing!