Friday, August 15, 2008

Back to Sierra Leone

I flew back to Sierra Leone yesterday morning. Fayah, a Mercy Ships driver from the fistula center picked me up and took me across Freetown via the hillside route in order to avoid traffic. The road travels through villages whose names recall the British connections: Bathurst, Charlotte, Leicester, Regent.

I noticed things as though seeing them for the first time because I realize it could be the last time. In two weeks I'll leave West Africa.

Twenty years ago, when I first landed it Sierra Leone, it was also rainy season. Coming down the steps from the plane, the humidity assaulted me. Rain often made conversations difficult if not impossible...nothing like trying to chat when a downpour plays kettle drum with the corrugated zinc roof over your head. On the road I remember the kids filling potholes with rocks and asking for a dash to reward them for their work before allowing us to pass. I remember sitting at the bottom of a hill contemplating whether it was better to stay to the right or left of the rut or straddle it and cross where it turned at the top. And I remember my first trip to Mattru with Michelle, when a rock struck our windshield, shattering it...and THEN the afternoon rains began. We ended up replacing the windshield with a sheet of plastic, on which the windshield wipers were of course useless, and she drove much of the way with her head out the window while I shifted according to her instructions. A friendship was born on that trip.

Yesterday I found myself wishing I had learned a lesson from my friend Ann and carried a notebook for recording observations and thoughts. Would I remember the zinc roofs covered with tarps and held down with rocks so the tarps would help keep out the rain and the rocks would keep the tarps from blowing away? Brooks that were often invisible from the road during dry season, now waterfalls and rapidly rushing streams visible from a distance? The sight of kids and parents washing laundry and themselves as the water dashed over rocks beside the road? Red clay rutted roads? Men, women, and children carrying usual and unusual loads on their heads (15' pipes, baskets of cassava leaf, bundles of charcoal or yams)? Men and women sitting beside a rock pile, hammering rocks into gravel to sell?

Fayah stopped at one point and backed up a bit, looking to the stream beside the road before continuing. When I asked what he was looking at, "there's a crocodile down there," he replied. That was a a little ways after the entrance to the chimp sanctuary. "It's open again; the chimps are under control for now." A few years ago there had been an attack on people and a massive chimp escape. These chimps were ones that had been kept illegally as pets.

Will share more thoughts and observations later.

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