Thursday, April 30, 2015

Independence Day Weekend

     Monday was Independence Day here in Sierra Leone. We had the day off, but I was quite busy. I gave two lectures via Skype to classes at La Salle about my work here in Sierra Leone and my time in Kenya last summer. It was so weird to be lecturing to students there when it seems like it was just yesterday that I was there as a student myself, subtly breaking dress code, buying lemonade or ice cream from the Palagi's truck after school and spending my free periods hanging out in Nick's English class senior year. In reality, when I was starting PEGASUS, the current PEGASUS students were babies. Literally. That's absolutely terrifying. I think the lectures went very well and I was impressed by the questions some of the students had. It was a really fun experience and it was good to see so many of my former teachers. My six years at La Salle were the best and I would go back to those days in a heartbeat. Enjoy it while it lasts, kids.
     On Saturday night we had a BBQ at Sasha's. The music was so loud and there were so many people there, many of whom I didn't know. Being the typical socially awkward introvert that I am, I wasn't overly pleased about having to meet and interact with all these new people (including a guy who lives in Needham and went to Suffolk and talked to me about Boston) who I'll likely never see again so I spent a lot of time hiding in the kitchen with people I do actually know and like. I was ready to leave as soon as I ate, but that would've been rude. By 10:30pm I was falling asleep (and getting laughed at by 50-year-olds who said it was early) and really ready to leave, but somehow ended up staying until almost midnight. In my annoyed state, I was also hardcore judging everyone there for acting like raucous 21-year-olds despite the fact that most of them are 25-30 years older than that. But they were just having fun and obviously it was unfair of me to judge them like that. Honestly, I think I was just really tired, which is not a good excuse. I'm sorry if I sound like a completely antisocial jerk right now (although that's a pretty accurate assessment of my life most days...#nonewfriends), but even after a 3-day weekend, we are all more tired than ever and everyone is on edge, even the people who are typically the most pleasant and relaxed of the bunch (aka the Europeans..."pleasant and relaxed" could never be used to describe the Americans). The halfway point of my time here is quickly approaching and if the Radisson didn't cost $270 a night, I would go there for the weekend and just ignore everyone here and all my work and get food from room service and swim in the pool and consider that my R&R since I'm obviously not going to get to leave for the real R&R I was supposed to have in Dakar.
     On Sunday, Meredith and I went to pick up stuff at the tailor and, of course, mine wasn't ready. I was able to drop off the fabric I forgot to bring last time though so it wasn't a total waste. After that Sasha and Meredith left for the beach and I hung out and went for a swim because it was disgustingly hot out. It's so humid and gross now and I hate every second that I'm outside. I was sweating profusely just from standing outside. Our water wasn't working again on Monday so I hadn't showered in a couple of days and felt even more disgusting because of that. Anyway, I spent the majority of the rest of the weekend sitting in my air conditioned bedroom or out at the pool because everyone else was either at the beach or working on their portions of the reports that are due to our donors this week. Thankfully this is a short week and hopefully once these reports are done everyone will be in better spirits (Edit: I'm getting ready to post this and it's now Thursday and we are not in better spirits). Personally, I think my nerves are frayed just because I don't get to drive (and I really love driving) and also because I can't ever escape. There is ALWAYS someone else around and that is not something I enjoy. I fly home on August 16th and I don't arrive until the evening, but on August 17th I plan on spending all day just driving around in my car with the windows down while listening to my music.
     I'm in Port Loko right now, getting virtually nothing accomplished (other than submitting the final draft of my CE...hello, MPH) because technology is utterly unreliable here. Getting to Port Loko yesterday was quite the adventure. We had 6 people crammed into the car and at one point I had to move up front and sit on the center console for about an hour or so. It was not the most comfortable position, but the air was blowing right in my face so that was nice. Then last night I was alone at the guest house for a little bit and the power went out. I had stupidly left my phone in the other room so I could not see anything at all. I literally couldn't see my hand right in front of my face. The generator wasn't kicking in and it was the first time I had stayed at the PL guest house (which is horrific, by the way...there were cockroaches running around, a dead spider on my bed and no running water) so I didn't know my way around and wasn't sure I'd be able to ever find my phone. Since I hate the dark, I started freaking out just a little bit. I slid back and forth between the bed and the door to my room several times while trying to decide if it was best to just sit on the bed and try to remain calm until someone came home or leave the safety of my room and search for my phone. Thankfully I remembered that my computer was on the bed (with barely any battery left) and I flailed about for a minute until I found it and opened it to get some light. Then I walked around the house with both my phone and a flashlight for the rest of the night.

Living room at the Port Loko guest house

My room at the Port Loko guest house (before I found
the cockroaches in the bathroom and the dead spider on the bed...)
     When Smart (one of our IT guys who also came to Port Loko with me) got home we had an awesome conversation about faith. It's very common here for people to ask you outright about your faith. Since it's probably pretty clear that I'm not Muslim, a lot of people have directly asked, "Are you a Christian?" There are no other options here. Everyone is either Muslim (~75%) or Christian (~25%) and there's another layer of traditional belief associated with juju which most people believe in, regardless of their religion (for more information on how juju relates to Ebola, you're welcome to read my CE). As soon as I said "yes" it's like the flood gates were opened and he just started telling me how much he loves God and talking about Scripture verses and how there are some people who don't believe in God (which he said in a way that made it clear he thought I would be surprised to discover that there are people who don't believe in God which made me laugh a little), but how God exists and He is good. It was a pretty cool conversation to have with him.
     I'm in Port Loko right now, getting virtually nothing accomplished (other than submitting the final draft of my CE...hello, MPH) because technology is utterly unreliable here. On a more positive note, today is the first day since October that the Kaffu Bullom chiefdom here in Port Loko has not had a house in quarantine!! Yay!! The house that was under quarantine needed to be decontaminated and the family was going to be placed in another house for a few hours while they did decontamination this morning. We were asked not to attend "just for photo ops" so I didn't get to go, but it's certainly something worthy of celebration. We're pushing forward to zero! We finally had two days in a row with no new cases, but we had 1 yesterday so the streak ended there. Hopefully we will be able to get a 42-day streak going pretty soon!! I'm now back in Freetown, but prior to leaving Port Loko today something happened that is worth mentioning mainly because I'm about ready to flip out on everyone I see and I need somewhere to rant. I went into the Command and Control Center today and, as usual, a soldier took my temperature before I went in. A few hours later I went outside to stretch a bit after having been sitting for so long and the same soldier started talking to me. The conversation went as follows:

Soldier: "Hi. I'm Festus."
Me: "Hi. I'm Nicole."
::No more than two minutes worth of conversation occurred in which Festus asked me how I liked Sierra Leone and I said that it was a beautiful country::
Festus: "I love you."
Me: ::crickets:: Oh. ::turns and walks back into CCC::

He proceeded to tell me he loved me multiple times during the day after that until I had had absolutely enough of his nonsense and shut it down and then proceeded to ignore him which was easy since I was getting ready to leave for Freetown. Clearly I should just stop being friendly because it gets me into trouble because people are complete psychos. 

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