Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bye Bye Boris

Some of you have met Boris.  Some of you may have had the privilege of riding in Boris when you were here, and a few select people have actually got to experience a breakdown with me in Boris.  Oh Boris. I'm very thankful for the time that I've had with Boris.  However, in the last few months I've had some...not so fun experiences and adventures with Boris.  Even though the Toyota 4Runner is a tough's just not quite tough enough for the roads that I have to travel on.  Hence the need for an upgrade.
Boris....not one of his better days....
A couple weeks ago my friend saw an ad for a Land Rover Defender on Freetown Announce, which is Sierra Leone's Craigslist.  It was being sold by a guy that works for IMATT (the British Military presence in Sierra Leone.)  All of their vehicles are Land Rovers and they our T.O.U.G.H.  We took it for a test drive and I was sitting higher than everyone and felt like I could smash all the other cars (not to mention the huge boulders in the middle of the "roads" that I drive on all the time).  Needless to say I was sold.  It was also a smokin' deal which was awesome since my my plan to marry a really rich surgeon who loves Jesus, wants to live in Sierra Leone and do all my C-sections for me, has all his loans paid off and has a personality that doesn't drive me crazy....hasn't rally panned out.  I put a down payment on it and planned on picking it up while my mom and sister were here.

Buying my new car. Doesn't he look tough?
My mom and I went into Freetown the day after we got back from my village.  We went and picked it up in the morning and then began the adventure to get it registered.  My mechanic has registered multiple vehicles and knew people down at Road Transport so we took he and another guy who works with us so that he could "know people" too and register the cars for us in the future.  Good plan. 
"The Colonel" dominating through the puddles and driving that thing!

I drove my new car (who incidentally is named "The Colonel" because he's really tough and I bought him from a Colonel in the British Military).  Anyway, I drove the Colonel and my co-worker drove Boris and we went down to Road Transport. My co-worker got there before me and by the time I got there he had already started chatting with a guy......we'll call him Eddie.  Eddie doesn't actually work for Road Transport but hangs around and helps people navigate how to get everything done.  

When I arrived with my mechanic we went to see the guy that he knows and he looked at my documents. There were a couple problems that I was afraid would be deal breakers. It was a little confusing because although I bought it from an IMATT military guy, it was still registered to IMATT.  And although I was buying the car, I was buying it through my NGO, Willamette Medical Teams.  Anytime there's ever little problems like that it always  makes me nervous. You just never know how things will go.  Praise God we worked out the kinks (which involved me scratching out a few things and adding in a couple words).  As we left the building Eddie said, "Now it's just about the payment."  SCORE!!! We were almost home free!

Eddie told me that the price was Le 950,000 (about $218) bucks. I said ok and started to pull the money out.  Until both my mechanic and my co-worker said, "No Eddie, that's too much. You need to come down for us." Wait. What!?!  This is negotiable?  Who ever heard of a registration price being negotiable?  Then I noticed that there weren't really any signs up that had the standard costs for the various types of registrations.  It actually made me miss my DMV!  I pretty much sat back and watched the show as they went back and forth, back and forth.  After about 20 minutes of negotiating and everyone acting highly insulted that the other could possible want that much/that little money, they came back and said it would be Le 850,000 ($195).  Ok fine.

I left my co-worker with the money and my new car to get all the paperwork and got into Boris to drive home.  We were THIS close to getting out of the gate when Eddie came back and said that there was a problem.  Because the "colonel" had been and IMATT vehicle, it had never been officially registered with the government and no duty had been paid on it.  Even though it was being sold to an NGO, I still had to pay duty on it.  Duty on this car would probably be between $1500 and $2000.  Unless I could get one of the  ministries of the government to give me "duty free" status, since I'm working for an NGO.  Stink.  So close.  I talked to several people who all told me the same thing.  Eddie told me that he could do all the paperwork...but he seemed pretty sketchy so I didn't really trust giving him large sums of money.  We were getting ready to leave when my mechanic asked me to wait a minute and went back in to talk to his friend.

After about 30 minutes he came back out with the guy who again explained that the issue was getting it registered and paying the duty.  However, they said that for about $500 bucks they could get all the paperwork done and have me my car by tomorrow.  I knew what this meant.  Bribes. And lots of them.

Bribery is endemic in this country and drives me insane.  I have a pretty strict "no bribes" policy (hence my 5 1/2 hours stint at the police station) but sometimes it can't be avoided. For example, the fact that the registration price was negotiable tells me that somewhere in there, people were being paid off the books.  That kind of thing is hard to combat because I just don't know the system and it's just so common that it's the norm.

But in this case, I knew what needed to happen. I either needed to pay the duty or get duty free. This would most likely take weeks and involve hours of chasing down documents in various government buildings.  Didn't sound like a whole lot of fun. I had a crisis of conscious.  I SO wanted to take my new car up to the village with me when I went after my mom and sister left. The roads are just so bad and I'm not sure how many more trips Boris has in him.  I literally pulled over in the parking lot and sat there.  What should I do? What should I do?  Bribery is the way things are done here! Literally almost everyone does it.  I SO wanted to just pay the money and be done with it.  Don't judge me. :)

But in the end I just couldn't do it.  I thought about all the times here that I've said "someday we will stand before God and give an accounting of our life...." and I knew that aside from the fact that I really do believe that someday I will stand before God and give an accounting of my life....I also knew that if I gave in on this, how could I tell others that it was wrong?  I drove away.  Without my new car registered. Rats.

So now the plan is to try to get duty free status for the ole' Colonel.  I called the guy who would give me a letter attesting that I am in fact working here doing "health stuff" and he wasn't too thrilled. He told me that he had never given a letter to get duty free for a used car before.  Double rats.  Although it doesn't sound too promising, I am hopefully going to have a meeting with him on Tuesday and we'll just see.  If I can't get duty-free then I'll suck it up and pay the duty.  Even if I have to pay the duty, it's still a pretty good deal for the car so....that's nice. :)

Sometimes when Sierra Leone utterly frustrates me I like to look at pictures of cute babies (ok, pictures of one particular cute baby) and she makes me laugh. So here are a couple pictures of some cute babies from my family's visit.  :)

Maybe my favorite picture of Anna--having fun with her Pack N' Play

Anna and Aden chillin' on the couch

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mi Famila!!!

My family is here, my family is here!!!  Well, some of them are.  The long anticipated arrival of my mom, my  sister and my sister’s baby girl Anna, happened on Wednesday.  Could I be more excited??  I submit that I could NOT (loose Brian Regan reference there if you’re a fan).  Since the combination of heat, jet lag and loud churches next door having all night services with a PA system seem to make some of these wimpy girls tired, I’ll take the opportunity of them sleeping to update you (Hi Dad!). 

They came in on Wednesday and I was paranoid that something would go wrong and I wouldn’t get to the airport to pick them up. Praise the Lord they made it just fine! I’m not sure exactly what happened in the design of the airport, but in order to get to the capital city you have to cross a large body of water….on a ferry.  Now, I’ve done this ferry a million times and never had any problems. (And by that I mean that I’ve never feared for my life while on it). This time, as I drove off the ferry to go collect my family I was listening to the BBC and heard about a ferry that capsized in Tanzania.  200 people died. 

Now I don’t have children so I don’t really know about that whole fiercely protective, Mama Bear thing, but the thought of putting my little niece on the ferry made me….nervous.  I didn’t want to freak out my sister (who can we just say is incredible for even bringing a one year old over here?!?!) but I wanted her to have all the facts.  So I told her about the whole ferry capsizing situation.  We debated about going to the top of the ferry so that in case of a capsizing we could jump off easily.  But the ferry is jam packed with people and the three of them had just travelled thousands of miles and were just a wee bit sleepy. So we came up with an escape plan that involved shimming out of the sunroof in case of an impending capsize.  We're geniuses.  

What with this being Africa and all, it was a bit warm so we decided to keep the car running with the AC on.  Apparently you’re not supposed to let a car idle with the AC on. Who knew??  We had a bit of an overheating problem (didn’t actually have any problems but the line got real close to the red....don't worry Chad, we did not kill your car).  Fortunately my friend knows something about cars (shout out John) so he talked me through it and after about 30 minutes of waiting on the side of the road….in the city… the dark….with a 1 year old….and a little bit of on the job mechanic school.....we were off!! Made it back with no more problems….just a little later than we’d planned.  Thanks Jesus!!

The next day we had a little lunch birthday celebration for my friend’s son.  He and Anna were actually due on the same day but were born 3 weeks apart.  They are now friends and if all goes according to plan, will be husband and wife in 20 to 30 years.  These pictures will be shown at the traditional slide show.  Hopefully those things will still be in fashion.  Anyway.  We had their lunch party and then later we went to the Bible Study that my friend Kaysie has at the house every week. Sometimes I feel like I have 3 lives. My life in Oregon, my life in Freetown, and my life up country. It’s always fun when those lives intersect. 
"Please give me some cake Aden!!  I'm so hungry!"

My turn, my turn!
The next day our plan was to go to the beach…but it literally poured All. Day. Long.  It turned out that it was kind of a blessing as we just relaxed and hung out at the house all day.  I got caught up on my People magazine (I know I’ve been here for a while now because I don’t know who a lot of those people are anymore!) and we ate and talked and ate and talked.  Good times!

On Saturday we headed up to the village that I work in. I was super excited for them to see the place that I call home and meet everyone that I talk about all the time.  I warned them that the road was bad, but I don’t think they believed me. They kept saying “You just can’t capture it with a picture.” The road was worse than usual and my 6 hour drive turned into 7.  Praise Jesus there were no breakdowns!!!  Seriously.  Thank You.

On our day off we explored the house and saw the goats and the "pup pups"  
We stopped off at a village on the way up to see an old patient that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. It was Anna’s first encounter with a village full of precious, well- meaning African ladies who attacked her with attention.  She took it all in stride….although she was glad to be back in Mama’s arms. J
I'll be honest that there was a SMALL part of me that felt vindicated for the THOUSANDS of children that have made me feel like Frankenstein as they ran from me screaming.

They were literally crowded around the window to see the "white pikin"
We spent a few days in the village. We went to church and I got to introduce my fam to all the people that I’ve come to love up here.  Anna made some new friends as well!  The day we arrived we had kids coming to the house and after word spread that there was an “opoto” (white) baby in town, the kids came in droves.  Usually when I walk through town I’ll hear “white! White! White.” Occasionally it will be “Emily!”  By our second day in town it was “Anna! Anna! Anna!”

Bath time Sierra Leonean style
One of Anna’s new friends was a little boy who has come to my house a lot.  He’s seen the picture I have of Anna on my wall and knows that her name is “Baby Anna.”  He came with his cousin to visit and we put them together in the Pack N’ Play.  A few hours later he came back and walked into the house saying “Where’s Baby Anna?”  Too cute. J

Anna and her new friend.  

It was a long drive, 7 hours driving each way on a road that is…..not excellent. I’ve been talking about their coming for months though, so I was really excited to get to show them off. J  Than

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rain, rain, go away......

Well, after a long rest, it's time to stretch my blogging fingers and get back to work!  My computer was struggling a little bit but thanks to the kindness of strangers, I sent it back, got it fixed and my mom brought it in with her.  So excited to have a fully functioning keyboard again!  Strange how things like the letter "k" and "e" are kind of important.  I digress.  

My visiting family is jet lagged and sleeping, so I'll catch up on my blogging.  My roommate Meredith is leaving.  (Actually, by this time she's really already home).  We had the goal of spending the night on the beach before she left.  You may recall that I did spend the night at the beach before....but stayed in a wonderful hotel room (courtesy of a friend of mine).  This time Meredith and I wanted to be cheap. Since I had a tent sent over on the container that I hadn't broken in yet, we decided that a night in a tent on the beach sounded ideal.  Also, it would only cost $10.  There were little bungalows that would cost $50 but we were in a money saving mood and also wanted some adventure.

When we arrived, there were a bunch of people all crowded around a tree looking for a snake. I freaked out. There aren't a lot of things that make my blood run cold here....but snakes are one of them.  "Don't worry," said one of the spectators.  "It's very very small.  Like this," he said, pointing to the lanyard holding my keys.  

Lie. Lie. Lie.  I've tried for the last 30 minutes to upload the picture of the snake that I took...but it just won't work.   You'll have to take my word for it that this guys pants were on fire!!!!  While they were working on getting the snake out of the tree Meredith and I worked on setting up the tent.  (I'll admit that the snake was a great distraction because otherwise the two white girls trying to put up a tent would have been the main attraction).  We decided that since it is rainy season we should apply the handy dandy rain flap.  As you may notice from the picture below (my sister was kind enough to point this out), the rain flap doesn't actually cover the window.  Error #1.  

Little did we know at this point what this little error would cost us
We were literally the only people at the beach besides the people that worked there.  They'd put all the tables and chairs that usually litter the beach away. It was almost like people didn't really come to the beach during the rainy season....huh.  One of the owners/guy who is in charge asked us if we were sure we'd be OK out there.  "Sometimes that wind really picks up!"  No way!! We'll be fine!  Our plan was to try it out in the tent and if it was awful we'd fork over the $50 for the bungalow.  We didn't work out the details of exactly how I'd find someone in the middle of the night to tell them that we couldn't hack it in the tent but...figure we'd cross that bridge when we came to 3am.  

After setting up the tent we had a delicious dinner and enjoyed a lovely evening on the beach. By about 8pm it was way past our bedtime (and turns out there's not a whole lot for two girls to do on a deserted beach) so we went to bed.  In our tent.   

After a couple hours of doing girly sleepover things like giggling and one person trying to kill another person by spraying copious amounts of mosquito repellent while inside a tent with zero ventilation (some things are "African specific" sleepover activities) we rolled over to go to sleep.  And the rain started.  And it kept raining.  All. Night. Long.  

Remarkably, we both slept pretty well.  We woke up every couple hours and sometimes we just started laughing at the ridiculousness...but then went back to sleep. One of those times I woke up and my sleeve was wet.  But since my face wasn't wet and I was still sleepy....I just went back to sleep.  Probably not my best decision.

In the morning we woke up to a lake around the edges of our tent.  And by "edges of our tent" I mean inside our tent.  I pulled my phone out of the puddle it was submerged in and....nothing.  Rats.  It was like we were on an island and we were dry, but all our stuff...wasn't. And it was still pouring, so we just kept getting wetter.  Finally we decided that it wasn't just going to blow over so we took all our stuff to the car.  That little jaunt cost us whatever illusion of "dryness" there still was, so we just embraced it.  We went down to the edge of the ocean and Meredith went in.  (Since she's from a land-locked state and was leaving Sierra Leone I decided I didn't have the same need to go swimming and watched her craziness from the shore).

Just not as hardcore as Meredith

After we were finished swimming we went back to the covered area and definitely got an "I told you so" from the manager.  Touche'.  But he did say that the next time we came if it wasn't busy and we still wanted to save money we could talk to him and he'd see what he could do so......score!! :)
All in all, not a bad trip!!  Thanks Meredith!!