Friday, July 30, 2010

First month

What I have learned about Sierra Leone this past month:

Hissing is a completely appropriate way to get someone's attention.
Don't be offended when people yell "White Girl!" or "Chinese!" when you pass.
There are two kinds of mangoes, the little green ones and the big ones from Guinea. The big ones are amazing.
"Pancakes" are little fried balls that taste like donuts.
Even dishes that sound vegetarian on the menu will invariably contain beef, chicken and fish, combined.
Capital Radio (104.9) is the best radio station ever.
Don't forget to wipe your mouth after eating "rice and sauce," or you will have orange palm oil all over your face.
Dunkin' Donuts coffee is cheaper than instant Nescafe.
The rainy season is winter, and people will be wearing wool hats and coats despite the fact that it is 75 degrees out.
The grocery stores have a lot of familiar products but they all taste a little funky, probably the result of long periods of transport and storage. Exception: Cadbury Royal Dark Chocolate bars.
If a shared taxi tries to charge you 5,000 Leones, it is ripping you off. An effective response is, "Ehhh?? I pay 900 every time," while threatening to get out of the moving taxi. 900 Leones= 25 cents.
Don't be creeped out when people walk up and say, "I love you. I want to be your friend." They are just being friendly.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

One life

He sat on the side of the road at the roundabout, listless and still. His shirt hung off his impossibly thin shoulders and his legs stuck out straight in front of him. He had dirt dusting his shorts and face, but the first thing I noticed were his feet. Almost everyone in my neighborhood wears shoes, even the children, but his feet were worn and bare.

I stood across the roundabout waiting for my ride. I felt a pull to go to him, to ask if everything was okay and how I could help. But those seemed ridiculous questions- how could he be okay?

I walked over to where he sat, but he didn’t look up. He didn’t move at all. I felt others watch, wondering what the white girl would do. I wanted to invite him to my house, give him a shower and a change of clothes, take him to the clinic down the street and give him meals and medicine until he was better. I wanted to show him love and give him hope.

He looked to be about my age, but it was hard to tell because years of sickness and hunger had distorted his body. His bony arms, marked by avenues of protruding veins, sat lifeless at his side. I did not know what to do and I was scared. What will other people think? Will he understand me when I speak? What if he is dangerous? What if his problems are too complex for me to help?

“Here is some money,” I said under my breath as I held out a bill. He snatched it from my hand and put it in his shorts, never looking up. I continued walking and waited for the car about a block down the road. A few minutes later he stood up and walked away. Everyone he passed turned and stared. He was out of place even here, exceptionally thin in a country filled with malnutrition. I saw a mother reprimanding her son, and they stopped what they were doing to watch him walk by, slowly, jauntily.

I felt a sudden and violent pain in my stomach. I had allowed my fears to prevent me from helping this man, this human. He deserved dignity, and all I could do was hand him enough money for a meal. Am I not here to serve? Am I not here to love? Am I not here, in this world, to care for the orphans and the widows and the “least of these”? It is easy when the widow is a kind grandma who needs someone to talk to, or the orphan is a girl with braids who wants to play. What if the “least of these” is a sick, desperate man with difficult problems sitting on the side of the road?

In public health, we design programs to improve the health of populations. The malaria program I am here to work on has the potential to save, literally, thousands of lives in Sierra Leone. But, how can I ignore the one life right in front of me?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Before we left

I'm going to admit something I don't want to admit. We were very homesick our first couple of weeks here in Sierra Leone, and we spent a lot of time daydreaming about what it would be like to live back in California. It is not that we didn't like it here, it's just that the time before we left was packed full of family, friends, and so much love. I keep having to remind myself that weddings and baby showers and friend reunions are special and rare occasions that will not be happening every weekend while we are gone. If they did, I'm pretty sure I would have been incapable of leaving.

College roommate reunion
Sister's perfect weddingLaughy family
Beautiful pregnant sister Beautiful pregnant best friend (who is now past due!) High school friend reunion

I am glad to be in Sierra Leone, I really am.... Just so long as all you people agree not to have any fun until we get back. Deal?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A day at the beach

We spent this past Saturday at River Number 2, an amazing beach about an hour from Freetown over crazy bumpy jungle roads. Years ago the community around the beach joined together to take care of the area and make it friendly for tourists by adding bungalows, a restaurant, toilets and showers. They use the money to pay for all the kids to go to school and other community needs like funerals and weddings. When the rebels came to the area during the war, the community members buried their goods and either hid deep in the jungle or out at sea in wooden boats. The war ended 8 years ago. Just 8 years.

After a full day of wandering the beach, being smashed by the waves, eating fresh coconuts and getting sunburned, we went to dinner at a restaurant overlooking an inlet. The tide was low, so after dinner a friend and I wandered around the wet sand. A young boy and teenage girl were coming back from washing at the river and we asked them their names. After a short conversion, the 8-year-old boy gestured to the water and asked proudly, "Do you like my village?" Yes, yes I do.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The guards

We have 3 "guards" who hang out at our compound and watch over the house we share with an American/Irish couple upstairs. In actuality, they are more like caretakers/groundskeepers/guides than guards. They let us in and out of the gate, turn the generator on when the electricity goes out, answer our questions on everything from types of food to the best beaches, and tell us when it is going to rain so we should bring a stinkin' umbrella (idiots!). Here's a typical conversation between Michael ("M") and me ("L").

L: "Hello, Michael."
M: "Linsa! Hello, hello! How was the day?"
L: "Fine, how are you?"
M: "Fine, fine. How was work?"
L: "Fine, work was fine."
M: "Okay, okay."
L: "It rained a lot today."
M: "Yes, yes, so much rain today."
L: "Will it rain tomorrow?"
M: "No, it will not rain tomorrow."
L: "You can always tell."
M: "Yes, I forecast the weather. Tomorrow will be no rain."
L: "You are always right! Well, have a good night."
M: "Okay, tomorrow! Tomorrow!"
L: "Goodnight, Michael."
M: "Linsa!"

Hopefully I'll learn some Krio soon so I can get to know them all better. But for now, I enjoy these quick exchanges and their smiling faces. We would be lost (and drenched) without them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The water scam

We were walking around downtown when we realized a small girl was following us. Carrying a wide, pink bucket on her head, she walked on the road next to us and only shot occasional glances our way. When we turned onto a side street to get into our car, she got closer, and braver, and waved goodbye. As she waved, her bucket tipped and little plastic bags of water exploded on the concrete. Embarrassed, she bit her lip and tried hard not to cry. Realizing she could get in trouble for breaking the goods she was supposed to sell, we pulled out some money and handed it to her. She took it, looking up at us and smiling slightly.

“Did she just scam us?” someone asked in the car. “If she did, she deserved the cash. That was an excellent performance.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

3 years!!!

Happy anniversary to the cutest little guy with the best beard and the kindest eyes. I love you in California, Baltimore, Sierra Leone, probably everywhere in the whole world.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


For those who pray, please pray with me for:

Kampala and all of the terrible, terrible things that happened on Sunday. I can't believe that something like this could happen in peaceful, safe Kampala. Please pray for comfort for those who were there and for the families of those involved.

One of our guards who lost a family member last night. His family is out in the provinces and he is going to be with them for the next few days. He could not look me in the eyes when he told me this morning. Pray that David and I would be able to be there for him and connect with him despite our cultural and language differences.

Patience in dealing with taxis and drivers. They are always late, if they show at all, and I'm having trouble having to depend on them so much. It's the rainy season so I can't really walk unless I want to trek through water overflowing from the sewage drains(which I did this morning when my taxi didn't show up).

Thank you!

World Cup 2010

(Sad Holland fans.)

Watched the final in a little bar with lively locals, Star beer, and a dinner of rice and cassava leaves. It would have been amazing to see Ghana in the finals, but it was still so much fun to watch the game with people who love it so much.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Rainy season

It is the wind that makes the difference. Without wind, the rain comes as a soothing shower. It brings cooler, fresher air and seems to wash away a layer or two of dust. The kids keep playing soccer and the women sit under umbrellas with their plantains, limes, and cucumbers for sale. But when the wind is there too, the rain feels violent and unpredictable. It rattles the windows and the palm tree outside our room. The tree rolls and turns and its long fronds slap back and forth, fighting the start of the rainy season. A flash of violet light comes through the window and seconds later a series of booming noises. “That’s probably the longest thunder I’ve ever heard,” David says.

Once it starts raining during the day, you know rainy season is coming soon. Locals are thankful for the rain: their crops need the water so they will grow. Aren’t I growing too? Aren’t I in Sierra Leone to learn and to grow? Maybe rainy season will be good for me too.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I'm sorry

Downtown is a wild maze. People, motorcycles, taxis, chickens, and buses weave around and past each other, honking and pushing to move on. A coworker drove us to get our internet and phones set up, and we got lost in the chaos. Men and women on either sides of the car, music blaring from shops along the road, dogs searching for scraps of food. At one point we heard a thump and saw that she had just bumped a man with her side mirror. She was going slowly when it happened, so we didn’t think much of it. Traffic slowed and the man, eventually catching up with us, knocked on the window. We waved and kept going, afraid he would make a scene and ask for money (not a rare reaction). After all, he was walking in the road. The man turned and walked to a police officer who was standing nearby.

The police officer waved us over, and we pulled to the curb. David rolled down the window and the man said, “This woman hit me with her car, and when I asked her to stop and talk, she did not say she was sorry.” The police officer said with a smirk, “You did not say you are sorry? Why did you not say you are sorry?” A few minutes of apologies and explanation and we were off again.

And that is when I learned the power of the words, “I’m sorry.”

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


My college roommates have a tradition that I hate. When one of us is being particularly dramatic- while telling a story, reacting to a situation, general behavior, etc.- the others might call you “MDR,” meaning “Most Dramatic Roommate.” I hate it because it has been bestowed on me many times, and to argue it only further proves their point.

I had a breakdown the other day. It started because the power was out all night. Without power, we have no air conditioning or fan. The heat made me restless and unable to sleep, so I laid in bed thinking about cool San Luis Obispo and wondering why we ever left. I got out of bed once I determined it was a reasonable hour, only to discover I had a headache. It was hot, I hadn’t slept, and I had a headache. I went into the kitchen to make some coffee and David followed me. He had opened a cupboard without me noticing, and as I was dumping the coffee grounds into the trash I stood up right into the cupboard door and bonked my head. Coffee grounds flew all over the kitchen and I burst into tears. I cried, “I’m so uncomfortable!” as I rubbed my head and wiped up coffee grounds.

Ladies, I’ll claim it. That morning I was definitely MDR.

4th of July in Sierra Leone

Friday, July 2, 2010


We are here in Sierra Leone, wandering our neighborhood and enjoying the thunderstorms that have come every night. But, we'll get to that.

My dear friend Leenie took us to the airport in San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon for the first of 3 flights and 1 helicopter ride that we would take to Freetown. An incident happened in the airport that is equal parts disgusting and hilarious. But wait, we'll get to that in a minute.

The weekend before that my old college friends got together for a reunion. It was so good to see their faces and hear about their lives, and I'll show some pics later. The reunion took place right before we left for our adventure. Everyone went their separate ways on Monday and Leenie took us to the airport on Tuesday. That brings me to my story.

David and I decided to get some food quickly before our flight. I bought a bowl of thick, red, cheesy and sour creamy glop called Mexican chicken tortilla soup. I took one satisfying bite and stopped to break into my roll for dipping. The roll was so tough that I lost my grip, my arm flew back into the bowl and the entire thing exploded onto my body. I stood up with a scream, frantically trying to pull my pants from my burning legs without stripping in the middle of the food court.

The soup covered an incredible range- all the way from my boobs to my knees, but mostly concentrated around my crotch. This would not have been so bad had it been a brothy, less cheesy and sour creamy soup. This particular soup, when spread over a body, was the exact consistency and colors of vomit. I stood there with what looked like barf (or perhaps the big D) all over myself, trying to wipe it off but it was too thick and sticky. Our plane was leaving in 25 minutes. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.

David had some extra shorts so I held them over my body and walked across the food court to the bathrooms. The soup was down my pants, on my shirt, between my legs, everywhere. I put the shorts on and tried to wash my pants and shirt in the sink. I could see people look at me disgusted from the corner of their eyes. I kept saying, "It's just soup," but I don't think they believed me. One women responded, "Oh, I just thought the flight didn't sit well with you." Duh. Another asked, "Do you have to travel far? Where are you going?" And I said, "West Africa." She shook her head.

Wearing a green shirt and huge, bright red shorts down to my knees, I carried the wet, disgusting pants through 3 airports before I got them clean and dry enough to wear. David called me a Christmas elf because of the colors and my legs looked so short.

So, that brings us to Sierra Leone! Back to lightning, World Cup, and red dirt roads. Slow internet, "How di bodi?" and palm trees.