It has been an extremely challenging first week in Sierra Leone. An ebola outbreak – the world’s worst to date – has stretched the country’s already limited medical capacity to the limit. Although the epidemic has been going on since May, for some reason the media chose the last week or so to spin this thing up. Although the disease has had tragic effects in a couple of Sierra Leonean towns, the disproportionate media response has worsened the situation as some health care workers stopped coming to work. International airlines have begun suspending flights, and hotels are empty of foreigners. In a country already struggling to overcome poverty and a difficult recent history, the additional stigma that will result from this poorly understood disease will only further hamper development.
I arrived last week Sunday – after a grueling 24 hours of travel, the last bit was a $40 “water taxi” ride from Lungi International Airport – built on the nearest patch of flat ground that can be found near (hilly) Freetown – to the peninsula that hosts the capital city.
All of the passengers who had arrived with me from Nairobi were asked to wear life vests, and our suitcases were piled in the boat where it looked like they might slip out the back end any second. Most of the fasteners for the canvas flaps designed to keep out the rain were torn, so I kept a grip on the nearest one to avoid alternately getting sprayed by rainwater, or smacked in the head by a piece of flapping canvas.
Three Chinese passengers wore rubber gloves and surgical masks from the moment they exited the plane; once we reached the mainland, they were joined in this by the CNN crew that had been the sole occupants of the plane’s business class section on the flight from Nairobi. From there, an SUV would pick me up and take me to my hotel, where I would collapse for the next 12 hours.
The next day had been declared a national holiday – for reflection, education and prayer – which meant I’d have additional time to recover from the trip. Once I woke up I thought I’d go for a walk, get to know my surroundings a bit, but found the streets eerily deserted. I walked around a bit along muddy trails and snapped a few photos here and there, but eventually realized we were expected to remain at home, so back to the hotel I went.
After a busy workweek, I was looking forward to the following Saturday, as I’d finally have an opportunity to see a little bit of Freetown and its surroundings. But alas, it was not to be!
As it turns out, we find ourselves in the midst of Sierra Leone’s rainy season. It doesn’t rain ALL the time. Just MOST of the time. I woke up at 6 am and was excited to hear that it wasn’t raining. But that’s when it started – and it didn’t stop raining again for the next 16 hours.
So I still haven’t really left my room, other than work. But I have managed to photograph some local wildlife! A family of “green monkeys” lives on the periphery of the hotel grounds. I wasn’t able to get a clear shot from my hotel room – so I went up to the wing of the hotel that is still under construction. The monkeys were clearly alarmed at seeing someone up there, and watched me closely. I’m not 100% sure these are green monkeys. From the wikipedia entry, it seems that the males have bright blue testicles. Maybe you can spot them in the video.
While I was up there I took a few snaps in the building itself. As you can tell from the photos, basically I live in a cloud. But hopefully tomorrow will be better. Or next weekend…