Thursday, May 21, 2015

Water, Water, Everywhere

     The rainy season has officially begun in Freetown!! Before I get to that, let me update you on some things that have happened since the last time I wrote. Almost two weeks ago now, I went with Sasha and Meredith to Zsolt’s house to watch the guys attempt to make mango brandy. Zsolt had been fermenting his mangoes for more than a week and when we got there he had already started. I absolutely despised chemistry when I took it, both in high school and the four ridiculous semesters I was forced to take in college, but when I saw this machine set up and different distillation fractions, I started geeking out a little bit. I remembered how in orgo we had learned how wine and vodka and are made because it’s all chemical processes, ergo relevant to orgo. And let's be honest, there's probably nothing in the entire field of chemistry that's more interesting to a bunch of college kids than learning how to make alcohol. Anyway, I still hate chem, but it was a lot of fun to watch the process, even though it was pretty slow going. Ultimately, the mango brandy was a bust as it apparently just turned to vinegar. There was a lengthy, pseudo-scientific dinner discussion (interspersed with a brief, very random conversation about the Great Schism and whether the guards gave Jesus water or vinegar to drink when He was on the cross…) about why it had failed and the guys decided to try again with other fruits like pineapple and, at my suggestion, watermelon.

Zsolt adding water...
I thought the coil was really cool
Sasha was really excited for his mango brandy
Look at those fractions!! SCIENCE.

      The next day we had a pretty lazy pool day. Early in the day, I watched random Youtube videos about Turkey with Sasha and Meredith because Sasha was trying to decide if he wanted to take a job in Antakya. He may also do a TDY there which is a little funny because we think he wants a relaxing TDY, but Antakya, which is very close to the Syrian border, is anything but relaxing right now thanks to ISIS. Last Monday I went to dinner at Lagoonda with Nancy, Annisha and Amy because it was Amy’s last night in Freetown. We ran into Sasha, Meredith, Zsolt and one of their other friends there as well. The highlights of the evening included Amy using “quagmire” in a sentence and being quite proud of it and, my favorite quote of the evening (likely a quoteboard quote if the quoteboard was still going), was when Amy, upon being asked if she wanted to go to the Radisson for dessert, said, “It’s a Monday! Let’s live it up in Freetown! One gin and tonic AND dessert!” Clearly, Freetown is not the most happening place in the world right now.
     Last Tuesday morning we learned that the Swiss Ambassador would be coming the next day. The compound we stay is for the Swiss government and the ambassador just happens to stay in our apartment, specifically my bedroom, when he visits so we had to move out for this guy’s Wednesday-Sunday visit. I was pretty annoyed about this for several reasons. First, why couldn’t the ambassador just stay somewhere else for the few nights he’s here? Second, if I’m being forced out of my apartment, it would have been nice to have a little more warning than 24 hours. What naïve little me didn’t realize was that the Swiss pay for the apartment year round, not just when the ambassador comes, so Rudy, the (sneaky German) property manager, is secretly making extra money off of us when the ambassador is away. When I first heard that the ambassador was coming I assumed I could just take my clothes and anything that would be in his way out and leave things like my wall calendar and food. WRONG. We had to make it look like nobody else had been living there at all. The whole thing is ridiculous and to make matters worse, I’m not sure our CR knows what’s going on. When I told him we were being forced out for a few days he said, “Oh. That’s not right. Rudy should have the ambassador stay somewhere else.” Face palm. Anyway, one good thing did come out of it. I got to move to the third bedroom at Sasha and Meredith’s and Nancy went to a different apartment so my stress level decreased significantly. However, it's now been more than a week since we were forced out and we've discovered that the ambassador still hasn't even arrived. Who knows if or when he's even coming.
     Last Wednesday night, I went to Martin’s house (Martin is a Toyota dealer here and we get a lot of our cars from him) for the weekly Wednesday night dinner. I’ve been trying to go for ages, but I’m usually in the field so this was the first time I was actually able to go. It was a blast. I got to watch the RM vs. Juventus match, we ate delicious food (bruschetta, meatballs, stuffed peppers and more), listened to some great music, stood on the porch so that the mist, which was being blown at us like it was coming from a mister in Disney, would hit us when it started to rain (we hadn’t had running water in a while so we all felt pretty gross) and just hung out. I've never seen more people in one kitchen in my entire life. It was really funny to watch a bunch of European guys get so into cooking this meal for everyone. We also had a bit of a dance party because Martin has a machine that flashes cool lights across the room in tune with the music. We didn’t get home until about 1:30am so that was a little late for me (because I’m an old person) and I was so tired for the next couple of days, but it was a lot of fun. I hope to go again soon because the theme next week is Pizza Night. Everyone will be given dough and will get to make their own personal pizza and, despite the fact that I don't particularly enjoy cooking, I am PUMPED for this pizza night.

This dinner was serious business
     On Friday Francisco came to Sasha's and we spent the evening eating, listening to music and just hanging out on Sasha’s veranda per usual. It was a fun night. We talked about what’s become lovingly known as “The Yugoslav Mafia” which is comprised of Sasha and his group of Eastern European friends here. It’s so random that there are so many of them here in Freetown, but we’ve agreed that if he can say my name is “Corleone” and that we just changed it when we arrived in America because we didn’t want anyone to know we’re in the mafia (I promise we’re not!), then we can say he’s part of the Yugoslav Mafia. We also discussed the rain a bit and Francisco said it makes him think of the quote from “Forrest Gump” when he’s in Vietnam and says, One day it started raining, and it didn't quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin' rain... and big ol' fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night...” We’re not quite at that point yet here, but it has started raining a lot more and hopefully we'll be at that point soon. It’s so fantastic. Apart from crisp, cool, sunny fall days, rainy days are my absolute favorite. The rain is so loud because all the roofs are metal. It’s deafening sometimes. It typically rains overnight, but Monday was the first day that it was still raining when we left for work. It was so cool out and Nancy said that once the rainy season really kicks in, it will be like that for good. Apparently we can go for weeks without seeing the sun which makes me super excited because no sun means no heat which means no grumpy, tired Nicole. Yay!! I'm just so much more energized when it's rainy. I didn't even have the air on in the office on Monday because it was so cool. Normally I drag my feet the whole way from the car, up all the steps and into my office, but I had such a spring in my step thanks to the rain on Monday. I'm really going to enjoy these next couple of months. And another added perk of the rainy season picking up is that, because Freetown is mainly on hydroelectric power, we are on city power a lot more so we don’t have the ridiculously loud generator on in the background all the time at the compound.
     Also, this is totally random, but one day when we were driving home a traffic cop hit a guy driving a motorbike on the head with a stick. It was done playfully because the driver was trying to sneak through even though the cop had told him to stop. It was pretty funny. In the US someone would probably claim it was police brutality or something stupid like that. But here everyone was just laughing and kept driving without any semblance of order, as usual. There are no real traffic rules here and motorbikes get away with everything. They even drive on the wrong side of the road. So I guess the cop decided she was justified in giving this driver a playful little tap on the head and I loved everything about it. Here's one more random bit of info. There is a school right down the road from our office and when we drive by in the morning I always think of LSA because there are cars lined up, blocking traffic and dropping kids off and, apart from the fact that it's on a dirt road and there's trash and stray dogs everywhere, it's basically just like being on Smith St. around 8am on a school day.         
     Anyway, last weekend was pretty lazy. Oh, except I graduated on Saturday!! I wasn't there, obviously, but it made me so happy to see everyone's picture and how happy they were. I'm lucky to have met so many amazing people during my time at BUSPH. It was a great experience and was obviously the right place for me. Now I'm officially Nicole M. Carloni MS, MPH. And I'm already thinking about what other letters I want after my name in the future. Anyway, Sasha and Meredith left on Sunday. Sasha is on R&R in the south of France where he is visiting his son, Alex, who’s at a tennis academy there. Meredith is in Massachusetts. It’s so upsetting. It’s not necessarily that I was to leave here. It’s more just that she gets to be there and I don’t. So now I’m staying at Sasha’s house by myself which is pretty nice. I do miss the both of them though and I hope Sasha decides not to go on TDY to Turkey because I want to have someone with whom I can watch the French Open!! Anyway, this is a long enough post and nothing much has really happened this week anyway other than me analyzing burial data literally nonstop at the office every single day. We haven’t had a single day with zero cases since the end of our eight days Ebola free which ended last week. In fact, cases have quadrupled (from 2 new cases two weeks ago to 8 new cases last week) as the rains have started and that is not a good sign. It’s very depressing. In order for Sierra Leone to be declared Ebola free by the time I leave, they have to have the first of 42 days with no new cases by June 20th at the absolute latest. If Day 1 is on June 20th, Day 42 will be on August 2nd, the day I leave. June 20th is only a month away though and I'm getting nervous that it won't happen.


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