The only American I’ve met so far informed me today today that he has found a store that sells peanut butter! No kidding, that’s about the greatest news I’ve heard in the past two weeks but then it was followed by another little gem: they also sell Diet Coke! Over here they call it Coke Lite but to quote the Bard, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I’m thinking that if I put one in the refrigerator right at 7pm when the electricity comes on and am in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator at 7am when the electricity goes back off I can drink it while it’s still semi-cold.
I’m drinking huge quantities of water every day (and sweating most of it out) so there’s no way the soft drinks will become the sole source of fluids but it’s going to be a great treat. And I’ll take some bread, some peanut butter and some jelly to work with me when I’m on call tomorrow and will have no worries.
I’ve been meaning to mention the food here. Rice is the staple at almost every meal and lots of it. There’s usually a heavy greasy sauce and a piece of two of meat along with it. There aren’t a lot of fresh vegetables around here but there’s an abundance of cassava, a subsistence crop in many impoverished countries. I’ve seen small fields of it almost every place I’ve gone and it seems to show up in almost every meal. It’s not bad tasting, has kind of a gritty texture in the dishes I’ve had. A lot of meals also have a fried starch including potatoes and bananas. The fried bananas have a nice sweet taste. I mistook them for potatoes the first time I ate them, figuring it might be some kind of sweet potato.
Rather than try to cook for myself during the week I’ve signed on to a meal program with MSF where we pay 10,000 Leones per meal and they are delivered to wherever we’re working from Monday through Friday. (5000 Leones is about $1.16. I’ve got a wad of cash in my pocket that amounts to about $50, must be at least 40 bills. The largest bill I’ve seen is the 10000 Leones bill, about $2.32. 5000s are the most common but there are also 1000 and 2000 bills.)
On the weekends there are local restaurants and now there’s peanut butter and jelly. Breakfast is usually fresh fruit (papaya, pineapple, oranges, mangoes), french bread with butter and preserves, hardboiled eggs, and juice. (I haven’t been going hungry. In fact my pants are starting to feel a little snug. It’s just too hot to go running in the evening and in the morning the sun isn’t up early enough to go running before leaving for the hospital.)
One of the pediatricians just took a week off after being here for six months and went back to Italy, bringing over 20 pounds of parmesan cheese in huge bricks back with her when she returned to Sierra Leone. She became everybody’s new best friend.
Krio is the main language where I’m working even though English is the official language of Sierra Leone. Krio is pretty interesting to listen to. It is a language in its own right with its own grammatical rules but it’s derived from other languages including English, French, Portuguese, and native languages, an amalgamation of the languages spoken by slaves from different countries who returned to their country after they were liberated. Sometimes it’s easy to hear the English origins but most of the time it’s like listening to any language that you don’t understand.
Some of the phrases I’ve learned:
Aw di bodi? (How are you? “how’s the body?”)
Ah glad fo mit yu. (Pleased to meet you.)
A bayg. (I’m sorry. “I beg [your pardon])
Ah no well. (I’m sick.)
And, most important in my line of work: Tu pay! (Push!)
Some of those phrases are easy enough to hear. But there are lots of others that don’t seem to resemble anything I’ve ever heard in English. The nurses at the hospital seem to take an enormous amount of pleasure instructing me how to say a phrase and then laughing their asses off when I repeat it in what sounds like, to me at least, a perfect replication. At least they seem to be warming up to me a little. The first few days I could sense them inspecting me, figuring out if I was worth the effort. I think it must be really hard for them to have doctors come and go, each with their own preferences on how to practice but expecting the nurses to be at their beck and call. I’m taking a more humble approach (called “sucking up”) figuring you catch more flies with honey. It sounds simple enough but there’s a fine line you have to walk between being an authentic-appearing suck-up versus a transparent one.
That’s the end of today’s lesson.
And just for a little follow-up, that rooster seems to have his eye on me, came walking towards me with an attitude I didn’t much care for as I was walking across the hospital grounds. I swear he started walking more quickly when he saw me. I took a route that took me out of his path but shot him a filthy look as I walked more quickly. I’m not afraid of him, mind you, but neither am I looking for trouble.