Letters from a migrant worker: Sierra Leone

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Here is an series of emails that I sent home to Supriya a few years ago when I was in Sierra Leone. I like how they remind me of the realities of travel. The ebb and flow of strange customs and basic differences, the joys and frustrations. Makes me wish I was back there …

Arrived, safe and almost sound.

Teaching in KabalaMy appreciation for air travel was again diminished as I traveled from Calgary to Toronto, beginning with the surly Customer “Service” Agents shouting at people lining up in the too small waiting area. Although I arrived 2 hours before the flight and was the second person in the lounge, I still had a seat near the back (although I was able to change for a window – being a night flight) soon after we took off, I began coughing as a very sharp odor came wafting forward, I thought it was the disinfectant or something, but was soon proved wrong.

My seat companion also began coughing, and after a couple more episodes, I turned backward, to the woman behind me, and asked if she was spraying something. She told me that she needed to use these essential oils, but it was okay, because they were natural. I tried to reason with her, my seat companion joining in – natural or not, they were causing respiration failure – but she would have none of our reason – not for her.

I am not sure how to describe the stench, somewhere between sandalwood and methane … with notes of cat pee, vinegar, and pepper thrown in for good measure.

I tried to sleep, but I was soon brought to a full consciousness by the fine mist of spray as my row companion suddenly made a hurried exit. A few droplets had fallen on my exposed hand … yes … after sniffing; I recognized the sharp cut of bile. She had thrown up.

The scent of essential oils had finally proven too much.

The rest of the flight was a bit of a blur as several flight attendants expressed their displeasure at me standing at the back, annoyed that I would not sit back down in the ground zero my seat had become. After long persuasion they finally found me another seat, where although the head rest was broken (at one point it fell off after crashing into my shoulder) at least I was sitting down and breathing.

The rest of the travel is anti-climatic by comparison. I slept on the 2-hour bus ride from Heathrow to Gatwick, as well as most of the flight from London to Sierra Leone – although I did catch “Charlie and the chocolate factory” (funny albeit very odd movie). The helicopter out from the airport. An attempted extortion. Normal.

I went out with the CAUSE staff for a couple of drinks at the local ex-pat watering hole, they were very welcoming. Went to bed around 2 and slept in until 10:30.

Trying to stay busy to get over jet lag.

I just ate a cheese flatbread and hit up this net-cafe to chat with you.

We will be prepping a bit today for our trip up north tomorrow, once there we are out of communication entirely. No phone, Internet, cell, power etc. So this may be the last message to you before I get back to Freetown in about 2 weeks

Love you and miss you, wish you were here.

14 days later

So far, no health issues to speak of: I smacked up my foot a little, had some stomach problems the day I was out in the sun for too long (a little heatstroke), my neck is still a little sore as I aggravated it a couple of days ago … but no big deal

Boday and kidsIt has been a very busy time, it will not surprise me if I host my own parasites after spending time in the villages. No running water (unless you count Boday’s legs), power from the generator for 4 hours an evening, and occasionally some light! This was truly a remote area.

The workshops went really well, most schools were actively engaged and encouraging, although the hefty Juliet in Faduga, was more actively engaged in stealing the cookies and cokes we brought her students, encouraging their fighting, and talking throughout the classroom time. She was also the one and only teacher who demanded to be paid for our visit … ahhh!

The heat has been fairly intense, particularly as there is no shower … just some buckets and an open drain in the bathroom floor

Our night watchman and his friend killed a spitting cobra last night just after they turned off the generator. Lots of commotion. This morning I spotted the broken chair they used to beat the snake to death with last night …

good men both…

We ate daily at Choices, the better of the two restaurants in town. The choices were: Rice with groundnut stew, or rice with a palm oil drenched green leafy stew. Both included mystery meat (I had liver one night, I am not sure what animal). They mixed it up on us one afternoon and served fried rice.

The intern just got into their house; previously they had been in the guesthouse of the local bar. They wanted a home-cooked meal and so we enjoyed wandering the local open market to find ingredients. Rows of raw meat, small vegetables, and mysterious powders were spread out under a blanket of flies. I bought a bunch of things, sometimes I knew what they were, and was appointed chef. Every evening I tried to pull off new dishes with our limited resources, a single burner kerosene stove, and no recipes.

Needless to say I went with Thai.

Mark kerosene cookingLife was very quiet and filled with the general activities of living without modern conveniences. We felt really, really good when simple things moved forward. The new office administrator bought the pens and paper. When we were able to use a printer at the local CARE office to print scripts rather than handwrite out 8 copies. Achievements became much smaller and much more significant…

Anyways, i will have much more to report to you in a few more days! Looking forward to getting home and seeing your beautiful face!

Love you lots and lots

Day of departure for home
Wow this net connection is painfully slow … i have been sitting here for the last 10 minutes trying to get on…

I had Christophe call the airline this morning to confirm my flight and thus far I am the first person on the waiting list on the oversold flight …yay. I went in myself just a few minutes ago and they are telling me there is nothing I can do. So I still should be home on time, but there is an outside chance that I may have to spend another weekend here

I head to the airport in a couple of hours, I will have to get there early and sit in the heat until 10:30 or so. A tough way to spend the first of the next 24 hours of travel! I have enjoyed my time, but I am definitely ready to leave the smell of diesel generators behind…

Not too much happened today, I met the country director as I went into the head office for the first time, nice guy…

Beachtime!Yesterday we eventually had some time off, traveled to a beach in the late afternoon where we swam ‘neath the palms for an hour or so … before the sunset. Then off to a nearby restaurant where I had a fantastic lobster pasta. Back home over the incredibly rough road in an hour or so, and read till bedtime.

Anyway, I probably will be out of touch for the next 30 hours or so, unless I do not catch this flight, then I will probably be able to get back on the computer tomorrow morning (it is almost 2 in the afternoon now … so about 7 am your time.)

Again, love and miss you. Look forward to seeing you!

Mark Crocker

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