Whew. It’s been an action-packed and overwhelming couple of days. We drive everywhere in two (or three) silver SUVs with our drivers: Victor, Augustine, and today Ibrahim. Freetown traffic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, motorcycles weaving between vans and endless taxis, pedestrians navigating a one foot-wide strip of pavement between a narrow road and a deep concrete ditch beside it, tiny alleys between a jumble of buildings in every style and state of disrepair. Today I watched a motorcycle break the side mirror off a parked car. But our drivers are as skilled as they could possibly be and we’ve navigated every situation without any incident other than occasional glares and gestures.
Yesterday we headed to Kissy Hospital after breakfast, where some of us will be working this week. We toured the grounds and met a lot of very friendly people: an administrator, an electrician, and the head doctor there. Also met Roger and Melanie, a couple of other UMC volunteers who are working there (and Melanie gave a sermon at church today.) Julie will be helping sort through medical supplies that have just arrived, and Harry and John will be helping repair two generators. The hospital is a collection of buildings with wards for childbirth, childhood medicine, AIDS, surgery, physical therapy, and many others, along with a blood lab, pharmacy, and separate eye hospital. We also had a chance to visit Dr. Gess, a remarkable man and an old friend of my grandparents. He’s 94 and on his 94th trip to Africa, and Dorcas, Joel, and Julie knew him when they were kids here. He’s an eye doctor, and gave Dorcas her first pair of glasses all those years ago.
We had lunch at the Crown Bakery, where the kebbeh and stew with jollof rice (or “rice chop”) sent the Sierra Leoneans among us into paroxysms of nostalgic gustatory delight. After that some of us went to a huge market to haggle with locals over handicrafts: carvings, drums, bracelets, and so on. Everybody wants you to visit their stall so it’s a lot to take in. Augustine helped us with the bargaining process. We made it back after a long ride through heavy traffic (including a cow being led along a city street.)
I’ve decided to join the education team in Yonibana (Marilyn, Joel, and Hannah, plus teammates we have yet to meet) rather than sticking with the medical team here in Freetown. I think it will put my (limited) strengths to better use. So the four of us convened to sort through supplies and discuss the workshops. We are focusing on leadership training for teachers, and my dad and Hannah both have a solid background for that.
Today we woke up to head early to Brown Methodist Church, which is right next to the hospital. We met a health journalist, Emily, who is staying in our hotel and working with Dr. Gess, and who decided to join us for the day. Before the service we were able to visit the pre-natal and post-natal wards, where some of the cutest babies in the world were sleeping. The service was full of joy and singing, with sermons and prayers from Melanie and Dr. Gess, plus a special thanks for those of us on this trip from the pastor. After the service we took a long drive out of the city to River Number 2 Beach, a beautiful tropical paradise where we ate oranges, lobster, crab, shrimp et cetera, and body-surfed some good waves. It was interesting to get out of the city and see some people going about their rural lives: pounding rocks into gravel, selling hardware, carrying water, going to a funeral in an endless procession on foot.
Back at the hotel we discovered a wedding going on in the back courtyard, an elaborate gathering with red and gold and white outfits. One of the hotel staff led Jeremy and me down there and we hung out for a while, watching the celebration (which involved a lot of dancing and some auto-tuned singing.) Eventually the two of us were dancing too, with a couple of local guys, and were stared and smiled at by an alarming number of guests – partially, I imagine, because we were the only white faces there. Sierra Leone is probably the most racially homogenous country I’ve ever seen.
Then met with the team to discuss tomorrow’s events: Dorcas is meeting with representatives of local groups to discuss the prospects for Days for Girls, with Hannah for support, and the rest of us are going to meet with Smart Senesie and other local partners to discuss the Ginger Hall project. It looks like we won’t have the space or money for a UDDT, so we’re hoping to replace the existing pit latrine with another that won’t contaminate groundwater and will be regularly pumped.
I’ve been taking tons of pictures with my real camera, which you’ll see when I come back from the trip. Until then you’ll have to be satisfied with the occasional iPhone shot. Unfortunately pictures are refusing to upload tonight so you’ll have to use your imagination. I’m hoping to post another update tomorrow before we head to Yonibana and possibly no internet for several days. Good night!