Good bye Sierra Leone,
My last weekend in Sierra Leone and the journey has been amazing. I am glad I was able to share it with you all. I leave being so excited to get home and see my family I can’t even put it into words, tears well up behind my eyes when I write those words, and then of course I have carved yet another small path in a tiny coastal African country that will be with me forever. Will I ever walk under these scorching skies again? Who knows? Who knows what the world will throw at us? Which brings me to my last personal tale from here.
My penultimate weekend saw me and my replacement heading to a village called Gbendembu, one of the many typical hinterland villages on a rough road on the way to Guinea. Unfortunately I woke up on the Friday morning with a headache and had a long day of travel ahead, much of it on an awful road crammed in a vehicle with my crew and 20 bikes shoehorned in everywhere else. I bought a bottle of water, a rare treat, but thought my headache was due to dehydration. Three and a half hours later I was glad to stretch my legs surrounded by eager students more than willing to help unload their precious cargo. I was soon off to bed nursing my head and drinking rehydration fluid but not seeming to get any better. Unfortunately my last workshop was not looking too promising. We were staying at a Peace Corps volunteer’s house and my local crew were going to sleep at the principal’s house. I heard lots of fun going on around me, but my head wasn’t allowing me to join in, bummer.
I awoke feeling much better and was able to do the workshop, but my job slowly has become to observe as the whole point is eventual autonomy for the locals. So in my tenure here I have really helped and put many things in place which has empowered my local staff to feel good about their program, because to create dependency helps no one.
My head started to pound again and I was not looking forward to a return journey that evening but we were promised a ride in a car by the Paramount Chief of the village which would have softened the blow. The lift fell through, but my local crew wanted to get home so they took okadas (motorcycles) and Chris and I stayed on one more night on the back of a promise from the Minister of Agriculture who offered a ride in the morning in his nice stout vehicle. Bonus. A very bad night of high fever and my mind slowly turned to the possibility of Malaria. At the least it would be one more night as there was no way of getting blood tests where we were. That night my thoughts were foggy and I was so frustrated having been so well my whole time here, and now one week to go here I was feverish in a small bush village a long journey from home. I thought of my kids and wife and asked the universe to please not play a cruel joke, I just want to be in the arms of my family soon. The next morning I was still not well and although the Paramount Chief and Minister were so appreciative of our efforts to help their villagers the rides were quickly being renegued. The minister saw I was ill and tried to find his driver, but in the end Chris and I were squeezed onto one okada with our bags and some tires and tubes, and made the decent into heading home. The ride wasn’t so bad as the cool breeze and some paracetemol took the edge off a bit, but I had to stop the mindset of victim, and mentally take control of everything going on. I knew I needed to get to a hospital but as we were stopped at a police checkpoint who wanted to confiscate the motorbike because the driver had no insurance, plates, and whatever else. She had his keys in her hand and we would have been stranded. I told her that we just came back from doing the program and the reason he is driving us is because I need to get to the hospital. She wasn’t budging but remembered seeing us come up with the bikes and when one of her superiors looked at me and said , “Don’t die in Sierra Leone”, I told him it wasn’t in the plan. Le20,000 ($5.00) saw us continuing on our journey. I was willing a ride back to Lunsar when we got to Makeni which is the big city we switch vehicles in, as I wasn’t looking forward to being in one of those tightly packed vehicles I usually enjoy. I was fading fast. As we pulled into the crowded station where dozens of people and at least 60 cars, all vie for your money, a guy came up to me and said “Lunsar?” I said yes and he was standing in front of a Toyota pick-up truck windows closed, which meant air conditioning. I asked now? He said lets go. Chris and I threw our gear in the back and I had my first private ride in Sierra Leone. To complete the symbolism the truck was white;-) As I flitted in and out of sleep I kept the vision of my family in my head and nothing was going to stop me from throwing my arms around them in a week’s time. As we got to the junction where I needed to go to the hospital, another 4 wheeled drive vehicle was heading up the road, I shouted and he stopped. I asked if he was passing the hospital and he was. My second private ride! Chris went off home. As I stumbled out of the car I was greeted by the people I knew so well as I lived on the compound for a month. It was just short of lunchtime on a Sunday, and when I saw Brother Emmanuel he didn’t think it was possible to get a blood test and results, my eyes met his, and we both knew it was necessary. Within the hour I had my blood test and diagnosis. An aggressive form of malaria which multiplied in my system. My body was doing well as even the lab tech rubbed the back of my head saying , “Oh this is a strong one for an Opoto, poor thing.” I was given my meds, hopped on a motorcycle and spent the worst two days I had spent in quite a while, but never gave into the fear, and always focused on the healing. I called Angie, and her voice made me quite emotional but I re-assured her I would be fine. Her name is appropriate, she is my Angel.
My daughter heard our conversation and sent me healing vibes and on Tuesday morning I woke up without a headache and on the mend. The rest of the week has passed in a somewhat haze, but I am nearly there now, and my arms are opening wide for a big family hug.
So reminiscent of one of my first updates I ask all of you to never go to bed angry, appreciate every waking moment, and if something in your life doesn’t feel right change it. Sometimes life seems unfair and harsh, and we can fall into a mentality of victim, but especially those of us with our health and living in the west with choices, try to choose a life of empowerment it is good for everyone and the world at large too.Hug those spouses and kids again, keep on doing it until you are hugged out, and when that happens give them all a big hug from me.
We did it everyone. Your vibes, generosity, my body, my family’s sacrifice, our hearts and we have made a small dent in humanity’s suffering, and if I learned anything from these past three months is that we don’t have to go much further than out front doors to be part of the healing, but sometimes it helps if we do, even if it just clarifies on a personal level what a wonderful world we live on. Believe me, the beauty is out there no matter where we are. Let’s just open our hearts and eyes and let it all in.
Love to you all, much peace, and have a wonderful Christmas or whatever holidays you celebrate with your families. I know one household that will be having a very special Christmas this year, and every day after that!!!!
Peace, Joe (AKA; Almami Kamara)