Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lazy Lumley afternoon...

After a very relaxing morning - with electricity, surprisingly enough- Luzanne and I decided to take a taxi down to Lumley beach to chill. Very brave of course, two white women, stepping into a taxi with three Sierra Leonean men. But we made it. We stopped at a place called Bunkers - a two-story beach bar/restaurant - and chose a table that overlooked the ocean. We made ourselves comfortable; extra pillows in the chairs, feet up on the ledge, a drink. Perfect. It was becoming a very lazy day. I basically read my book ('The Bookseller of Kabul'), dozed off and also enjoyed some photography. It was a perfect afternoon and we finished it off with a 45 minute walk on the beach! Here are some of the pictures I took:

Guess who I saw again today...

After a lovely afternoon at the beach, a friend and I walked back towards the clinic, to get a ride home. On our way, we met up with Osman and bought some groundnuts of course. This time I had my camera with me; so here are some very recent shots!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Reunion on the beach...

So, yesterday was Training Day 1.

This meant a 15 minute run on Lumley beach.
It was easy.
A good start.
However, after about 2 minutes of running, I had to stop.
Not because I couldn't run, but because I saw someone.
An 8 year old boy who sells groundnuts on the beach.
I met him last year and often stop to say hi,
And sometimes buy groundnuts.
Which I then have to hold onto while running,
Or stuff into my running shorts' pockets.
It had been months since I had seen him.
I think he went upcountry for the summer holidays.
And of course with the elections, school was out longer than expected.
So, it was quite a surprise to see him on the beach yesterday.
I asked how he was doing, he said great.
Actually, he looked good. He's gained some weight.
He said school started on Tuesday,
He was glad to be back.
He had been upcountry, to visit his father.
When I asked where, he just said 'far far'.
I told him I was glad to see him again.
He just smiled.
Osman has the most amazing smile!
I'm glad he's back.
Seeing him made my day.
(PS: Nicci, I hope it's ok I used this picture)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

3 months till Christmas...

Wow, unbelievable.
Only 3 months till Christmas.
Time is flying.
13 weeks to be exact.
And in that short time I am thinking about training for a 10k run.
A run which we'll organize ourselves.
Along Lumley beach of course.
And preferably not uphill!
We'll see how it goes.
Right now I am happy if I can run 15 minutes without a break.
So I will be impressed if I accomplish this goal.
We're starting our 'training program' tomorrow!

Monday, September 24, 2007


It’s 17:45. The last patient just walked out the door. I’m now sitting outside, near the laundry room, waiting for a ride home after a fairly long day. I’m pretty hungry and am looking forward to dinner at 18:30. I’m listening to the rain drops landing on the ground. It’s Monday and it’s raining. It's been a long day and I'm tired. I’m secretly looking forward to the weekend already and hoping for nice weather. Fortunately, it’s starting to rain less. Rainy season is coming to an end. We had two beautiful Saturdays in a row and managed to get back out to River no 2 beach! What an amazing place.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A 10 year old, her mother and a stone...

Today a 10 year old girl came to the clinic with her mother.
She didn’t come with the usual complaints of fever and cough.
She came with a single complaint.
She had a stone in her left ear.

When asked how it got there,
She said she put it there.
When asked how long it had been stuck,
She first said a week, no at least a month,
No, over a year was the final answer.

It was about 1030 am when I saw her.
The waiting room was still full with patients.
Knowing that foreign objects can take a while to dislodge,
I decided she would have to wait.
No problem she said (after all, it’d already been a year!)

Finally at 3 pm I called her in.
I showed her the syringe with a little plastic cannula on the end.
I showed her how it worked.
Much like a squirt gun really.
Of course, she has never seen a squirt gun.

The 10 year old sat bravely;
While I started flushing out her ear.
Since one of my nurses was sick, the mom assisted.
Amazingly enough it only took about 10 minutes.
First some debris, then out came the stone.

The girl was relieved.
The mother was thankful.
She asked me what her bill was.
I said, there is no bill,
You already paid 1000 Leones consultation fee.

She then said she wanted to give me a small gift.
I told her she does not need to give me anything.
She was surprised and almost in tears.
I told her that this is why we are here.
This is what we do; we’re here to help.

I was humbled by her thankfulness.
All I did say was to please do these things for me:
Make sure you feed your child well.
Make sure she stays in school.
And make sure she doesn’t put anything in her ears again.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Excitement in Sierra Leone as the new president is announced...

7:27 am
I get a message saying SLPP is going to court at 9 and the final results should be announced at 10. Seems awfully quick for a court decision. We’ll find out soon enough. Everyone is proceeding with caution…

7:30 am
We leave the team house in a Terrano. 5 minutes later we are stuck in traffic prior to the Lumley roundabout. Check points. Since we were in an NGO car we were waved through. Those in public transport were less fortunate. Taxis were emptied, bags were searched etc. Police, Military Police, Special Forces. Everyone is involved. It’s just a safety measure…

8:00 am
We arrive at work. A little later than usual. Surprisingly a lot of the staff managed to make it to work on time. Of course some of them passed a few check points but overall they didn’t seem too bothered. Another surprise was that there were quite a few children at the gate waiting for the clinic to open. I thought maybe they would stay away. No one seemed to mind traveling today…

9:00 am
I pass through the waiting room and see a number of people with hand held radios; not a sight usually seen. Everyone is waiting for the results. I keep asking one of the father’s if there is any news yet. Nope not yet…

10:30 am
I am seeing a patient in my office. All of a sudden I hear a lot of cheering. The noise outside of my office became louder and louder. Everyone seems happy. Lots of excitement. The results have been announced. The waiting room has never been so noisy. APC won…

11:00 am – 4:00 pm
As I continue seeing patients in my office I can see the street through the window. I see people in red and white dancing down the street. I hear lots of whistles, car horns, cheers. I see 4 guys dressed in red shirts holding up a huge Ernest Koroma poster, followed by a poda poda (public transport van) driving by slowly with APC supporters. People are starting to party on the streets. Hopefully it will stay calm…

3:30 pm
I hear Christiana Thorpe on the radio. Saying the results are final. Apparently there are still some allegations. But the results won’t be affected. Good news for APC…

5:00 pm
We are going home. In two cars, one behind the other, just in case there is any trouble. I’m sure that our neighborhood is pretty excited. It’ll be interesting to see what’s going on there…

Please continue praying for Sierra Leone. The elections are over. Things are peaceful. The winners are ecstatic, which means the losers are disappointed. We hope for ongoing peace!

Official results announced today...

At 10 am this morning the official results of the elections were announced. Ernest Bai Koroma has won the Sierra Leone’s presidential run-off!

Ernest Koroma of the All People’s Congress received 54.6% of the 1,740,058 votes, while Vice President Solomon Berewa of the Sierra Leone People’s Party received 45.4% of the votes.

There are still concerns about fraud. The national electoral commissioner, Christiana Thorpe has launched investigations into at least 14 cases of alleged electoral fraud. Most thought not all, were reported in SLPP strongholds where an unlikely turnout of 100% or more was reported compared to a 68% national average. Dr Thorpe said these flaws were not sufficient to affect the final result. International observers praised the NEC's conduct of the election which was largely free, fair and peaceful - but that has not prevented some SLPP members from talking of a possible legal challenge.

Under Sierra Leone law, the official results can be challenged by petition to the Supreme Court within seven days of their announcement by electoral authorities.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Latest SL news...

A quick update from Sierra Leone.

Over the weekend there have been a few scuffles in town. Nothing major. But we were required to stay on the compound between 7pm and 7am. I found the latest news on the BBC which states that "Sierra Leone's ruling party is seeking an injunction against the electoral commission to stop it from publishing further presidential election results." Click on this link for the article.

It is interesting because over 75% of the votes are counted, with APC in the lead (60% to 40%). We were expecting to hear the final results announced officially on Saturday or maybe Monday. Now it looks like it may take a little longer...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday afternoon in Salone...

It's been a busy week, with about 130 patients. Good but busy. Some frustrations, lots of highlights.

Some frustrations included:

- parents that came in with a very sick infant rather than going to a hospital (where they can admit) days earlier
- the microscope breaking down at noon on Thursday with 40 patients waiting in the clinic for blood tests
- realizing that we actually have 3 broken microscopes in the lab. And our lab maintenance man didn't show up today to fix the problem. He should be coming on Monday.
- my sore throat lasting for 8 days!
- finding out that there has been ongoing thiefery at our house compound for the past few months (at least we finally caught the guys)

Of course there have been highlights:

- the smiles of my little friend pictured above who I have known since he was very small.
- finding a lady in downtown Freetown with apples (we haven't seen any apples for awhile)
- a 4 year old that accompanied his sick cousin yesterday to the clinic, who was full of smiles and asked a million questions. He was quite entertaining while we were waiting for the last couple of lab results.
- no election related trouble in the country reported this week!
- our surgeon Dave and his wife Helen finding out they became grandparents last night
- a fun dinner with a friend on Sunday...chatting about life

Anyway, it's almost the weekend. That's always a good thing. It'd be really nice if it was sunny tomorrow - that would mean a possible beach trip! The election results may be announced on Saturday. So we have a curfew again, meaning we have to stay on the compound from 7pm to 7am on Saturday and Sunday. No problem...we are in the middle of watching season 3 of 24!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Election results so far...

So far 1364 out of 4793 (22.2%) of the polling stations have reported.
Here are some preliminary results...

Solomon Berewa on the left has 163,708 votes = 36%
Ernest Bai Koroma on the right has 294,498 votes = 64%

Apparently it can still take a total of 12 days from the day of the run-off before the official results are announced. So far, everything is calm in Salone.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Run-off elections...

Unlike 4 weeks ago with the first round of elections, there was very little noise on our street when I woke up this morning. It seemed like your usual Saturday morning, besides the fact that we weren’t allowed off of our compound until noon. I peeked out of the gate at 10 am and saw a fairly short line outside of the polling station up the street. It was very calm. I actually ended up staying on the compound all afternoon. And after 5pm we were supposed to stay on the compound again anyway.

Since it had been quiet all day, I was surprised to hear a lot of commotion on our road at around 430 pm. I went to the front gate (along with a few others) to try to find out what was going on. We just saw a lot of people through the little peeking slot by the gate. We asked the guard what was going on; he was very vague. We climbed up onto the roof to take a look. We saw a lot of people outside the polling station (just up the road) and about 6-8 armed soldiers in the crowd. Pretty soon the army guys drove off, which seemed to quiet things down a little. Only some police men and military police were left behind; they were addressing the crowd. After about 10 minutes they also left the scene in a jeep and the people seemed content again.

The rumor is that someone tried to bribe someone into switching one of the ballot boxes. Of course, the neighborhood was not happy to find that out and the commotion began. I guess now they are just hanging around outside of the polling station to keep an eye on things. Who knows what really happened. No one got hurt. It was nothing major. Just a group of people that got a bit upset about something.

Hopefully the voting in the rest of the country remained peaceful. I have not heard of any major disruption. I'll check out the news, but it's hard to know exactly whats true and whats speculation/rumor...

How the run-off election works...

Just a little insight on how exactly the run-off election will take place...

Since no candidate won more than 55% of the vote in the first-round of the presidential elections held on August 11, 2007, a run-off between the top two candidates, the All People’s Congress’ Ernest Koroma, who garnered 44% of the votes, and the Sierra Leone People’s Party’s Solomon Berewa, who garnered 38% of the votes, took place September 8, 2007.

Voters again go to the polling stations to vote. And within two weeks the final result will be announced. The winner, who will become President of Sierra Leone, will be decided by a simple majority of the votes.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Two and a half years in Sierra Leone...

Exactly 2 1/2 years ago I arrived at Lungi airport.
Expecting to stay for a year.
Not knowing what I would really be doing here.
Anxious and excited.

The center wasn’t even finished yet.
Wards looked like storage units.
Boxes were everywhere.
The outpatient clinic was a big empty space.
Staff hadn’t even been interviewed yet.

The adventure began.
The scope of the clinic was written up.
Staff was hired.
The empty space turned into a waiting area.
We were ready for patients to come.

May 10 2005 the outpatient clinic opened.
I was nervous.
On day 1 three patients showed up.
On day 3 we were up to 27 patients.
I found it a challenge.

Limited medication.
A part-time lab technician.
Consultations in the Krio language.
Cultural differences with patients and staff.
The stress of being the only doctor.

Two and a half years later.
I am still in Sierra Leone.
Work can still be challenging.
But I am more confident.
I can’t imagine being elsewhere.

My staff (5 nationals) is amazing.
Communicating in Krio is great.
I’ve gotten used to my stock of drugs.
Peeking at malaria parasites or Schisto under the microscope is fun.
I’ve seen up to 68 children on one day alone.

Getting to know families over the span of 2+ years is a blessing.
It’s a privilege to be a part of their lives.
I am happy to know that I can make a difference.
It’s definitely the children that keep me here.
Their smiles, their laughter, their potential.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Peace rally in Sierra Leone...

On September 2nd a communiqué was signed by His Excellency the President and the two main political party leaders.

The meeting identified a number of matters of concern which were dealt with immediately. For example, the parties are not allowed to give ex-combatants and vigilante groups security roles in party activities. Also persons in possession of arms/offensive weapons/objects will be arrested and prosecuted. The police were urged to be more robust and impartial in carrying out their functions. The party leaders agreed to develop their inter-personal relationship. Etc.

In conclusion, the two leaders agreed to participate in a grand finale joint peace rally in Freetown, to demonstrate their commitment to the peaceful conduct of the run-off elections.

So, tomorrow (Sept 6th), at 10 am, the peace rally will begin. The route starts at Lumley round-about with a peace performance and then moves on to Congo Cross, Brookfields, past the Cotton Tree, to the Clock Tower, and finally ending in the East of the city at around 4pm. The convoy will included a number of different groups of people including: the Sierra Leone police, the Peace group, international religious Committee, Political Candidates, Party executives etc.

Hopefully this rally will bring the desired effect – peace. We are praying this won’t backfire.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

UN statement regarding the election process in Sierra Leone...

The statement below was written following a special meeting convened by His Excellency the President Alhaji Dr Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the two main political party leaders on September 2, 2007. This meeting was held in order to make the necessary agreements in order to ensure that peace and stability would be maintained during the election period. The two leaders are to ‘strengthen their mutual trust and confidence which should flow down to their supporters in particular and the nation in general.’

Statement by The Executive Representative of the Secretary-General in support of national efforts to ensure peaceful and violence-free elections

3 September 2007

On behalf of the United Nations family in Sierra Leone, and on my own behalf, I wish to congratulate His Excellency the President, Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, on the timely initiative to bring together the leaders of the two political parties, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) and the All Peoples Congress (APC) to agree on measures to ensure peaceful and credible presidential run-off election.

In the same vein, I congratulate the two presidential candidates, Hon. Ernest Bai Koroma (APC) and Hon. Solomon Berewa (SLPP), for the role they played in reaching an agreement on the issues stipulated in the Communiqué issued by the Office of the President on 2 September 2007.

For the United Nations, the historic meeting between the two leaders, held on 2 September under the aegis of His Excellency the President, marks an important milestone in the collective efforts to foster an atmosphere of peace and tranquility that had characterized the first round of the ongoing national elections, whose credible outcome has earned the country international praise and admiration.

As the nation embarks on the next and final round of the electoral process, due on 8 September, I wish to take the opportunity to call on the people of Sierra Leone and all political actors to continue to show patience and tolerance and support for the work of the National Electoral Commission and the Sierra Leone security agencies to ensure a peaceful and credible conclusion of the presidential run-off elections.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Election update - Freetown, Sierra Leone...

So just after posting the previous blog, we received a message through an NGO security tree saying that there was fighting in downtown Freetown. No more information was given. That was at about 2 pm this afternoon.

It is now 6 pm. I just got back from a run along Lumley beach and on returning to the center, heard from some of our staff that there had been shooting downtown. Some of our nurses asked to leave early so that they could be home before dark. It seemed like a wise thing to do. Reports later say that it was police shooting tear gas- no actual shooting took place. There was a clash between the two parties; men with sticks, machetes and knives. About two dozen people are said to have been wounded and taken to the hospital. Again, it’s hard to know how much of what we read or hear is accurate.

I decided to check on-line and sure enough found some articles.

See the following links.

PS: we are fine!

Looking ahead at next weeks run-off elections...

A week from today many Sierra Leoneans will again make their way to the polling station. This time they will choose between two candidates – Solomon Berewa (SLPP) and Ernest Koroma (APC).

To be honest, the tension in Sierra Leone is rising. Generally speaking life in Freetown continues as usual. Upcountry life seems a little more unsettled. News comes in daily about incidents that have taken place in various parts of the country (mainly the east and south- Kenema, Kono, Bo). It’s hard to know if the news is accurate. Reports came in yesterday that there was unrest in Bo and that houses were being burnt down. Today I heard that it was a rumor. I guess for the most part we don’t really know what is taking place.

There is much talk about the upcoming run-off. A lot of people are anxious. Only time will tell…

Here are some quotes from various news agencies online:

“The risk that Sierra Leone could again descend into the chaos and civil war of the 1990s remains unlikely ahead of the second round of presidential elections on 8 September, according to international officials - even after outgoing president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah threatened to impose a state of emergency following election-related riots in the main diamond town of Kono on 27 August and the stabbing of at least six people in Freetown.”

“However, as the September 8 election day draws nigh and the contest narrowed down to two contending gladiators, tension has again resurfaced in the land. Reports of clashes between supporters of the rival candidates have been rife in recent days, prompting the imposition of curfew in the eastern district of Kono. President Tejan Kabbah has threatened to declare a state of public emergency if the two rival candidates do not rein in their supporters.”

~ Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. micah 6:8 ~