12.29.2011

Pumui in Salone: Sunday is Church-day

Rainy Seasons Roads in Bo, Sierra Leone (and also the graveyard for our van)
Day number two here in Bo, Sierra Leone. It is Sunday which means its church-day. I woke up extra early to make sure I was ready on time, but I completely forgot I was now on 'African time' which adds about an hour onto any time given. I was ready at 9:40 for the car like they told me to be, but the car wasn't ready for nearly 45 minutes later. When I saw the car that would be driving me I became worried. I watched as this van was pushed down a hill to start it up this morning - and this was meant to drive me through muddy roads for 10 minutes? I don't think so. 

Palm Oil Market
I climbed in the van with the others and we began driving. The van didn't need a push to start up this time which made me only slightly more hopeful that I'd make it to church in one piece. All the roads were washed out from the downpour the night before. Blood red mud puddles stretched the length of the road. When we arrived at one particularly large mud puddle and ditch, I heard a clunk that sounded as if we left the engine behind us. The van died right there in the middle of the ditch.

An MSF jeep drove by and asked if we are OK. Our driver said we were (really??). Leave it to MSF to check up on a broken down vehicle packed with about 15 Africans and two white girls. Gotta love 'em. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to hop out of my broken down van and into the MSF jeep and head to Gondoma where the MSF clinic is located. But instead, I wait. 

As we sat in the ditch, I watched life around me. Children walked by our car shouting "Hello!" and "Pumui!". Women at the palm oil market poured the deep red liquid from jerrycan to jerrycan. One women climbed on the back of an okada with a dead cat wrapped in a plastic bag. I wonder who's dinner that cat will be. The okada drove off with the lady, her bag, and the cat's tail flapping in the wind.

Worshiping at Church
A truck came to rescue us 15 minutes later. We all got in the back bed of the truck and left our van stranded in the ditch which had become a graveyard for our vehicle. As we drove down the Bo-Koribondo highway, Sierra Leoneans gawked at me riding in the bed of the truck. I don't think this is a scene they are used to seeing. Despite the awkward stares I was getting, I loved the ride. There is nothing like riding on the back of a truck on bumpy dirty roads through Africa with the wind rushing through your hair. Some of the people we drove by gave me a thumbs up.

I arrived at church in splendid African style: an hour late. Church is long - I mean really long. There are several hours of singing and dancing followed by several more hours of preaching. In total, the church service lasted 4 hours - by far the longest church service I have ever attended. The intense heat, stagnant air, and loud sound system made the service feel even longer. The highlight of the entire service, however, would have to be the children who danced and shook in a way that would make even Shakira blush. The church guests walked up to the kids and put money in their pockets and in their shirts to show their appreciation. I'm not in Illinois anymore. Welcome to a West African church.
When I got back home there was nothing better to do than eat dinner, which was fried plantains and rice with a spicy bean sauce. I heard a scream from a neighboring room and when I went to see what was wrong, I saw Julie hiding in a corner and giant hornet flying around near her window. The bug needed to die. I grabbed a Febreeze bottle and whacked it to the floor and crushed it with my foot. The bug refused to die until 10 minutes later. After this harrowing rescue act, I was exhausted and thought a nap was the best thing to do next. I woke up to another apocalyptic-like storm rolling in. 

The Hornet I Killed
I went to the front porch to watch the storm and I found the wife of another guest sitting there as well. I began talking to her, trying to get her to speak for the first time. Her name is Elizabeth and she is naturally gorgeous. Although she is tremendously shy and reserved, once I got her talking, she wouldn't stop. She told me her life story: She is a midwife in a hospital in Freetown. Both her parents are dead. One of her brothers is a doctor in America, one sister lives in England, and another brother is in Germany. When she was in college she needed 150USD to pay for her tuition, but when she asked her brother in America for some help, he told her to work the streets for cash. How kind.

Elizabeth was still taking care of her younger brother at the time (and still is). Together they opened an African clothing business so she could pay for her brother’s school tuition and she dropped out of school. She used to tell her younger brother that they might go to bed hungry, but at least they would be filled with the satisfaction of their education.

Then Elizabeth met a girl from Germany on facebook who encouraged Elizabeth to continue with her studies. The German girl served as a mentor for Elizabeth and eventually visited her many times in Sierra Leone, until she died from cancer in her late 20s. Elizabeth is still distraught over her death which happened only this year. But now, Elizabeth is a midwife. She completed her school and wants to stay in Sierra Leone to improve this country. She said she had lived through a lot, but it all feels good now because it helped her get to where she is.
The women in this country are resilient. They are by far the most hard working women I have ever known. Not only do they work hard, but they are working to overcome domestic violence and to achieve equal rights. 

The Nightly Lizards
After an hour of talking we sat in silence and listened to the thunder of the incoming storm, looked at the darkness that surrounded us with the exception of a few Okada lights coming up the hill, and listened to the guard snoring beside us. A lizard fell from above us fell to our feet with a large splat. Crickets chip all around us.

I headed back inside and tried to play plumber and fix my toilet. Surprisingly, after a few minutes of messing around with the toilet, I was able to fix it myself. Just call me plumber Karen from now on. Perhaps I really am a logistician in the making!

Eventually the storm arrived, the sky opened up and released all its water, and lightning filled the sky. The guards outside my window mumbled with each other in Mende. There was no music tonight, only the sound of the falling rain and crashing thunder. Tomorrow I begin my work at the clinic, but until then, I lay in the heat and listen to the rainy season downfall outside my room. 

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