Friday, April 17, 2015

Easter: 1, Ebola: 0

     Easter weekend was one of the best weekends I’ve had since I got here. Both Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays in Sierra Leone (I would have gotten them off anyway since they’re holidays for CRS employees everywhere else too) so I had a four day weekend. It was like a flashback to the first 21 years of my life when I didn’t realize that not everyone got those days off. My supervisor was in the field so I had the apartment to myself and the other CRS employees in my compound went to the beach for the weekend so I was all alone. On Friday I got to enjoy my usual Good Friday tradition of watching “The Passion of the Christ” and otherwise spent the day relaxing. Saturday was pretty much more of the same. The highlight of the weekend was Easter Sunday. We’ve been strongly discouraged/prohibited from attending church while there are still Ebola cases, but for Easter I managed to get special permission to go to any one of the churches within our neighborhood. It was a big deal. It felt like a turning point because it meant that case numbers had gone down enough that we no longer needed to be hugely concerned about gathering in larger groups. Precautions were still taken at church and I stayed as far away from people as I could, but I wasn’t really worried anyway. I did realize that every disease other than Ebola is just an afterthought at this point. Malaria is far more common, but I haven’t worried about it for a second. I’ve been asked to compile the quarterly CRS – Sierra Leone newsletter and when I was asked, I was told that it would be a good way for me to learn more about what’s going on in the other programs (education, malaria, food security, etc.) that CRS runs. My reaction was basically, “Oh. Right. There are programs other than Ebola response. Hmm. I forgot about those.” Sorry to all the people working hard in those programs, but infectious disease is my thing. If that’s not involved in your program, I probably won’t be all that interested.

     Anyway, I went to Emmanuel Baptist Church which is right around the corner from the compound and I made some new friends there. I met an adorable little boy named Gino and an adorable little girl named Malia and her mom, Hawa. I was, not surprisingly, the only white person so when I walked in and Malia saw me she immediately told me she wanted to be friends with me. It was so fun to have all the kids around and be able to actually talk to them. That doesn’t happen very often here because kids aren’t the best at following the no touching rules so we tend to stay far away from them. Church itself was pretty interesting. Thankfully the majority of the songs, many of which I already knew, were in English. The sermon was a mix of English and Krio so I understood a fair amount of it, especially the parts about how we need to both pray and follow proper medical advice to stop Ebola. Other than that, there was dancing, a happy birthday song, a choir decked out in graduation caps and gowns for their choir robes and a very long communion process because Ebola restrictions have forced them to make some changes to how it's done. I didn’t get communion because that seemed a bit too risky, but I thought it was interesting that the women covered their heads when getting communion. So old school. The terribly awkward highlight of the service was when the pastor asked if anyone was attending for the first time. He had been talking in Krio so I had zoned out a bit, but luckily I caught that part. Naturally I was the only one and I had to stand up and when I did, the entire church (probably around 150-200 people), said in unison, “We welcome you. We love you. God bless you. Come again.” It was pretty interesting. I was sweltering after a 3 hour church service in an unairconditioned building so I decided to go for a swim. Later in the evening I got to Skype with my family which made the whole day even better.
     Last week case numbers were down in the single digits for the previous week which is really exciting. Hopefully that will continue. On Tuesday we finished up with the training of our Social Mobilization Rapid Response Teams. We distributed their t-shirts, caps, manuals, flipbooks, tablets and everything else they need and wished them well before their deployment into the field. On Thursday and Friday I went to Makeni with Annisha and Amy. The two of them went up to Kabala on Thursday while I stayed in Makeni. It has become swelteringly hot and humid and the frequency of rainstorms has increased, but the rainy season won’t begin for a few more weeks. Hopefully it will at least cool down when that happens because I’m not the most pleasant person when I’m hot. We were all in Makeni Thursday night and were a little disappointed because we all got terrible rooms at the guest house. We all have our favorite rooms in the main building and none of us were in the main building on this trip. Apparently, the President was in Makeni (which is his hometown) last weekend to visit the Command Center and observe how things are going so the guesthouse was filled with Sierra Leoneans who were streaming back to Makeni for the President’s visit. So, to make up for our terrible rooms, we spent some time playing cards which was especially entertaining when Jethro started observing our game of Bull and got a kick out of it when someone would call “Bull!” We all love being in the field way more than we enjoy being in Freetown. Our office is just so depressing, but life in the field seems so much more real. When you’re out there you can really see the impact that your work is having. The people are way friendlier too. They’re friendly in Freetown, but it’s not the same…it’s more relaxed in the field, despite everything that’s going on. On Thursday afternoon, our Rapid Response Teams arrived in Bombali. One team member came into the office and saw me and was really excited. We talked for a minute and he left and I thought that was the end of it. Within a few minutes, there was a steady stream of RRT members coming into our very small office (which is just a temporary room built of plywood) just to say hi to me. It was so funny. Before we left to head back to Freetown on Friday, we stopped at Caritas Makeni to see the teams again. I believe they deployed to the field for the first time last weekend so hopefully they're doing well!

The two Rapid Response Teams for Bombali district

Alima and Joseph displaying the "Ebola - A Poem for the Living"
flipbook and tablets they use in the field
     On our way back to Freetown, I saw someone on rollerblades holding onto the back of a van and just riding along. I have nothing else to say about that, I just thought it was really funny and it would have been a dream come true for me as a child (or as the 25 year old that I currently am). When we got back to the compound, everyone (literally) was at Sasha’s house. We hung out there for a while and played the drums, guitar and piano and sang along as Sasha played songs on the guitar, including a song that he wrote called “Freetown” which he wants me to write an arrangement for on the piano. After that Nicole (our new HoP’s) left and Sasha, Meredith, Eve, Jackie, Zholtz (that’s definitely not how you spell that…), the new finance guy and I went to Lagoonda for a crazy night out on the town (okay, we actually just had dinner, but that's exciting enough here). I haven’t been there before and it’s in a really cool spot overlooking the lagoon. I’m sure it’s probably amazing at sunset so we’re hoping to go back soon. I spent a good amount of time explaining what party pizza is and promising to send some to Meredith and Jackie when they're back in the US on leave in May. On Saturday we went fabric shopping again and got lunch and milkshakes at Brews and Bread, my favorite restaurant in town. There's one fabric shop that is run by the most adorable elderly man. His stuff is priced better than everyone else's and he always warns us to make sure we hold onto to our bags tightly as we're leaving so that nobody tries to steal them. Well, last weekend he did something even better. We were in his shop looking at fabric and a woman came in looking for bottles to collect so that she could turn them in for money. The old man didn't have any bottles to give her so he told her to come back the next day, but the woman looked so sad and disappointed that the man ended up giving her some change (I assume it was the same amount she would have gotten for at least one bottle). It was so sweet. We also went to see Foday, the tailor, and gave him our fabric so he can make stuff for us. On Saturday night I ate chicken liver (!!) at Sasha's and watched episodes of "Doug" (the Nickelodeon version, not the terrible Disney version) with Meredith because we randomly remember how Doug hated liver and onions and we had just eaten liver. On Sunday, Sasha, Meredith, Nicole, Jackie and I went to a place called Franco's. Franco's isn't known for its service and it took us well over an hour to get food, but the view makes it all worth it. It was good to get some of the group together before Jackie left for Liberia on Monday.

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