Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Foiled! Arrested again.

Today I was supposed to travel to Bo. However, I also needed to get one more letter from one of the government agencies I'm working with so I got up bright and early to be in town by 8. After a small lecture from the government agent as well as the usual, "Do you have children, why not, do you have a husband, why not?" conversation, I headed home to get everything ready to travel.

Now, I know that round abouts are becoming more popular in America but to be perfectly honest, I still get a little confused by them. Especially the ones that have two lanes that branch off. Those are ridiculous. I might as well not even try not to hit somebody. Anyway, Sierra Leone was a British colony and one of the throw backs to that time are the many round abouts in Freetown. Most of them are the traditional ones but occasionally some of the bigger ones have different rules and you don't actually go around them. This, combined with the want of traffic laws in general, can make it a little confusing.

My usual plan of action for navigating the round abouts is to just follow the general flow of traffic. However today there happened to be no cars around and I did not correctly go around the around about. Or is it that I did not correctly go around the bout? Either way, I messed up. Fortunately for me, there was a police man there who was more than willing to point out my mistake. He waved me over and immediately told me that I broke the law and we were going to go to the police station. I started apologizing profusely and tried to explain that I had been confused about which way to go, etc etc ect. but he would not yield. Crap. I had a lot to do today and last time this happened, I was in the police station for 5 1/2 hours. However, I'd also gotten a little wiser since my last arrest.

My first trick was to tell the officer that unfortunately my NGO did not permit me to allow strangers into my car. (This might have been a little bit of a stretch, but since my dad is my "boss" for my NGO, I figured he wouldn't argue with me not allowing strange men into my car). Since it was me who was under arrest and not my car, we would have to walk to the police station. I've heard from several of my friends that this worked when they were pulled over and that the officers just let them go. However, after giving me a look of skepticism he said ok and then made sure I locked all my doors before we started walking. Rats.

My second trick was to get out a little pad and paper and start writing down his information. I asked him his name which he didn't hesitate to give me and then gave me his badge number. Man! I'd also heard that that worked in the past but this guy was good! None of my tricks were working! I would also like to point out that there had been no mention of me giving him any money, which was different from my last arrest. So really, I had broken the traffic law and he was following the appropriate procedure (while not asking for a bribe) so.....pretty legit. I couldn't really argue about it. Darn justice being served!

Well, my tricks hadn't worked and I really couldn't be mad because I had broken the law so I just started chatting with the guy. "How long have you been an officer?", "Am I headed to Pandemba?" (the prison in Freetown) you know. I did get him to crack a couple of smiles but he was all business! My charms were useless against him.

After about a 5 min. walk we arrived at the police station. It was a lot smaller than the last one I was in so I was a little less intimidated. There were a few other people there and I was curious about their offenses but didn't get a chance to ask them. The officer got his piece of paper and started writing down my information. He asked for my drivers license again which I gave him. Then I asked if he wanted to see my national ID card. That darn card cost me $100 and not one person in authority has ever asked to see it. I want to get my money's worth though, so I always try to get people to look at it.....just to make me feel better about not wasting my money.

After chatting with the other officers for a few minutes one of the female officers told me that my arresting officer liked me, which is why he brought me here. I told her that I didn't think so because in America if they liked you, they would let you go. Now I would like to pause here a minute and say that in hindsight I might have been trying to use my womanly wiles to swing things my way. However I've never really been good at having womenly wiles so I highly doubt they would have swung anything. But I digress.

After the officer finished writing up his report (which as I write this I'm thinking I probably should have asked to see), his boss told me that they were going to let me go. Really? Just like that? Got another small lecture about road safety, exchanged some greetings in Mende and Limba and I was out of there! As I was walking back to my car my arresting officer started yelling my name and offered to give me a lift back to my car in his taxi. Score! Broke through his tough exterior after all. All in all, not a bad brush with the law!

Monday, February 20, 2012


I've been invaded by Arizona. Several months ago I returned to stay with my friends and other WMTers at their house for a little while. They had recently obtained satellite internet so I was super excited to try out the new speedy connection until I went to type in the password. Arizonacrew. Seriously? I am not from Arizona. I spent a few hours driving through Arizona to get to my beloved Oregon, but that's the extent of the time I've spent there. They talk about things I have never heard of like saguaro and machaca (20 useless points to anyone NOT from Arizona who can tell me what those are). I am not a member of any Arizona Crew. Needless to say, the fight was on. Being outnumbered 8:1, it didn't seem like a fair fight but I tried my best. My plan was to turn the kids. I arranged a picket line with the youngest (5 years) to protest the password but he bagged out when he realized it meant going up against his dad. Darn blood ties. I made our secret passwords things like "I wish I was from Oregon" and "Arizona Stinks" (Yes, I'm 30. I know.) But all to no avail. I remain the lone wolf.

Well, this week I was invaded by even more of these Arizonians with their strange and unfamiliar ways. Turns out, even with their propensity for food that sets my mouth on fire and inclination to wear long sleeves in the sweltering heat (skin cancer prevention? I wonder about places with enough sun to make that a consideration.....), they're pretty neat-o. They're here to drill a well and work on rehabilitating a church nearby.

This Sunday we went to church in a village about 2 1/2 hours away where WMT partnered with them in some rice growing last year. After the usual rousing worship time (thankfully no one yelled at me to "Dance, Emily, Dance!") one of the guys on the team preached the message. The message he preached was hard. Forgiveness. Ee no easy-0! After the message he opened it up for questions and they had some tough ones.

"There is a man who killed my wife, burned down my house, and now wants to kill me. Should I forgive him?"

"My daughter was in high school and was raped on the way home from school. I should forgive that man?"

Sheesh. That is a hard message! Especially here, where in the not so recent past, the human rights violations were astronomical. How can we preach forgiveness when people are facing situations like the ones above?? It almost doesn't seem kind! But *esus was radical. And I'm convinced that I need that "radicalness." Sierra Leone needs that "radicalness". Anyway, I'm still chewing on that message. I guess a couple other people dug the message too because after the service they came up and told the pastor they wanted to be baptized. Yeah. :)

After church the village were extremely generous and fed us. Monkey. I've eaten it before and didn't have a problem with it but this time my friend got in my head about eating a primate....and I was a little more hesitant. Sierra Leoneans can eat a LOT of rice so there's always some left over when we weak "apotos" (white) have had our fill. The look on their face said we were insane to leave any of the delicious meat behind. I'm always a little overwhelmed at the generosity we receive when going into these small villages, but find I have little trouble being a cheerful giver when it comes to sharing these delicacies right back with them.

After lunch we went to some nearby villages to show the team a couple of wells that are finished. It was fun to see the additions that the villagers had made to the well (the little fence around the well) and to see it getting a lot of use! We loaded back into the cars and headed home, making it just before dark. Pretty good day!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"I'm hungry Mother, I'm hungry!"

Last week I was given an opportunity to exercise my nursing muscles. Since a large portion of my time these days is spent going on road trips to finalize details for the medical teams or waiting in government offices for documents, when my friend told me she could use my help with some kids she works with, I jumped at the chance.

My friend has recently started working with an orphana
ge for kids with special needs. With a 25% chance that you will die before you reach the age of 5, being a child in Sierra Leone is difficult enough. Imagine how this would be magnified if you had a mental or physical disability. There are many cultural beliefs that make it even more difficult, such as the belief that these kids have a demon inside of them or have been chosen to die. Many of the kids in this orphanage have been anonymously dropped off, and a few were found discarded on the side of the road. Heartbreaking.

One day upon entering the orphanage, my friend found two children who were extremely malnourished and dehydrated. She immediately set off for the hospital. On the way, one of the kids started vomiting profusely and then seizing. She was afraid he would die before
he even reached the hospital. When she got to the hospital she had a hard time finding someone who would admit the children, as they said they weren't that sick and didn't need hospitalization. Obviously they did. The kiddo that had been vomiting and seizing ended up needing IV fluids for 3 days before the cracks in his lips started to heal.

After the week or so that they were in the hospital, they were placed with a caregiver who could carefully monitor their progress. They were given something called "Plumpy Nut" which is a nutritional supplement specifically designed for malnourished kids

After hearing their stories, I was anxious to go meet these kiddos. When we arrived, "Abdul" came to greet us and grabbed onto both of our hands. He was all smiles and his caregiver said he LOVES to eat! When we weighed him, he had gained about 2 kilos in the last month or so, which was pretty steady progress.

Abdul doing awesome!

The second kiddo, "Abdulai" (the one that had been sicker....vomiting and seizing) was not as social. He held back but surprised us all by getting up at one point and walking out of the room. Last time my friend had seen him he hadn't been able to walk at all. So
that was some improvement! He was still one of the skinniest kids I've ever seen. And he wasn't smiling.
Abdulai....doing better....small small

Several years ago I went to a seminar on tropical medicine and while they were discussing malnutrition, the doctor mentioned that you will rarely if ever see a child who is malnourished smile. After spending some time over here, I've seen that proven over and over again. And "Abdulai" wasn't smiling. The caregiver told us that unfortunately, every time Abdulai ate the Plumpy Nut it gave him diarrhea. After hearing this, we weren't too surprised to see that he had only gained half a kilo in the month since he'd been weighed last. Not great. So we talked about changing up the formula of Plumpy Nut, getting him tested for various kinds of worms, and other optional sources of protein.

I think God kind of protects me from feeling this way a lot, but there are some times that you really just want to scoop these kids up and take them home with you. This was one of those times for me.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Social filter?

As I've mentioned before, I'm currently not staying near the hospital, but am staying closer to the capitol so that I can chase down the letters I need to for the coming medical team. I need five of them (letters that is). The first letter I need is pretty important because it gets the ball rolling and I can't do anything without that first letter.
I requested the letter before I went home in November, hoping that it would be sitting here waiting for me when I got back. Oh, silly Emily. When I got back and realized I didn't have the letter yet, I had my friend ( a Sierra Leonean who helps with the teams when they come) get on the phone and see what he could find out. We ended up sending two people to the area to get the letter....but with no success. I am absolutely NOT saying this was the case, but it appears he may have been holding out for a bribe. Well, I decided I'd head over there (about a 4 hour drive) myself to find out what the hold up was.
Some of you who know me, have travelled with me.....or really even just ridden around my home town with me, may know that I was born with an unfortunate lack of a sense of direction. Literally. Zero. I still get turned around and slightly lost in the town I've lived in for 15 years. And it is NOT a big town. One of my biggest (and probably most realistic) fears about living over her is taking a left at the "that one village there" when I should have taken a right and ending up in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception, no fuel, no water, and a full bladder. Nightmare!
Since I try to live by the "safety first" motto (besides moving to a third world country with bad water, little health care and lots of animals that want to kill you) I usually take someone along with me keep me from getting lost and to help me change any of those pesky flat tires. (Although I got new tires on our container and I literally get comments every time I drive my car about how "strong" my tires are). Thanks Aaron!!
I digress. The guy who came with me this time is someone I've known for awhile and has accompanied me on road trips before. It's always a hoot. The differences in culture often make it appear as though some of the Sierra Leoneans have no social filter but this guy...wow. Definitely no filter. He keeps me on my toes, but also makes for interesting road trips.
This guy's M.O. is that he asks a ton of questions.....and then makes strong statements. We'll sit in silence for a while and then all of the sudden you can tell exactly what track his mind is on by the questions he asks. Here are some of my favorite questions/comments of the trip.
"Emily, why didn't you get married while you were home in America?" (For the 2 months I was there)
"Emily, someone told me that if a woman is wearing a bracelet around her ankle, it means she's a lesbian. Is that true?"
"Emily, forgive me for using this language, but you are more beautiful than your father." Sorry Dad! He's not into you. :) I'm telling you, I'm way better looking over here. The marriage proposals from the street make me think that my American passport is a nice accessory.
"Emily, is it true that you cannot relieve yourself (urinate) on the street in America?"
"Emily, sometimes when I've worked with Americans, I will be with them for four, maybe five hours and they never urinate. Do you all take drugs for that?"
"Emily, is it true that if you have an earring in your nose, it means you're a prostitute? (Me: No. I really wanted to get my nose pierced a few years ago.) Him: I would not talk to you if you had your nose pierced. I mean, I would greet you, but I wouldn't really talk to you. (Me: Ouch)
"Emily, if you have children in Sierra Leone would you breastfeed them the way our women do?" (For those of you who haven't been here....let's just say that there is no battle over breastfeeding in public here. It's a free for all (Me: Er, um, eh....?)

Anyway, those are just a few snippets of the 8 hours in my car. :) Incidentally we got the letter we were after so....win win!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why Hello Mr. Ambassador!

Last night I met the American Ambassador for Sierra Leone. He was just delightful. I found out about a meeting a the Ambassador's house in which he was going to be discussing several different things. Since I was in town I decided to hit up the meeting with some friends of mine.

We got to the house and saw that the terrace was set up for a lovely little garden party. Cookies and juice?? Yes please! (Incidentally while my friends and I were waiting for the meeting to start we went up to snag some refreshments. About 5 minutes later they started the meeting and while going through the agenda for the evening mentioned that at the end of the meeting there would be some refreshments while we socialized.) Oops! Jumped the gun on that one. Party foul.

We heard from various different sections of the embassy. The chief economic guy spoke about doing business in Sierra Leone and was I felt, ridiculously upbeat. I can imagine fewer things more frustrating than trying to run a for profit business here (it's hard enough to try a not for profit business) but he was very encouraging. Apparently the GDP? (or some form of measuring the prosperity of the country) went from 5% last year to 52% this year....which is an astronomical climb. He said it would be one of, if not the largest increase in the world. Way to go Sierra Leone! A large portion of this is due to the oil that was recently discovered off the coast, as well as the mining that's taking place here now.

The biggest reason I wanted to go to the meeting was to hear about the upcoming elections. Like in America, this is an election year for Sierra Leone. Unfortunately, the likelihood that the elections here will turn violent is a little bit more than in America (although it must be noted that during the last elections the power went from one party to the other party, and they still remained non-violent). It turns out that they actually didn't talk about security very much during the formal meeting so a few friends and I accosted the security detail after it was over and peppered him with questions. He really didn't say much that I wasn't expecting. "We're monitoring the situation" "You should avoid having teams come in during that time" "Might be a nice time to take a vacation" "We'll let you know if things escalate." etc. He did however, say two things that stuck out to me.
1. Security begins with you so you should have a personal plan in the event of some kind of emergency. Hum. So this year I'm DEFINITELY going to let the embassy know that I'm here! As far as a bigger plan....I'm going to have to think about that one.
2. When I asked him about the elections this year versus 5 years ago, he mentioned that one thing that concerned him was that this year, with all the money coming in from mining, etc. there was a lot more at stake than during the last election. It might make people more desperate. Hmm. Some good things to chew on.

This weekend I was out and about with some people and there were some political parades going on. On the one hand, I really love seeing people excited about their candidate, excited about being involved in the progression of their country. On the other hand, the war is still looming in my mind and big groups of people congregating (especially when a lot of them are wearing masks) can be a little intimidating.

Suffice it to say, while I'm not afraid, I have decided it's time to start praying for peaceful elections once again! :)