Sunday, June 07, 2015
They Eat Our Scraps
Before I get to the real point of this post, let me share a few brief updates about everyday events that have occurred recently and which might be of some interest to you.
Now I want to share something that has greatly affected me this past week. I was in the field from Wednesday-Friday. As you know by now, I love going into the field more than anything, especially when I get to go to Makeni. I enjoy chatting with John and Jethro over dinner and learning more about the staff at Mena Hills, the hotel we stay at there. Well, this past week, we were at dinner and I was eating the usual chicken and chips (fries), but I couldn’t finish everything. I left some half eaten chicken still on the bone and a handful of chips that I’d put my hands all over while I was eating. I put my napkin on top of the food that was left to indicate that I was finished and that the girls who work there could take my plate away. When John saw me do this, he said, “No, no. Put your napkin here,” while pointing to a spot off my plate. I looked up at him, thinking to myself, “Okay, but does it really matter where I put my napkin?” I soon realized it did matter. John told me that the Mena Hills staff will happily eat what was left in my plate. It seems so obvious now – why should they let that food go to waste? But when John said it to me, it kind of surprised me. I mean, these weren’t leftovers. They were scraps. They were literally half eaten scraps that I’d put my hands and mouth all over. In the US, restaurants can’t serve food to someone else if it’s sent back without even being touched. What’s even more upsetting is that the workers at Mena Hills are probably some of the most well off people in Makeni. They have jobs, they get their school fees paid for by the owner (and some of them are even in college now) and they get to shower somewhere out behind the hotel rather than washing in the river. So if they’re eating my scraps, what is everyone else doing?
1. My colleagues are getting malaria left and right. It wasn't entirely surprising to me when I started hearing about national staff members getting malaria. The rainy season has started so there are more mosquitoes and national staff members obviously don’t take malaria pills. At least one of them has admitted to me that he doesn’t sleep under a mosquito net either. And I’m sure it’s the same for other people. To be honest, although I loved my mosquito net in Kenya because it felt like my own little personal bubble of safety from both mosquitos and tons of other nasty insects, I hate my bed net here and I’m starting to understand why people don’t use them. They are such a pain to have to tuck in every single night. And when I’m in the field, they usually aren’t even big enough to tuck under the mattress so I just have to rest the edges on the bed and hope no mosquitos get inside. Anyway, now international staff are also starting to get malaria. The primary reason is, of course, that they aren’t taking malaria pills. Taking malaria pills every day isn’t sustainable when you’ve been here for three years, but even staff who have been here for less than a year have stopped taking them and always seemed shocked when I tell them that I’m still taking mine. In Kenya, knowing it was winter and that malaria wasn’t even endemic there, I think just about everyone, myself included, stopped taking malaria pills. Here in Sierra Leone, that would be a very bad idea. If I step out onto the veranda in the evenings, I inevitably return inside with a slew of welts all over my arms and legs and sometimes even on my face. Not being one to use bug spray, I will continue to take my malaria pills until I leave and begrudgingly use my bed net every night. I should also probably learn to stay inside around sunset.
2. I can’t remember if I’ve already written about this, but there’s a horrific story coming out of Guinea about the transport of a person who died from Ebola. Apparently, wanting to bury this man in the traditional (unsafe) way, the victims’ family dressed him up, propped him up in the backseat of the car and drove him back to his village to be buried. It’s literally like something you’d see in a movie. Needless to say, the family members who assisted in this ludicrous endeavor all got Ebola. Additionally, it was near the Guinea-Sierra Leone border so I’m sure this is contributing to the spike in cases we’ve been seeing in Kambia (a district along the border with Guinea) and Port Loko (south of Kambia and on the main highway between Freetown and Conakry). I wish we could just shut down the entire border with Guinea. Unfortunately, it’s even more difficult to successfully patrol the border here than it is in the US.
3. We’ve rented office space at Caritas Makeni because there are just too many of us to comfortably fit into the office in the Command Center. So all of the finance people have moved over to the Caritas Office. I’ve been to Caritas Makeni before, but I hadn’t yet seen our office space so on Thursday afternoon, Jethro and I got a driver to take us over there so we could visit John. When we decided to leave, however, we called Yayah only to discover that there was no car available to pick us up right then. So Jethro suggested we walk back to the Command Center. It really isn’t very far, but it was hot and I was wearing jeans so I wasn’t completely enthused by the idea. But we walked back anyway and I took the opportunity to be a tourist outside the Command Center.