Monday, May 11, 2015

Ups and Downs

      Last weekend (I guess it’s actually two weekends ago at this point because I never got a chance to post this…) was quite enjoyable. On May 2nd I hit the halfway point of my time here in Sierra Leone!! Everyone has been in a pretty miserable mood lately so initially I was upset at the thought of having to be here for another three full months, but today I realized that in three months I’ll have to leave and that made me sadder that I thought it would. It’s crazy to see how things have changed since I arrived. When I first got here there were almost 100 new Ebola cases per week and now we’re down to about 10 per week. It’s been such a stressful three months, but I know this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. It might be hard right now, but I know a lot of good will come out of it, hopefully both in terms of personal growth and for the people who I’m able to help while I’m here. Anyway, Saturday was a lot of fun. I spent a good amount of time swimming and sitting out by the pool. Matthew, a CONCERN employee from the other compound, came over at one point while I was outside and we chatted for a bit. He informed me of the real reason that we haven’t had running water. Apparently every year around this time the Giba Valley (or something like that) reservoir dries up. This year it happened earlier than expected and it’s drier than usual so the government has started rationing water. We’ve been getting pretty intense rainstorms (so intense that I’ve had to remind myself that God promised never to destroy the world by flood again and have then gone on to wonder if that promise extended to monsoons with raging winds) most nights now that we’re on the brink of the rainy season, but because it takes a long time for the reservoir to fill up we may see water rationing even in the middle of the rainy season. Matthew pointed out that rioting would be out of control if Freetown ran out of water and it would be crazy if the “Ebola riots” that everyone expected actually had nothing to do with Ebola, but were about water. It’s crazy that we have the ocean right next to us and a bunch of rivers and it’s raining a lot and there’s still no running water. Sometimes, if I'm sitting on Sasha's veranda on the weekend, I can hear people suddenly cheering as if Sierra Leone had just won the world cup. They're actually cheering because someone discovered running water. 
     Anyway, later in the day on Saturday I played tennis with Sewah and Meredith. Sewah is a semi-professional tennis player who trains Sasha and Meredith. It was a lot of fun, but I have never been more hot, sweaty or physically drained in my entire life. I was literally melting after just a few minutes and felt like I could barely move my arms or legs. A tennis raquet has never felt heavier. Davor made spaghetti carbonara for us for dinner that night and it was delightful! On Sunday, I was planning on sleeping super late since I was so tired from tennis the day before, but around 10:30am I heard a knock on our door. Nancy answered it, but I was too curious to stay in bed when I heard multiple people come up the stairs. Turns out it was Annisha and Amy! Annisha had just gotten back from R&R in London and Amsterdam so it was great to see her! Eventually Annisha and I made our way over to Sasha’s and hung out there. Amy, Nancy and Davor went for a work lunch at Country Lodge and Annisha, Ahmed (Annisha’s boyfriend), Meredith, Sasha and I had lunch on Sasha’s veranda. Sasha, Meredith and I have also started watching an amazing show called Orphan Black. Meredith has already seen it, but the third season just started so Sasha and I are catching up before we watch it. Literally we spent three nights in a row watching 3-4 hours of this show each night. So good. Check it out.

The view from Sasha's veranda
     I was in the field for four days last week (and yes, I was slightly distressed that I’d be missing Orphan Black marathoning). That’s the longest I’ve been away from Freetown at one time and it was exactly what I needed to pull me out of the miserable mood I’ve been in. Things went well on the trip. Most importantly, Bombali hit 42 days with no new cases!! We walked into the Command Center that morning to find a sign on our office door congratulating the district. Everyone who walked into the office that morning had a smile on their face!! If the festive mood in the air was any indication, I can't wait for the joy and celebration that will come when the entire country hits 42 days!! Anyway, on my trip I visited Makeni, Kabala and Port Loko to get stuff sorted out with our burial data. We’ve done about 7000 burials, but we currently only have about 1000 records uploaded to a database being managed by the Red Cross. The plan was to have the burial teams upload their data directly onto an app on the smart phones we provided them, but that has turned out to be a disaster. They either claim that they don’t have phone credit so they can’t send the data (this is code for “We got the phone credit, but we used it to make personal phone calls”) or that the app is malfunctioning which actually is a real problem that’s been happening constantly. MHealth isn’t always the wonderful solution that we want it to be. So we’re ditching the phones and I now have the task of sorting through all the daily burial updates that are sent to us to see what’s made it into the Red Cross database and what hasn’t and to create our own Excel database of all 7000 burials (although I highly doubt I’ll actually be able to find hard copies of the data I need for all of these burials). Considering that some of the daily burial updates are in separate Word documents rather than Excel spreadsheets and that there will be new burials every single day, it’s going to be a tedious task. I could probably just assign it to data people in each district, but then it would probably never get done. It’s not that they wouldn’t do it. I’m sure they would postpone it for as long as possible, but they would eventually do it. The issue is primarily that they would be incredibly slow at doing it. I know that I need to be sensitive to the fact that even most of the people we have hired specifically for data entry didn’t grow up using computers. The same issue came up when they were entering data on the phones. It took them about ten minutes to do something that would take me two minutes, but I have to remember that they didn’t grow up texting. Sometimes I have just wanted to grab the computer or phone from them and do it myself, but nobody is going to learn that way and that’s not going to help this country in the long run. So I just have to learn some patience. I think this entire six months is pretty much an exercise in learning patience which is funny considering the fact that I’m typically super patient in other areas of life. Long line at the supermarket? No worries! I’ve arrived a little early and my room at the hotel isn’t quite ready yet? No problem! But when it comes to technological ineptitude or people who aren’t punctual, two things that are huge issues here, I get frustrated very easily. Here’s hoping I’m a little better about these things by the time I leave here.

CRS congratulating Bombali district on reaching 42 days Ebola free!!
          When I was in Makeni I got sick. Like really, really sick. I rarely get sick and when I do, I'm not typically a whiny baby about it. I suck it up and deal with it. But this time was different. For the first time since I arrived, I experienced that terrifying moment when you wake up in the middle of the night, sweaty and violently ill, and as you sit there thinking about how you'd rather be dead and debating if you should wake someone up to take you to the hospital, your mind goes to that place...the place where, based on your symptoms and the fact that you're in a country with active ebola transmission, you have to seriously consider the (still unlikely) possibility that you have somehow become infected with Ebola. For the next two hours, between bouts of sickness and as I fought to remember everything else it was more likely to be other than Ebola, my two main thoughts were "Oh my gosh. I could actually die" and "Oh no! If I have Ebola I will have just ruined Bombali's Ebola free status!! Thankfully I'm doing just fine and it was probably nothing more than food poisoning.
     Anyway, when I was in Port Loko, I heard something very upsetting that, for some reason, my non-public health, non-medical, non-science colleagues don't seem to think is a big deal. Vaccines were being stored in Port Loko and 25,000 more are set to be stored there soon, but it turns out that there's not actually enough storage space. That's not the bad part. The bad part is that while vaccines were being stored there, the generator was being turned off at night. Now I don't know how long the vaccines would stay at the proper temperature with the generator turned off, but I'm thinking losing vaccine efficacy by not keeping them at the proper temperature is not a risk you want to take. But of course it's "a huge cost implication" if we have to start requiring them to leave the generator on so nobody wants to hear it. Utter nonsense.
     On Friday I drove back to Freetown. The trip to like 5 hours longer than it should have and I still wasn't feeling well so I wasn't thrilled at being stuffed in the car with 5-6 other people (and one live chicken that I'm sure was someone's dinner later that night). We had a car take us from Makeni to Masiaka and then had to wait over and hour in the intense heat for the car from Freetown that would take us the rest of the way back. On the plus side, there were some cute kids who wanted to be friends with me which is always fun. When we got back to Freetown, I found out that we were doing a poolside BBQ and that Sasha and Patrick would be playing some live music. There were a good amount of people there, but it was pretty low-key. I met a CAFOD employee who was working with CRS on the Turkey/Syria border before coming here. She had some pretty incredible stories. When her driver would take her home from the work site each night, she could look across the border into Syria and see a sea of black, ISIS flags. It was pretty amazing to hear some of her stories and I can't imagine how stressful that post must be.
     Lastly, in an effort to quell the wretchedly miserable mood I and pretty much everyone else in this country program has been in lately, I’ve started listening to this song a lot. It’s a good one and it's a good reminder when just about every day at the office or in the field seems like an insurmountable obstacle.

P.S. Today (May 11th) is SIX STRAIGHT DAYS WITHOUT A NEW CASE!!!! If you can't tell, I am really excited :-)

1 comment:

  1. How am I just now reading your blog? Other than the mention of spaghetti and the fact that you were so sick (connection??) this sounds awesome!