I Want to Make me Wet

So it’s the end of week 2 here in Tacugama and that means lots of new experiences to share. Quick update for all those dying to know – it is still as moist as ever before, with the odd ray of sunshine here and there – but thank you for all your dry thoughts sent this way. I’m feeling super homesick today for the first time – missing family and friends and all the peeps and developments at my old clinic…hopefully it is a passing feeling! (Hi everyone!). For the most part here, we are still catching up on medical records and gutting the clinic from top to bottom to get things nice and organized…it’s gonna take awhile! So nothing too exciting has happened yet.
Flying into “Salone”

First off, the chimps – what everyone is waiting for! This week (thanks to a temporary rain hiatus) we got to experience forest school! We have 4 baby orphans at the moment – Lucky, Matilda, Joe and Ratch. While Matilda is too young still, Lucky and I went for a saunter in the forest together and I thought we were best friends until the next day when Lucky wanted nothing to do with me. That’s because Mama Posseh was around. She is the Mama of all the babies in quarantine, and nurses them with bottles until they’re old enough to become independent. Nobody can pretend to be Mama! We also took Joe and Ratch – who are just about finished their quarantine – out for the first time! Hesitant at first, they then became forest brats who wanted to bite and slap anyone who wasn’t Mama, and went as high as physically possible up in the trees! We tried showing them which trees to use and not use but I think our efforts were lost upon them for now.

A Classic Pose

As cute and cuddly as this may sound, it is quite tragic. These are babies whose mothers were killed (for bushmeat; human/wildlife conflict – mining, farming, forestry; or black market species trade), often to be sold as pets. The problem is chimps don’t make good pets (nor do any wild animals). So while we are normally hands-off when it comes to chimps, we are forced to be hands-on with the babies in order to nurse them into good health and teach them how to become chimps. Eventually they will be much bigger and more dangerous and we will not have physical contact with them, like the rest of the chimps here. Education is just as important as rescue when it comes to great apes.

My office view

We had our first patient, ‘la chica’ Chico (a girl), who wouldn’t eat for a day and half, and was quite lethargic looking with some diarrhea. We coaxed her into taking some meds in juice, got a fecal sample (no parasites), and offered her lots of goodies. Now that she’s feeling 100%, she’s grabbier than ever when I come around…even though I gave her all the treats! She even threw a bottle of juice back at me! Maybe she thinks I gave her the stomach ache…

On that note, we went to Country Lodge this week for Sofie’s birthday. A beautiful view of the ocean at sunset, delicious western food on a fancy hotel balcony overlooking a pool and hot tub. Wow! Food was delicious, and a marvelous looking cake for Sofie! But alas, 3 of us succumbed to the same 24-hour stomach flu that Chico had! Thank god for 3-ply. The odd part is, none of us shared anything but bread! The only reason I’ll be returning there is for the free super-speedy wifi! (but actually, the food was delicious too). Anyways, we shared lots of laughs, mostly in part due to a new friend we have, Phillipe from France (say it with an accent, you know you want to), with an unmatched sense of humour! He’s a health researcher here, and it was his house where the Olympic festivities were held last week. We ended up watching the poised women doing gymnastic feats with sticks and ribbons (no idea what it’s called) and Phillipe swears he will compete in Tokyo 2020 – now to find a costume!!

I also ventured into the heart of Freetown this week. Cotton Tree area is a roundabout around a giant cotton tree FILLED with vendors and crowds and god only knows what else. Traffic was insane (though apparently it’s worse twice daily, when the president goes to and from work with his escort and demands traffic be stopped) and I’m amazed at how everyone has something to shout or say or sell or help you with. EVERYONE. Another fun element of Sierra Leone is shopping.

Freetown from above

So – literally almost everything here is imported. Chicken comes from Brazil. Milk comes from Europe. What minimal fruits & veggies there are come from Guinea. Supplies come from China. Barely anything is farmed here or made here. You can get most North American brands of anything at the supermarket, for a hefty price. The way it works is that shipping containers arrive with stuff and a bunch of people bid on it to sell locally. So you can go to 3 different stores selling the same thing for 3 vastly different prices (which will change next week), or get it on the street for dirt cheap if you can find it. If you ask for a specific item, you will often get a response of ‘finished’. Which translates to = that shipment has all sold out, we have no idea if that product will ever return or when! Wait…what??? Moral of the story = Don’t get attached to your favourite brand of toilet paper, because 3-ply may never be available again. And if it isn’t, don’t go for dinner at Country Lodge.

The supplier here is a woman fittingly named Bomba. Think of a stereotypical big African mama on steroids. She is a gentle giant of a woman, towering somewhere near 6 feet tall, with her T-shirt often too short that it rides up over her rotund belly as though it were a loose-fitting bra. Carmen went to the market with her this week – Carmen being a 5’3ish petite woman. Carmen comes back all frazzled “Bomba is a celebrity! EVERYONE is shouting her name at the market, like the song ‘Bomba!..dadada Bomba!…dadada…’” “As I am peacefully browsing she goes ‘Grab my hand’ and I swear I was flying – BOOM BOOM BOOM as she barrels through the market efficiently grabbing everything she needs, waving/hi-fiving all her fans and I swear my feet were not even touching the floor!” As difficult it is to convey in words, I assure you the vision of this event and Carmen’s retelling of it had me dying on the floor in heaves of laughter.

A beautiful dam at the base of the sanctuary “Congo Dam”

You may be wondering about the title of this blog. Well, while in town, our driver starts to exit the car and says to me “I need to make me wet” (or at least that’s what I heard). I didn’t realize he was speaking the local Krio so I asked ‘What?!?!’ (you can imagine what I actually heard). “What are you making wet? The car? Are you washing the car?” He pointed downward and gave me an embarrassing look…”Oh you need to take a leak! Oops…uhhh yeah…go ahead”. Guess I should work a little harder on learning Krio…

So much to say still but I’ve gone on long enough! A few practical things to make note of:

1. The pace of life here is like a marathon race between a snail and a sloth. You need to ask for things 5 times before they get done, and a task takes 3x as long. You will often get a distracted teenage style “no, no” or “ok yeah” in response to a query, though you KNOW they were not paying attention to you at all. Asking 5 times (followed by “are you sure?”) will often get you the desired result, while asking twice will leave you very disappointed. So in “Salone”, or Africa in general I guess, be patient and don’t stress. Things will always maybe get done.

2. The economy is cash based (no idea why I even brought my credit cards), the bills go up to 10 000 Leones ($1.50), but you can easily spend hundreds of thousands in a day…which means you carry literal STACKS of cash around like a baller. I should make a music video of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bills bills bills’ (I’m looking at you Mike Woodward)

3. Like much of Africa, you need to buy scratch cards to load credit on your mobile phone. If you run out, you have to physically go see someone to add more credit, which means up here on the mountain, planning goes a long way!

4. Sierra Leone is an incredibly poor country who is less developed than most underdeveloped countries. Partly due to civil war in the early 2000s, partly due to Ebola in the last few years. As much as I have seen of the world, it is eye-opening and difficult to see how people live here and how much work there is to be done. More to come on this later.

Big love to all o y’all,

Izzy

2 Responses

  1. LOVE THIS!! actually SO MUCH!

    im so glad you are finding light of things and you are learning so much. The chimps are so ADORABLE. i love the sexual inuwendos ( ahha not sure how to spell that)

    MIssyou buddy! <3

  2. Hilarious recounting of events and I laughed with you! Love this blog! You will be penning a novel yes? I want the first copy. Miss you!

    M DOT

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