Friday, June 15, 2012

Good and bad...

Everyday has its good moments and its bad moments. Today the good by far outweighed the bad. Actually, the whole week has been positive for the most part. I have been encouraged!

This amazing tree on the hospital compound reminded me of the great things that took place today. I was able to schedule a 7 year old child for a CT scan at Connaught. Unfortunately he has lost his vision and has various other problems either due to meningitis or a brain lesion/tumor. Hopefully the CT scan will tell us more. I also managed to arrange transport to Guinea for an 8 year old boy with hydrocephalus who needs surgery. Osman is picking me up at home at 6:30am tomorrow so that we can get to Children's by 7am. He will then leave with the family for Guinea. Praying for a successful and safe trip! I also had a great teaching session with the house officers today. They were engaged with the lecture on circulation (shock and arrest) and theory about cardiopulmonary resuscitation. We then had some fun putting theory into practice, trying to resuscitate manikins. They're a great bunch with lots and lots of potential. I'm happy to help them along and give them the support I can. Another accomplishment (which is teeny tiny) was getting the side lab lock changed and finding a cleaner to clean the room. You'd be surprised (shocked) that such a small task can end up taking some time to sort out!

Unfortunately, for a few days now I have had laptop screen issues. Thankfully, for most of the day it's fine, but on occasion, the screen goes all funny (either clouding up, horizontal lines or colorful vertical lines) and everything freezes up. I wouldn't mind so much if I could be guaranteed that it's only a few minutes here and there but I am a bit worried that the screen is going to give up altogether. It's hard to know whether to spend money on a new laptop or wait. This is how my days here can be - do you keep going with a plan/project, or do you give up and start something new? Not everything is pleasant. I'm faced with challenging situations on a daily basis and sometimes it's really really hard. I was going to write about some of the bad/challenging stuff that took place today but after writing about all the positive stuff, I decided I'd like to stick to the positives. After all, it really has been a good week. I want to remember the good things. Sweet dreams everyone, I have to get to bed so I can get up at 5:45.

Monday, June 11, 2012

My prized possession...

I have come to realize that my prized possession is my laptop. I don't want it to break, get lost or get stolen! Obviously, I don't wish that on any of my things, but a laptop is dear. Just think about all of the information on it - the documents, the photos, etc. And add up the number of hours spent using it and the inconvenience of not being able to use a laptop for work. And the hassle of needing to replace it - the money, the logistics, a mule to haul it to Sierra Leone etc. No thanks!

Last night, while trying to get some work done on the computer, I noticed the top right corner of my screen turning white! Slowly the 'infection' spread from one side to the other. From the right side to the left side my screen clouded over and subsequently froze. I had never seen anything like it. I turned the laptop off, waited a few moments and turned it on again. The screen looked fine, the color was back and everything seemed normal. Normal until I noticed that in the top right corner a white blotch appeared and the screen began clouding over, from right to left in the timeframe of about 20 seconds. What was going on?! I decided it was 10:30 pm and there was nothing I could do about it. I decided to switch the computer off and let it rest. I said a quick prayer, hoping that my laptop would be okay, praying that I would have at least 5 minutes in the morning to update my backup.

This morning it was time for the test. After arriving in the office and picking up the external harddrive I was ready to go. If only my computer would cooperate... It did! Not only was I able to backup my work files, I had plenty of time to backup all of my personal files, and up until now, my screen has been fine. Let's hope it was a one off issue! I really can't afford to have a malfunctioning laptop at the moment. Thanks God.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

5th trip to Namina...

It has become a pleasure to visit Namina and her mom in their village. Mid-April, Gibrill, Osman and I set out to Bailor town again. We had a fun ferry crossing, taking many photos and talking to various people and met up with Namina and her brother in Lungi. We all got in Osman’s car and off we went. Fortunately the road was less dusty than last time! We spent some time on the dodgy bridge, partially to re-lay the wooden boards so that we could actually cross, but also to take some photos.

When we arrived Namina’s mom (Wara) and the rest of the (extended!) family welcomed us with open arms. I also saw my namesake, Sandra, who had grown quite a bit since our last visit. I brought many printed photos from our last trip, which were greatly accepted by all. While half the village spent time sharing around photos, we headed to the beach (about 2 minutes from the huts) and sat and enjoyed the cool breeze. Many children soon joined us of course.

We spent some time with the children, handed out biscuits and took a long walk on the beach. The fishermen were just coming in with their boats laden with fish, so that was entertaining for a bit. To be honest, it was just nice spending time with Namina’s family.

Later we had a big coloring session. With coloring pages I brought from home and a bunch of crayons given to me by my sister (thanks Maris!), we kept many children and even some adults very happy. They loved it. You have to remember that for some, this was the first time they colored! It was great to watch Namina and her brother color and comment on each other’s work. It has been a privilege to be a part of Namina’s life and see her flourish. Due to rainy season I don’t think I’ll be back for a little while, but I’m sure they’ll come to Freetown for a visit.

Easter at Turtle Islands, Sierra Leone...

Tucked away in the Atlantic Ocean, near Sherbro Island off the coast of Sierra Leone, lay the Turtle islands. Seven (or eight if you count Foto Island that no longer exists) in number the tiny islands are: Bakay, Yele, Bompetoke, Mooth, Hoong, Seh and Nyangai island. The islands are stunning, with beautiful beaches, green palm trees, clear blue waters and friendly people.

I was fortunate to be able to spend Easter weekend there with three good friends: John, Katy and Suzanne. We had an amazing time. We drove to Shengbe and spent some hours there while waiting for the tide to come in so that we could take the boat across to the islands. We had a lovely time with chief Doris before heading to Turtle Islands.

It was approaching dusk when we arrived at the Islands. While nearing one of the islands we noticed the Island was covered with huts – this didn’t seem very relaxing to us and we asked the boat man if there was another island that we could go to that was less crowded. That’s how we ended up at Bakay Island.

Bakay is amazing with its long stretches of beach and unique nature. I loved my time there. It was a mini paradise. We arrived just after dark and showed up unannounced of course, but that was not a problem. The village people were happy to see us and to our surprise there were some rooms available to stay in. Since we had our hearts set on camping, we decided to rent one room for our stuff (and to make use of its bathroom) but pitched our tents for sleeping.

We spent time chatting, eating, swinging in the hammock, taking walks around the island, swimming at an amazing spot, going to Yele Island to buy lobster, etc. We also went back to the Island we passed the first night- Nyangai, which is the smallest of the islands and is said to be slowly disappearing. It is interesting to watch how the island changes in size drastically depending on the tide. Again, the people were friendly and as we walked around the tiny island, we had a trail of children by our side. I was impressed that some of the children spoke Krio, English and Shebro. Apparently there is a teacher on the island!

Bakay Island provided an amazing get-a-way and I’ll definitely be back. We took a roundabout way of getting there, and I now know that I can arrange it a bit easier through the guy that runs The Lodge. The trip is a bit pricey, but worth it for sure. It’s the type of place I’d want to take my whole family to someday. I know, the chance is small, but I’ll keep dreaming.

Workshop in Kenema...

A colleague with VSO asked me, if I could help facilitate a mentorship workshop in Kenema in March. The aim was to provide initial mentorship training to clinical nurses who would be responsible for supervision and assessment of other nurses. Seeing as this is exactly what the hospitals here need, I was very happy to help out. I also felt this was a unique opportunity to ask two nurses from the Children’s Hospital to participate in the workshop. The idea was that they could then help us run the Emergency Triage, Assessment and Treatment (ETAT) course at the Children’s Hospital and act as mentors on the ward to ensure that what we teach people during ETAT, is actually being implemented on the wards afterwards. Also, the idea of leading by example is key. These two nurses can model excellent nursing practice to their peers.

Suzanne and I took a bus up to Kenema and had a very pleasant and comfortable journey there. On arrival we had to take okadas (motorcycles that really aren’t very safe to take, at least not in Freetown) to the house and for both of us it was the first time in Sierra Leone. We arrived at the house in one piece and Dickya, the course coordinator, took great care of us over the next two days. From the house it was a five-minute walk to the Kenema Government Hospital, where the workshop took place.

The course took two days and was comprised of lectures, discussions, group work, tasks, etc. We had a lot of fun, especially when blindfolded participants had to be guided by verbal instructions by their group leader around an obstacle course. A team task to build a bridge from straw that would hold a load was also a hit. All in all, it was a successful course. The challenge remains to follow-up and ensure that the nurses are able to mentor and model excellent nursing to their peers. Mentorship is ongoing- both for the nurses who participated and for us as facilitators. Two thumbs up for mentorship.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Bananas and marriage...

When I think of fruit I can always buy in Freetown, I think of bananas. However, today I had some difficulty locating them. Between Congo Cross and Wilberforce village, they were nowhere to be found. I walked around the village for about 20 minutes trying to find them going up and down various paths. Finally, I spotted a bunch. They were being sold at a fruit stall on our road that I have boycotted in the past. I boycotted it because the last time I went there, the lady selling fruit was really grumpy and quoted ridiculously high prices. Today I felt a little desperate. So, I asked the little boy to call his mom and out she came. She was exceptionally friendly and when I asked for the price of bananas she said 5 for SLL 2,000 – the usual price. I was pleasantly surprised and said I’d like ten. I then asked for the price of cucumbers and again, a decent price. Finally, I asked about the mangos, and she said SLL 500 each. A bargain.

In the meantime a guy walked up and helped the lady put the fruit into a plastic bag. I soon learnt that his name is Julius, and he is the fruit lady’s son. He wanted to make small talk. He first questioned my name, which I was happy to give him. His second question was asking me where I live, so I vaguely said I live in Wilberforce. His third question to me was whether or not I was married. And after my response of saying no, his mother was quick to jump in and say that her son should have me. Well, there you have it. Her son was a bit more sensible and said that it’s too early to talk about marriage, since we only met today. However, he did ask to walk me home. I kindly declined and headed home with my bag of fruit.

A rainbow...

I saw a full rainbow from our balcony yesterday evening and thought I would share that with you. Unfortunately it was impossible to get it in one shot, and I forgot about the panorama stitching possibility, so you'll have to make do with 3 pictures rearranged into one. I have to say it was pretty amazing. I am always in awe when I see a full rainbow. There was even a secondary rainbow, with the colors in reverse. Rainbows make me happy!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Vehicle issues and change of plans...

Dodgy vehicles change plans. I had to change my plans once already because I was asked yesterday to attend an important meeting on the west side of town at 11 am today. No problem, the meeting has a lot of funding potential so I could definitely fit it in and rearrange my day a bit.

My plan: Go to the hospital on the east side of town at 7 am, see a cleft palate patient I arranged to meet at 9 am, collect the cheque book and audit documents from the office and then head back to the west side, attend my 11 am meeting and then head to the center of town to go to immigrations and meet with an auditor.

Plans changed. I got in the car at 7 am and at about 7:25 am our car stalled and didn't want to start again. After our driver fiddled around in the engine for a bit, the engine started. However, I didn't want to take the chance that the car would stall later on my way back from the hospital to this important meeting plus the car now actually needed to go in to the mechanic. So, at 7:35 am I was dropped off near the Cotton tree and went to look for public transport to go back to where I had just come from.

I was happy to get a taxi from Siaka Stevens street directly to Wilberforce. I wasn't so happy when we got half way up King street and the car stalled and wouldn't start again. Ugh. I got out and ended up walking the 20 minutes home. After breakfast at home I walked down to the Spur Road office.

The 11 am meeting took place at 12:30 pm. Better late than never. Thankfully it was a promising meeting! We'll see what happens. However, without the cheque book and no audit documents, I'll have to go to town early next week to sort out immigration and audit stuff. At least I got a lunch out of the deal and I've had plenty of uninterrupted time to work on various documents. Life wouldn't be as interesting if everything went the way we planned.

Tonight's plan is to find a new Korean restaurant near Aberdeen. I wonder where I'll end up...

Thursday, June 07, 2012

2 years with Welbodi Partnership...

Two years ago I arrived in Freetown to start working for Welbodi Partnership at the Children's Hospital. It's hard to believe it's been 2 years. I remember arriving at the flat at night - I was the first Welbodi person to live in the flat - and it was pretty basic and bare. I was happy that it was in a neighborhood I knew a little, since I had spent 4 years living about a ten minute walk away. I remember waking up the first morning to a flood in the living room. It was the start of rainy season and at that time we had a leaking ceiling. I remember going to visit staff at the Aberdeen Centre the next day and being reunited with many friends. Sierra Leone soon felt like home again.

This evening my flat mate and I planned to go to a Bible study which was cancelled last minute. So instead we decided to head down to the beach for a walk and a quick dinner at one of the beach bars. A friend would pick us up later to drop us off at home. When I lived here with Mercy Ships before, I hardly ever ventured out with public transport. Now, it has become the norm. At the beach this evening I was reminded that this place is pretty amazing. Despite its challenges, it really is a great country with amazing places to visit and friendly people to meet.

The Children's hospital is, well, changing slowly. So often it's easier to focus on the hurdles and challenges and keep thinking about the many things that still need to be done. Sometimes we need to take a step back. To look. To observe. To reflect. To see what works and what has improved. I do believe that the children at the hospital are receiving better care now than they were two years ago. There's still a long way to go, but we're a few steps closer. I hope to continue to contribute to making the hospital a better place. I want to see this hospital change. I want it to be a house of hope. A place of peace. I want to see sorrow turned into joy and doubt transformed into confidence. I want to see dedicated staff. And I want to see more children walking out of the hospital with smiles on their faces. That's what I want to be a part of.

*Pikin means child in Krio

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Shopping on our street...

Sometimes I miss clothes shopping. However, it is possible to shop for clothes here too, just a bit more hectic! A few weeks ago I went to town with friends to go 'junks' shopping. A lot of second hand clothes (=junks) are sent to Sierra Leone to be sold. They come in very large sacks and are sold to an individual as a 'bundle'. That individual then opens up shop and sells the items individually. They either set up their shop in a 'junks' market (=collection of stalls each selling junks), sell on the street, or sell right in front of their house.
 It just so happens that a lady started selling 'junks' outside her house, which happens to be opposite ours. So, yesterday Suzanne and I went 'junks' shopping across the road after we got home from work. A new bundle of women's tops was purchased yesterday and the ladies were keen to see what they actually bought! Sure enough, the bundle was opened and the junks were revealed. Various tops were thrown our way for us to look at. Some were hideous, others were far too big or small, but there were also a few we liked. After selecting a few tops, we took them upstairs to our flat to try them on. How conventient! And in the end I purchased a top for 15,000 Leones (approximately USD 3.50). I can get used to this type of shopping. Now, if only they would buy a bundle of summer dresses!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A very rainy day...

It is definitely rainy season now. I feel like the rains started early this year – early May! It’s now the beginning of June and the rains are definitely getting heavier. Today was one of the first days it’s pretty much rained non-stop. If I’m indoors, I don’t mind so much but when I am due to head out, it’s not so pleasant. Pictured above is the house across from ours - flooding of drainage gutters and rivers through compounds.

At 9:00 am this morning it was raining SO HARD that I was tempted to stay at home rather than go to church, but I had to teach Sunday school. I had no choice. The ironic thing is that if it is raining, I can’t teach anyway because we have Sunday school outside on the field. Oh well. Duty calls. I decided to call a driver to pick me up. I called this guy Mohamed who finally showed up at 10 am (the time church is supposed to start). It had taken him longer because although he started driving his taxi earlier in the morning, he had stopped driving due to the heavy rain because there were no passengers on the street. He even removed his car battery (which he does because if he parks his car with the car battery in it, the battery may get stolen!) and so it took him a bit longer to get sorted. Eventually he came and I arrived at church at 10:20 am. By this time it was only sprinkling and church had not yet started.

Fortunately I was able to start Sunday school out on the field. It then started sprinkling, so we moved to the steps in front of the church, which are covered for the most part. However, after about 30 minutes it started raining heavily and we ended up going into the church building in the back and quietly continued with a written assignment and coloring. It’s a good thing it was a small class. I don’t even think the pastor noticed that we were having Sunday school in the back of the room.

The heavy rain continued after the service and I was happy for a lift home after lunch with some friends that live in the East side of town. I’m now in my room, nice and dry, but I am heading out in a few hours so hopefully the rains will have subsided. And to think, this is just the beginning of rainy season.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Great Saturday in Freetown...

Yesterday was a great day. I really like weekends here. The great thing about yesterday was that nothing was really planned in advance, but as the day continued, the plans unfolded.

First event: pancakesfor breakfast. Delicious. And a plus point was that the flour was weevil free. Always a bonus.

My flat-mate and I then headed down to Lumley in a taxi and went for a long walk on the beach. I have to say, living so close to the beach is great. Although Lumley beach is a city beach, it sure is beautiful and an amazing place for walks/runs. The sky was very blue, the breeze was cool and there was hardly anyone around. We soon ended up at the far end of the beach (Aberdeen side) and seeing as it was just after 12, we decided to have some lunch. Alex's restaurant it was. Strangely I had a bit of a meat craving and ordered the Trevor burger - burger, cheese, bacon, fried egg = delicious.

We then headed back home to gear up for the big football match. A world cup qualifier: Sierra Leone versus Cape Verde! There was a bit of confusion around the tickets, but we finally got open stand tickets for SLL 15,000. Originally we wanted covered stand seating, thinking it would be a safer way to go but in the end the open stand seats were fine and the atmosphere was great, except for a few brief minutes when supporters were throwing little plastic bags of drinking water onto the pitch. They spurred the police into action briefly, but nothing much came of it. Please note: the police at the stadium are geared up with masks and tear gas! They're not to be messed with. The first half was exciting to and SL scored 2 times. The second half was a bit dull, with neither side playing very well. During the game multiple vendors were walking around selling all sorts of snacks, usually an assortment of one or two things each. The overall selection included: crisps, biscuits (cookies), plantain chips, apples, boiled eggs, popcorn, meat on skewers, fried fish, pieces of chicken, mangoes, bananas, peanuts and drinks of course. The end of the game was anticlimactic - with Cape Verde somehow scoring a goal - it was odd because Cape Verde didn't have any fans in the stadium, so when the football rolled (fairly slowly) into the goal post no one cheered and no one really knew what happened. But sure enough 2-1. Results remain good for Sierra Leone. It's a win!

After the game I left with a friend Gibrill and headed along Wilkinson Road to pick up his wife. The three of us then headed to Montana's on the beach for ice-cream. Yum! And, even though it was after 8, we went for a short walk down the beach. Loved it! We then headed towards my place (only about 20 min away) but got stuck in some 'masterpiece' traffic near Lumley. After a little over an hour due to traffic and a breakdown (!), we arrived at my place. We chatted for a bit and then they headed home and I headed to bed.

All that's left to say is that it was an excellent Saturday!!!

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