Monday, February 09, 2015

Beach Bungalows and Ebola

     I spent the weekend hanging out on a beautiful, remote beach outside of Freetown, but lest you think I’m just on a six month vacation, I want to share some Ebola related stories before I write about a weekend getaway to the beach. I live in the King Tom area of Freetown, right near the King Tom cemetery which is now known as the “Ebola Graveyard.” I knew a lot about the cemetery prior to arriving here, but I didn’t know I’d be living next to it and I honestly didn’t give it much thought until I’d been here for a couple of days. The cemetery has been burial central for Ebola victims with over 4,400 bodies being buried there since August. Of course, it’s impossible to tell how many of those people actually had Ebola as anyone who dies is being buried as if they were an Ebola victim. Apparently it was almost impossible to directly access our street for many months because there were nonstop funeral processions. The elderly who know they’re close to death continuously pray that they won’t die until after the Ebola outbreak is over so that they won’t have to be buried in a way that violates many customs which they believe to be extremely spiritually significant. I try to catch a glimpse of what’s happening inside every time we pass by, but apart from the graves directly in front, it’s difficult to see anything other than smoke rising, presumably from the burning trash heap inside the cemetery. If you want to read more about the cemetery and what working there is like, this is a great article.

     In other Ebola related news, a driver based in Makeni came down with a fever on Friday. He wanted to be sent home to Kenema! It’s not good when people working in the response efforts who know that they should go to a holding center ask to be transported home instead. Of course, it’s easy to tell other people to go to a holding center, but it’s hard to know what you would do if it was you. If I was in the US, the answer would be easy, but it’s very different here, especially now that I’ve seen my first Ebola Emergency Holding Center which was essentially a bunch of makeshift tent buildings that I’m thankful I only observed from the car as we drove to the beach. Anyways, the driver did not have Ebola, but had malaria and typhoid and the last I heard he is responding to treatment so all is well.  
     The Ebola Emergency Holding Center wasn't the only Ebola related thing I experienced on our drive to the beach. We made a pit stop at the supermarket before we left and before we could go inside we had to wash our hands in chlorine water and have our temperatures taken. It’s interesting how quickly this becomes routine (although my temperature was higher today than it's been since I got here and it's stressing me out despite the fact that my temperature was exactly what it's supposed to be - 98.6 F) and it’s fantastic that this added safety measure is in place. After the supermarket we drove down a ridiculously bumpy road and crossed bridges with no rails that were barely wide enough for our car until we finally arrived at the Bahamut at Black Johnson Beach about an hour or so later. When we got there we met the owner, Martin, and the four other weekend guests. Martin actually lived in Cambridge for a few years so we bonded over that and talked about going to Grantchester. While I think Grantchester is interesting because people like Stephen Hawking, James Watson, Francis Crick, Ernest Rutherford and Ludwig Wittgenstein spent a great deal of time there, Martin thinks Grantchester is interesting because Pink Floyd used to go to the meadows to do acid. Needless to say that conversation ended fairly quickly. But Martin has put together a great little property. There are four bungalows and people can also bring tents or hammocks and sleep on the beach. We spent most of Saturday eating. I ate barracuda for the first time and thought it was actually pretty good. We hung out on the beach, enjoyed the warm water and we even saw some dolphins!



     After dinner things got interesting. Martin turned on the generator so we'd have some light and music and we lit a bonfire. The other guests were a group of four middle aged people, two of whom were British, one of whom was Irish and one of whom was South African. The South African, whose name was Skhool (pronounced something like “skull”), was fairly reserved, but the other three, two of whom were married, were insane. The married couple, Chris and Allison, have been living in Sierra Leone for thirty years. They didn’t even leave during the war, the effects of which didn’t really reach Freetown. The other Brit, Andrew, works for Brussels Air. Anyway, I proceeded to spend the night watching them get completely hammered (read that in the British accent I have in my head and your life will be better) and listening to them tell me that I’ll love Sierra Leone. They also chatted with Martin about England, Ireland and Spain (Chris and Allison have a house in Malaga) and where they and their children went to boarding school. I was a little jealous of their cool European lives and their accents, of course. We finally went to bed and I slept in a charming bungalow with a fantastic view. 
My bungalow
Inside the bungalow
View from the bungalow
     The next day we hung out on the beach all day, ate more delicious food and explored the neighboring beach which is also owned by Martin. For my four beach meals and lodging, I spent a grand total of 250,000 Leones, or about $55 (In other news, I paid $11 for a box of Fruit Loops today. Not cool, Freetown. Not cool. But I also found out that I'm getting a danger pay bonus which makes me feel less stupid for spending $11 on a box of cereal). The currency here is a little ridiculous. The largest bill is 10,000 Leones so paying 250,000 Leones requires you to count out a lot of bills. One of the girls who came to the beach, Meredith, commented that it’s difficult to function in a cash economy when the largest bill is worth $2 and it’s very true.

     We left the beach around 5:30pm on Sunday and drove back to Freetown. Along the way there were kids that would sit along the road and start chasing our car as we drove by. I assume this is just because they have nothing better to do. There are some really nice houses along the road to the beach. They’ve fallen into disrepair, but it’s obvious that they were once either really nice houses or they were meant to be nice houses and were just never completed. As we drove home we heard the daily Ebola update on the radio. If you want an accurate daily update on the number of new confirmed cases, go to which is the website for the National Ebola Response Centre. We’ve partnered with them for some of our programs and they keep a good record of what’s going on here in Sierra Leone. We finally arrived at the compound and I settled in for a relaxing evening. Overall, it was a great beach weekend, but I’m still really hoping they fix the pool in our compound so I can go for a quick swim after I play tennis.  

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