1.01.2012

Pumui in Salone: I'm Not in Chicago Anymore

That's my place!
I'm finally starting to settle in. I'm now accustomed to showering in a bucket in the pitch dark. I've acclimated to sleeping on my stiff mattress. Mosquitoes are friends..not enemies(?). And the nightly apocalyptic storms lull me to sleep. I've even learned to ignore the strange crunchy objects in my morning bread (the identity remains a mystery...bugs? tiny pebbles? dirt?). Probably best if left unknown. Ignorance is bliss, right?

I was late getting picked up for the clinic...by an hour to be exact. But then again, as they always say here, "We're on African time!". It's now sounding less like an excuse and more like a fact of life in Africa. Instead of just observing at the clinic today, I ran all the malaria tests. It's been nearly two years since I did one, so I was a bit nervous shoving a needle in someones finger. But on my first patient, the child walked away with all 10 fingers and in minimal tears. An even bigger success (and surprise) was that the test was negative! That's a small miracle this time of year when malaria is more common than okada bikes here. 

I spent the rest of my time at the clinic watching the dentist work her magic on a rotten tooth for an hour. I watched as the dentist (Joy) lit a fire outside near the toilets to sterilize the instruments before getting to work. The entire process consists of: (1) waiting several minutes for the fire to boil the water in the pot, (2) boiling the instruments for 20 minutes, (3) removing all the instruments and putting them on a (dirty?) tablecloth in the procedure room, (4) placing the rest of the unsterile instruments in the boiling water and letting them sit for another 20 minutes, (5) repeating step 3. Once all of this was done, it was finally procedure time. 
The Dental Procedure Room

I asked Joy a few questions about working as a dentist in a country that only has around a dozen for a population of nearly 6 million (with more than half of the dentists being in Bo and the other half likely being in Freetown). She said she enjoyed her work and that dentists are very much needed here. She told me that at the clinic they are able to extract teeth and fix cavities. She then exclaimed, "We are almost 'First World!'". I bit my tongue. I felt like saying, 'Oh hun, if only you knew what you all were missing', but I didn't, of course. Granted, they lack so much of what we have in the West, but even without all of our 'advanced' technology, they still manage to do an equally decent job - it just takes a lot longer.

The patient came in - a 14 year old girl who fell off her bike and chipped her tooth. The dentist numbed the area and started chipping away. I was informed that they can extract teeth, but have no means to put anything in the new gap. So this girl will sport one wicked hole in her smile. 10 minutes later, nothing seemed to be happening with the tooth. The girl fidgeted in her seat, even though she was supposed to be numb. Her knuckles turned white from grabbing the side of the bed and her toes stretched wide open. The sun streamed in the open 'window' (which is actually just a hole in the wall) and onto the patient, as if putting a spotlight on her obvious discomfort. The dentist kept going - extracting minuscule chunks of the tooth every 10 minutes or so. What amazed me most was that the dentist was able to concentrate with the havoc of street life happening right outside the window. I also wondered how sanitary this whole situation was, what with the constant stream of red dust and car exhaust coming in the hole in the wall and getting exposed to the 'sterile' instruments and the patient. I also felt extremely sorry for the patient. I could tell she was in a lot of pain. I wondered if the medicine was working at all...

An old friend then came into the room (with the tooth extraction still in-process), out of breath and panting, but all the while with a big smile on his face. "I see you!" he said. Um...yes? Not the greeting I was expecting, nor one that I know how to respond to. He then explained to me that my mom has been facebook messaging him asking if I made it to Bo safely. Since the 'African area'** in the Belgium airport had no internet access and since Bo is literally a communication black hole, I had yet to let anyone back in the States know I'm still alive and have made it safely. He tells me, "I didn't want to tell your mom that you were here until I have set my eyes on you myself. But now, I see you. I will let her know you are safe with me." Stop worrying mom!

**Side note/rant about 'African areas' in international airports. Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that any airport with flights to Africa has an 'African terminal/area' that is more sucky then the rest of the other 'Western' terminals. Granted, I've only experienced two different airports en-route to Africa, but both have been the same. London Heathrow had a ghetto and outdated terminal that I don't even think had air conditioning, and Brussels looked like an open airport hanger where they stuck some seats and a child play area. Also, in order to reach it, I needed to walk through a hardhat construction zone and wait 45 minutes for a bus to take me to the terminal which is completely removed from the rest of the airport. Also, when getting off the plane in Brussels, the stewardesses directed "People going to Africa" in one direction and "others" in another direction. When I tried following my new Congolese friend I made on the plane, the staff grabbed me and pushed me in the direction of the "others". When I tried following the "people going to Africa" yet again, I was asked "Is your destination Africa?". "YES!" I said, annoyed. The stewardess chuckled at me and said, "Ha! No it's not. Now, this way...". Yes, I'm a tiny little white, freckled American female, but does that mean I'm not capable of going to Africa? Basically, it all felt like a segregation process, with all the Whites going in the "other" direction and the black Africans all "going (back) to Africa". Is this all a colonial legacy? Has anyone else had the same experience?
Shop along the Old Railway Line in Bo, Sierra Leone
 When lunch time came, the guys on staff all wanted to take me out to eat at a 'restaurant'. We headed outside and walked down the Old Railway Line for a good 10 minutes and through random mini-villages until we reached the 'restaurant' - which was actually just a grass hut, a pot of boiling liquid, a large woman and her young son. The lady looked at us with surprise, as if she hasn't had a customer in ages. Her son scrambled to find seating and in the end managed to pull a board up next to a tree stump for our seating. We sat as the lady cooked our lunch and the guys all told funny stories in Krio, which I could faintly understand. Lunch came and was a boiling pot of palm oil, fish, and potatoes. I told the guys this was a different 'restaurant' experience than what I am used to. I asked if you could choose what you wanted to order at this 'restaurant' and I was given the answer, "YES! There are three options!!". Splendid. 

They all waited and watched as I took the first bite. "Careful, it is hot and it might be too spicy for you!", but I disregarded that. Little do they know I have long ago burned off all temperature sensors in my mouth and that no food is too spicy for me. It was delicious, whatever it was. I steered clear of the fish: (1) because I'm a vegetarian and I didn't feel like trying to explain vegetarianism yet again and (2) the fish looked really questionable...especially the eyeballs. To finish the whole meal off I was handed an unmarked bag of water. I've been warned about these bags - they aren't filtered and are just simply filled with the dirty tap water. I weighed my options: either risk being rude and deny the water and deal with the heat in my mouth - or hope that my typhoid vaccine worked and drink the water. I chose the latter and threw all caution to the wind - accepting any consequences it might entail. I watched as they all ripped open the bag with their teeth and sucked away. I tried to do the same but I (literally) bit off more than I could chew and accidentally squeezed the bag which made water exploded all over me. Little did I know I would unintentionally take a shower during lunch. We all got a good laugh at my own expense - the stupid pumui who cannot drink out of bags. 

When we got back to the clinic, there was just one patient left who needed a glucose treatment for swollen tonsils. I explained to Dr. Francis that in the U.S. we just remove the tonsils. He looked appallingly at me and said, "But they have a purpose!". Indeed, they do. When all the patients were gone, Dr. Francis handed me a po-po (papaya) that he grew in his garden. I love all fruits, but po-po is one that I just can't handle. Maybe if I had it cold it would be better, but every time the cooks make it for me it has always been sitting in the sun for hours, making it more of a liquidy substance. I thanked him and headed home, po-po in hand.
All you Single Ladies: Francis is single and ready to mingle!
I said no, so he is completely available & looking for a US Girlfriend
Contact for details ;-)

Back at home, Francis came over with his Sierra Leone history books which were published long before the civil war - clearly they are still missing a lot of history. I flipped through the book and landed on the section labeled 'Effects of Colonialism'. Oh this should be interesting. It said that Sierra Leone was set up for the sole purposes of exportation and exploitation, which hinders the country's growth. And the understatement of the year award goes to...

When the rest of the kids came back from school, they showed me some of their impressive dance moves. We all had a dance party for a good...2 hours? We are stuck on a 'mountain' in the middle of a town with nothing, smack dab in the middle of a country with...nothing. What else is there to do? 


When I went inside to grab my couscous dinner I noticed that all the house help were gone and I heard what sounded like one of three things: (1) a massive orgy, (2) a human sacrificing ceremony, or (3) a group of 30 Africans watching a horror movie. I ruled 1 out (or at least I really hoped that wasn't happening). I figured that they weren't watching a horror movie; I don't know what made me inclined to think that, but I just figured they weren't. Scarily enough, I thought human sacrificing might not be too far off of a guess (especially since I'm constantly told that there is an increase of cannibalism during the 'festive season'). I went back outside and asked the kids what was happening in the house and they dodged my questions. I guess that is something for me to discover in the coming days. 

As I killed time in the darkness on the porch at night with the guard, Kargbo (who again, I swear was high given that his eyes were completely glassy and he smiled and laughed at everything), and Jessie told me that if I am to become Sierra Leonean then I need to learn Krio phrases. This is what I learned:
Wessin part you commot? - Where are you from?
I commot na e Cheekago - I'm from Chicago
Wettin you na nem? - What's your name?
Me na nem Karen - My name is Karen
You da craz? I na craz, you da craz! - Are you crazy/insane? No! I'm not crazy, you are!

Nothing is cuter than little African children - seriously.
Especially this little boy!
They then decided that Krio was too similar to English and that it wasn't challenging me enough, so they decided to switch to Mende.
Bua - Hello
Bisee  - Hello, thank you and God
Koweena - How are you?
Kaeygoma  I'm doing well, praise the Lord.
Cowcow - cocoa
Mambuwe (dude) - See you tomorrow (dude)

There we go, I'm set for the next six weeks. The crickets came, the stars light the sky, the moon rose and looked like a wooden bowl meant to hold rice, and the lizards gathered around the porch light bulb. 
Mambuwe, Africa!

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