It has been a few days of rest in Bo with Jitta’s family. Her daughter Alice who is 12 fainted at school the other day, the second time this week. She has had stomach pain and tenderness in her lower right belly and diarrhea but no fever and her vitals were normal. We brought her to the doctor, I was concerned that her appendix might be inflamed. But it turns out that she had malaria, a diagnosis that I never consider being an American, she has been taking the medications for a few days and is feeling much better.
Yesterday we went to visit the village of Tikonko, which is just outside of Bo and where MOMS may do a TBA training next summer. We went and met with the folks at the health center as well as many TBAs who are in the clinic’s catchment area. We met to introduce ourselves and the program and to answer any questions that they have. MOMS feels strongly that this training is a partnership with the community, so they will not teach in an area unless they are invited by the TBAs, the clinic, the town elders, the paramount chief and the district medical officer. We do not pay the TBAs to participate nor do we provide food, they are expected to take care of that themselves as well as their housing if they live far from the town, they are also expected to provide housing for us. This way they are invested in the program and feel a sense of ownership over what they learn.
It has been a full few days, but also a lot of sitting around, I have already read 2 books since arriving and I am a quarter of a way through the third. Because the women have so much work to do besides meeting with us and many of them have walked very long distances from their home villages to be here, a day of teaching, during a short follow up visit like this is often no more then 5 hours. Going out of the house is a bit of a production, everyone staring and following us around to watch our every move, it is fun but can be tiring so often we stay in our house and its inner courtyard and visit with people here rather then wondering about. It has been raining here a lot, in the small rural village of Pellie. The firefly’s flash their butts for us at night on the misty walks to the outhouse, there was one trapped in our room last night, it took me a while to figure out where that amber, ambient flicker was coming from and then I spied the little guy under my bedside table.
The drive here yesterday was exhausting. It takes 3 hours to get the 30 miles from Kenema to Pellie, the roads are terrible and getting worse to the point that MOMS will probably not be able to make the drive in rainy season again unless the road is repaired. Good stretches of the road have been reduced to an Okata (the dirt bike taxis which are the main way people get around here, there are no cars in any of the nearby villages) or foot path. MOMS no longer hires a driver because it is just too expensive so we pile into our rental car, Trish (the president of MOMS) Buffy (another volunteer this is her first trip to Africa) Jitta (our translator and all around go to lady) and her sister Katrine (who is cooking and cleaning for us on this trip) with a full back and many lap fulls of stuff, we are essentially going camping for 3weeks, and Trish hopes in to the drivers seat and drives out us into the jungle. The way is bumpy and we cross 4 small bridges that are no more then logs placed across the river, if we miscalculate we certainly would survive the ordeal but our truck may not and there is certainly no triple A out here to tow us out of a stream, so we go slow and steady and whoever is in the passenger seat has to hop out and cross the bridge on foot to help guide the truck, it’s an adventure. This is by far the worst road of this trip, which is one of the reasons we came here first, to get this drive over with.
We were greeted with cheers and songs, lots of hand grasping there is a wonderful 3 phase hand shake that happens in rural Salone and culminates with placing your hand on your heart and looking at the person whom you are greeting….greetings are very important and can be drawn out. The little bit of Mende that I learned last time is coming back to me, mostly greetings and blessings, but enough to make people smile. Ami is a very common name in Mende country, short for Aminata, so everyone is very excited when they hear that is my name and invariably there are one or two other Ami’s in the room who greet me and smile broadly. It is really nice to be back, even with the big spiders and the giant centipedes in the outhouse. There is no electricity in Pellie and certainly no internet, which is why my reports are few and far between right now. The weather here feels while not quite cool, but refreshingly comfortable compared to Haiti.
It is dark now, the rain is falling on the tin roof, someone turned on a generator so we mysteriously have light and a fan, we’ll see how long it lasts. The chicken that will be our dinner tomorrow night is crowing in the small room off the back of the courtyard, his fate sealed. Jitta is dozing away on the couch, all bundled up against the damp, 80 degree weather, that is too cold for her.
Resting now at a bar with wifi in Kenema, I am having my usual restaurant fare, grilled chicken with fried rice and a side of pepper sauce…sooo good! Our drive back from Pellie was eventful, a blown tire and hour of walking up the jungle road to find some guys to help us and then we were off. We are all well and the car is running great, but rather then rush up to our next stop which is at least a
nother 3 hour drive on similarly bad roads, we decided to stay a night in Kenema. Tomorrow was going to be a rest day anyway because it is the feast day at the end of Ramadan so it will be fine for us to arrive in the next village one day late. We had a lovely couple of days in Pellie meeting with the TBAs there. We found out that Mamie Lamine, the head TBA has been invited to attend many district meetings since her MOMS training and is now considered a respected member of that team. One of the other volunteers who is here is a breast cancer survivor so she shared her story with the TBAs and we taught them how to do breast exams on themselves as well as how to teach their clients. I also dove into some more in depth breastfeeding topics with them, it felt like good productive time and very enjoyable. There was, as usual, lots of singing and dancing all along the way.
We have indoor bathrooms and running water for the night in the guest house, which feels really luxurious, I am looking forward to it immensely.
I hope everyone is well…obviously my notes are few and far between at this point but know that I am thinking of you all and wish you could all see this amazing country with me.