Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A moment in a movie...

For two minutes this evening I felt like I was in a movie, just for a moment.

I was driving along Siaka Stevens street downtown when all of a sudden the world around me froze. I realized it was 6pm, which is the time that the anthem is played and the flag is lowered in various parts of the city. During this activity, out of respect, no one is allowed to move. Our car also stopped. Everyone around me froze - people stopped in the middle of the street, okadas (motorcycles) stopped abruptly, vehicles stopped. Except for one man. He kept walking because he was apparently oblivious to what was going on - within seconds he was shouted at and told to stop, which he did, after he backtracked his steps a little and stood frozen in the spot where he was expected to stop originally. It's a bizarre scene. I wish I could film it. After 2-3 minutes the music stops, the flag is lowered and everyone starts moving again. Back to the craziness of Freetown but for 2 minutes, the neighborhood was quiet. 

The first time I experienced this was years ago on Fourah Bay Road near the Eastern Police Clock Tower - at that time I was the one who was shouted at and told to stop, which I did, having no clue what was going on. Now I know. I don't experience this 'frozen in time' event often, but when I do it really feels like I have stepped into a movie. It's a fun experience. Unfortunately the clock tower does not seem to play the national anthem anymore.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

A quieter Easter Monday...

Easter Monday in Sierra Leone is a public holiday and generally one of the busiest, craziest days of the year. I think it's equal only to Boxing day (December 26th) as far as massive treks to the beach and possibly New Year's Eve and the Sierra Leone Independence Day (April 27th) celebrations. 

Usually the day is marked with devil parades in the streets of Freetown. It is generally not a nice atmosphere since the devils can be somewhat daunting and slightly aggressive in their approach. It's a combination of people singing, running, and dancing down the street, often combined with a lot of alcohol, and slight aggressiveness. The devil and his helpers force people to give money or make their followers bow down at certain points of time. The whole scene is a bit upsetting to watch to be honest with you. About 10 years ago I was once caught in the middle of a so called devil parade in the Eastern part of Freetown and it was a scary experience with drunk men climbing on our cars and not letting us proceed. We finally managed to get away from them and had to take a long detour to go home. All this to say, I do not like devil parades and am thankful that this year they did not take place. That is one of the few positive side effects of Ebola. No mass gatherings means no devil parades. I am not complaining about that.

The other most notable difference is that people are not allowed to gather at the beach. Today is usually the busiest day on the beach, Lumley beach in particular is usually packed, and today was probably one of the quietist days at the beach ever. I went to Lumley beach last year on Easter Monday and it was the busiest I had ever seen the beach. I guess today people found other ways to spend time with their family and friends. 

Anyway, for me it was just another day at work and thankfully a more peaceful day than it could have been. I was thankful that there was no traffic going home, no disruptive devil parades, and no noisy neighborhoods. I can't complain. 

Monday, April 06, 2015

Back after 18 days...

I'm back in Freetown, after being away for 18 days. It doesn't seem like I was away for that long, but that's probably because a lot of my time away was spent working. I had Welbodi Partnership Board meetings in London, some time at the UK office, a WHO meeting in Geneva and then a week with my family in the Netherlands, with occasional emails here and there. Despite the need to get work done, at least I was in a different environment for a bit and had some time to catch up on much needed sleep. 

On my arrival in Sierra Leone yesterday, I was welcomed by a pleasant warm breeze as I headed to the immigration line. First stop: the hand washing station, then immigrations and then the next stop: the temperature check. 36.2 Celsius. After that it was business as usual: trying to inch my way towards the conveyor belt in the overcrowded baggage hall to try to retrieve my luggage. I think I saw my suitcases circle the belt 3 times before I finally managed to get someone to pass them to me. After being waved through customs I managed to buy a ticket for the water taxi and before I knew it, I was in the bus on my way to the water taxi terminal. Within an hour landing I was on the boat, crossing over to Freetown - talk about record time - and my luggage was in the same boat. It was great to be picked up by a friend and head home to settle in. 

I spent most of the day today at work. The hospital was quieter than usual since it's officially a public holiday, so I used the time to catch up with some people. I caught up with some of my colleagues and was introduced to the more recent challenges, and some of the pre-existing ones that are on-going. There is an increase in the number of suspected measles cases yet still a difficulty in getting the surveillance forms filled out and the lab samples taken. There are more children being admitted to the holding unit to rule out Ebola but most of them have non Ebola illnesses such as severe malaria and anaemia and end up dying in the isolation unit because they do not have access to things like oxygen there. Waste management still has issues, with various organizations getting involved, but no right solution as of yet. The generator seems to have a problem but I couldn't find the right person to ask about it. Some hospitals have formed their infection control committees while others have not yet met. One of the hospitals we are supporting has not yet scaled down their holding unit and plans are still unclear. Welcome back, Sandra. I definitely have my work cut out for me over the next few weeks/months with finding solutions to these challenges and carrying out the many other tasks that need to be accomplished. Where there's a will, there's a way.

Honestly, although there is a lot going on and I know I will be very busy, I am very excited about the work ahead. Today I had good conversations with my Welbodi Partnership colleagues, with our new matron at ODCH (children's hospital), with the medical superintendent of PCMH (maternity hospital), with the head of environmental health at PCMH, with colleagues from other NGOs at ODCH and PCMH, and more people. It is encouraging to hear that people are keen to move things forward and improve the hospitals as a whole. With team work, motivated spirits, and a couple of deep breaths, this should be possible. 

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